Diocese of Lake Charles
It wasn’t a Holy Day of Obligation or even a Sunday Mass. But that didn’t keep area Catholics from filling the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to near capacity on Tuesday for what would be the final public Mass as all public liturgical services in the Diocese of Lake Charles were suspended, effective at noon on March 17.
Faithful in the diocese were informed of the halt in liturgical services through a letter on March 16 from Bishop Glen John Provost. The difficult decision came following recent developments regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) at the federal and state levels and in the interest of the common good, according to the letter.
“This was the most touching and emotional Mass I have ever celebrated,” the Very Reverend Rommel Tolentino, pastor of the Cathedral, said in his closing remarks.
For many Catholics, the upsetting news about the suspension of Masses is not about social distancing, but more about being separated from the real Presence of the Body of Christ. Crying and heavy sobbing could be heard throughout the church as people received the Eucharist one last time, at least for a while.
Not knowing when the Holy Eucharist will be available again, Tricia Flavin said she would not have missed the Mass for anything. “As Catholics, the Eucharist and the sacraments are what sustain us and what we live for,” she said.
Amanda Martin echoed those sentiments saying the Mass gave her hope that we are not alone in this. “Once I was here, I knew this was exactly where I needed to be,” she said noting that the attendance felt more like a crowded Sunday Mass. “There was a much longer line for confession,” she observed, “and that was with two priests.”
Anyone who is in regular attendance at a weekday Mass in the Cathedral knows the typical time frame is about a half hour. Tuesday’s Mass began at 11 a.m. instead of the usual time of noon and lasted a full hour. Many people remained in the church afterward to spend time in the presence of God.
“The Eucharist is the core of our faith,” said Maria O’Dowd. “It’s heartbreaking since we don’t know when we will get to come back.”
Father Tolentino did inform everyone that the Cathedral will remain open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday for anyone wanting to spend quiet time in prayer and reflection.
In his homily, Father thanked everyone for attending and reminded them they had come to the right place during this time of difficulty.
“We have to trust in our bishop, our good shepherd,” Father Tolentino said. “He is doing this with a heavy heart and with much sadness.”
Father said this is a time for Catholics to reflect on their faith and their relationship with Christ.
“We are spoiled as Catholics,” he said, “as we can receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist anytime. Many places in the world are still being persecuted and are not allowed to practice their faith. We need to always be grateful for what we have.”
Father also encouraged people to get into a regular prayer routine at home suggesting ways to foster their faith.
“Pray the rosary as a family, read Scripture together, turn to Our Lady who recognizes our needs even before we do,” he said.
Father’s message was comforting for Jennifer Wainwright. “I think it is important to gather as a community and be able to hear words of wisdom from Father Tolentino for this time that we are going through,” she said. “He gave us some really good thoughts to remember and keep in mind for however long this takes.”
Father Tolentino reassured the congregation during this penitential season of Lent that priests throughout the Diocese would still be available to administer the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick.
“Now is the time to turn to God. He is the one who can help us,” Father said. “We need to turn to God in humility and repentance asking for His mercy.”
Bishop Provost has provided the following prayer for those times whenever one cannot go to Mass or receive the Eucharist:
An Act of Spiritual Communion
By St. Alphonsus Ligouri
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least into my heart. I embrace You as if You are already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
(You may make this Spiritual Communion anytime you need it as often as you need it.)