Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I want to inform you about an important breakthrough in our state that will allow for greater worship opportunities for all people. This breakthrough is consistent with our need to protect public health as we take significant precautions in how we come together and pray.
In the next couple of days, Gov. Walz will issue a new executive order that allows faith communities to accommodate 25 percent of their occupancy capacity or up to 250 people (whichever is less) for worship services — both inside and outside — beginning Wednesday, May 27. Gov. Walz and his administration hope that when faith communities gather, they will do so consistent with public health guidance. We pledge to be good citizens when offering worship in our communities and to work with public officials to promote the common good.
As you know, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota believe that the prior rules limiting faith-based gatherings to 10 people unreasonably burdened the liberty of the Church to bring Mass and the sacraments to the faithful. Because we believe that the Eucharist is the bread of everlasting life, we were prepared to move ahead and allow larger Masses without support from public officials. The life of faith was receiving unequal treatment, as allowances were made for other, less essential, activities. The new executive order removes that unreasonable burden on the Church and allows us to bring the Eucharist to our community.
Before I go further to talk about what this means for our parishes and community, please allow me to express my gratitude to Gov. Walz, Lt. Gov. Flanagan, and the other members of the governor’s team. I am thankful we could come to a consensus on a reasonable and safe path forward for our state that allows greater numbers of people to safely return to worship beginning May 27.
I hope that the governor and his team have a better appreciation of both our duty to provide sacramentally for the good of our people and our unwavering Catholic commitment to working for the common good. With the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life, it should not be surprising that the Church jealously guards its jurisdiction over the sacraments and entrusts to each bishop the responsibility to be “moderator, promoter and guardian” of the Church’s liturgical life.
The bishops of Minnesota are also grateful for the help of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which provided sound legal counsel in defense of the liberty of the Church to offer the sacraments, especially in our conversations with the Walz administration. Thank you also to the law firm Sidley Austin for its work on this matter.
Although we had previously announced that Mass could begin May 26, we need to move that back one day to May 27 to allow the executive order raising the allowed capacity for gatherings to go into effect. We also will make small adjustments, as needed, to our protocols consistent with the guidance that will be issued by the Minnesota Department of Health. We can be thankful that the removal of the limitations will allow us to have Mass in the Easter season and come together on Sunday, May 31, for the celebration of Pentecost.
I need to make something clear about the return to Mass: The bishops of Minnesota have told our pastors and parishes that they should only return to public Mass when they are able to follow the many protocols in place — including sanitization and the changes to the liturgy, including the reception of Holy Communion. In the Diocese of St. Cloud, parishes must have a plan approved by me before they may begin celebrating larger public Masses. If a parish is not confident that they’re ready, they shouldn’t open. Period. And if the faithful feel safer at home, the dispensation from the Sunday obligation continues to be in place. I also strongly encourage those over the age of 65 or who are especially vulnerable because of a health condition to not attend.
Let me express my gratitude to our priests, parish staffs, and parish leadership teams. They have done an amazing job during this pandemic — ministering to, supporting and comforting the people in their communities, especially those most in need, in new and creative ways.
Finally, I want to thank the faithful of the Diocese of Saint Cloud. While unable to receive the Eucharist for the past two months, you have creatively and patiently found other ways to live your faith. You have made spiritual communions, supported your sisters and brothers in need, supported your parish, and stepped up to help others. And for those of you who are still unable to join us for the Eucharist — those who are most vulnerable to the virus or fearful at this time of joining larger gatherings — I thank you for your understanding, and I am grateful to our many parishes that will continue to offer livestreams or recordings of the Mass.
Please remember to pray for all those who have lost their lives in this pandemic, for those who grieve them and for those who are sick and care for them. Also pray for the women and men in the health care field who daily risk their health to take care of our sisters and brothers who are sick. Please pray for an end to this pandemic.
And may God bless our country as we prepare to remember, on this Memorial Day weekend, those who fought for it.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud