San Diego’s Roman Catholic diocese is using the feast of Pentecost to call for a renewal of spiritual and community life as parishioners emerge from the pandemic.
At Saturday’s multicultural outdoor Mass in Mira Mesa, Bishop Robert McElroy announced a “reset” of “sacramental life, community life and people’s missionary role as Catholics.”
The Mass, in the parking lot of Good Shepherd Church, drew just over a thousand, organizers said. All wore masks on a breezy afternoon.
The church teaches that Pentecost was when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus after his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Pentecost is regarded as the birthday of the Christian church, and the start of its mission to reach out to the world.
“Pentecost is particularly important as we emerge from COVID-19,” said San Diego’s bishop. “The personal tragedies of the pandemic in San Diego and Imperial Counties still remain as wounds in our hearts and souls.”
The reset focuses initially on removing limitations brought by the pandemic, he said.
Efforts in the coming months of the reset include an emphasis on inclusion of all people, encouraging families to return to church and educating churchgoers about the importance of attending Mass and partaking in the Eucharist, and a reinvigoration of the Catholic mission to serve the church and each other.
More than 20 Catholic cultural communities took part in the event, including Native Americans, Africans, Chinese, Filipinos, Germans, Indians, Indonesians, Irish, Italians, Koreans, Laotians, Mexicans, Peruvians, Samoans, Tongans and Vietnamese.
Many participants wore their cultural attire. Booths celebrated various national traditions, some handing out food after Mass.
“Throughout the pandemic, Pope Francis has continually reminded us of the oneness of the human family and the reality that we are all linked together in our earthly pilgrimage,” McElroy said. “You stand before us today as the embodiment of that reality.”
In a letter to parish priests this week, McElroy spelled out the loosening of health guidelines. Most are effective immediately, while others take effect June 15 or after.
- Face coverings are still required at Mass, but social distance between individuals and households can be reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet.
- An outdoor Mass option is encouraged.
- Congregational singing is permitted indoors, led by a maximum of two cantors and one accompanist. Larger choirs will be allowed after June 15.
- Communion is limited to the host, received only in the hand. The wine will not be distributed until the First Sunday of Advent in late November.
- Holy-water fonts should not be filled until September.
- The Offertory collection and the presentation of the gifts can be done as they were before the pandemic.
- The Sign of Peace — formerly a handshake — will continue to be contact-free and socially distanced.
- Only those who are vaccinated can take Communion to the sick and homebound.
Meetings and events at parishes can resume June 15 without size limitations.
During the pandemic, the bishop removed the obligation to attend Mass weekly. That is expected to be reversed later in the year.
During the Mass, McElroy blessed a statue designed for Pentecostal celebrations.
The wooden statue, “Mary, Mother of the Church,” depicts Mother Mary and baby Jesus with carvings of famous figures in the church as well as carvings of children.
The carvings reveal faces of St. Joseph, St. John Vianney, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Venerable Augustus Tolton, St. José María Robles, St. Faustina Kowalska, Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II.
It was a gift to the diocese from a Vietnamese family who commissioned the statue carved by an Italian artist. Creation of the statue was delayed during the lockdown. It was delivered last year when Masses were still only virtual.
“The Pandemic cannot be primarily an event that sapped our energy and dampened our spirits” McElroy said in his homily, which was live-streamed by the diocese. “Rather, it must become a moment that reminds us of the importance of faith and community, Eucharist and reconciliation, outreach and sacrifice.”
The Very Rev. Michael Pham, vicar general for the local diocese, helped organize the outdoor Mass that was four months in the planning.
“Pentecost is the ideal,” Pham said afterward. That’s what Pentecost does — gathering all people of all races and tongues and cultures together, all one people.”
He called the event wonderful as well as the conditions.
“God gave us this wonderful weather to be outside and to have this many people to be here and celebrate the descending of the Holy Spirit, all people together. This is such a beautiful occasion.”