East Boston’s Catholic Churches have long been the center of faith, social gathering and interaction as parishioners join in prayer. Each Sunday at churches like St. Joseph-St. Lazarus, Most Holy Redeemer, Our Lady of the Assumption and Sacred Heart Church hundreds come to gather, say Mass and then catch up with fellow parishioners, friends and family.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic kept Eastie’s churches eerily quiet this past Sunday as the Boston Archdiocese decided to suspend daily and Sunday Masses to control the spread of the virus.
At a time when many are praying for a quick end to the virus outbreak and a speedy recovery for those affected by the illness, Masses will be suspended until further notice.
Following the decision to temporarily suspend daily and Sunday Masses Cardinal Sean O’Malley has asked that all parishes be open daily during reasonable hours in order that Catholics and other members of the community can have the opportunity to visit the church for times of prayer in small groups. The Cardinal has also asked that when possible there be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the churches.
On Tuesday morning, Cardinal O’Malley held a special St. Patrick’s Day Mass on Boston’s Catholic TV so those who can no longer attend Mass could still pray together.
“As a people, community, and as a nation we are being forced into a stance of social distancing to ward off a potential health disaster,” said Cardinal O’Malley during the live broadcast. “Even as we embrace a methodology of physical isolation, we must reject any stance of alienation and individualism. Our motivation cannot be fear and self-preservation, but a sense of solidarity and connectedness. What is being asked of us is for the common good, to protect the most defenseless among us.”
Cardinal O’Malley said in some ways the present, surrealistic atmosphere is similar to what we experienced after the attack of September 11.
“We were shaken from our complacency and confronted with the reality that changed our lives overnight,” Cardinal O’Malley continued. “Likewise, today we see the real risk to countless numbers of elderly and infirm persons, to healthcare workers, indeed to our hospital system, and even the economic well-being of millions of people whose lives have been upended by the necessary closings and precautions.”
Cardinal O’Malley said just as after 9/11 we need to come together as a people with a profound sense of solidarity and community, realizing that so many people are suffering and fearful.
“We need to take care of each other, especially by reaching out to the elderly and the most vulnerable,” he said. “Although we cannot celebrate public masses at this time because we wish to follow the directives of the government, I want to assure all of you that we, your priests, are offering mass each day for all of you. You are all spiritually united in these masses where we pray for the living and the dead. Our priests in the parishes are there and can be contacted. We are trying to use social media and Internet streaming as a means of sharing communications.”
Cardinal O’Malley said he was grateful to all priests and parish staff and the 3000 Catholic school teachers and administrators who are all working diligently to be able to serve people in these challenging circumstances.
“Let me share with you an account I read many years ago that made quite an impression on me,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “A group of rowdy university students on the train in France spotted an old man sitting alone praying his rosary. The students who prided themselves on their sophistication and scientific outlook began to mock the old man who seemed unperturbed by their hazing. Suddenly a passenger jumped to his feet and rebuked the students: “stop bothering Dr. Pasteur.” The students were shocked and embarrassed. That old man praying the rosary was Louis Pasteur, a national hero, a rock star, whose research and inventions have saved millions of lives. Pastuer discovered the principles of vaccination and pasteurization. Arguably, he did more than any other person in the history of medicine by his remarkable breakthroughs in understanding the causes and prevention of diseases.”
Cardinal O’Malley ended by saying, “May this strange Lent that we are living, help us to overcome the physical distance by growing closer to God and by strengthening our sense of solidarity and community with each other.”