Pastor’s Piece – May 23

I hear good reports regarding your health and the Coronavirus. The three persons of our communities that were roughed up a bit by COVID-19 are recovering well. I pray and hope that this trend persists. Although we can’t go “public” this Sunday we can prepare. God willing and Governor Northam & Loudoun County cooperating, we’ll be have Public Masses at St. Stephen the Martyr next Sunday, Pentecost, May 31. In order to get everyone ready with the expectations and procedures, I have sent you what Bishop Burbidge instructs for Phase I parishes. And as he has instructed me, here is how these guidelines apply to SSM.

Let’s start with the expectations. Firstly to gather for Mass at SSM we do so in a spirit of charity. Out of charity we mustn’t endanger the health of our neighbor. If you or those for whom you care are vulnerable to infection or the serious effects of coronavirus, please, stay at home. Those who are “vulnerable” are over the age of sixty five (I won’t be checking your i.d.), those who have existing heart or lung conditions, have diabetes, and or
are otherwise immune-compromised. Others who should consider staying home are those who simply feel sick.

According to the governor and the bishop we are able to fill our church and adjoining spaces up to 50%. That means for the nave of the church we have a maximum seating capacity of 140 rumps. This number will be diminished by social distancing guidelines whereby we are to leave six feet between each other, unless we’re from the same household. I will block off every other pew and ask you to use your judgment and, please, follow the instructions of our ushers to accommodate these guidelines.

The nave is not the only venue to attend Mass. We can seat up to 8 more people in the narthex. Theoretically I can seat 50 people in the parish hall, but I’ll need to place the chairs in there this week to see what that looks like. Similarly I’ll try to gather a number for those seated in front exterior of the church. I don’t think that there is a county code that regulates how many can sit outdoors. Social distancing and one’s ability to hear the speaker system may be the only factors that determine the number that gathers there. Or feel free to sit in your car. I’ll broadcast the Mass on 89.5 FM “The Martyr”.

The bishop’s guidelines mention expectations. There are expectations to wear facemasks (not requirements). And so you can expect Fr. Murphy not to wear one. You can expect to feel free to wear one (the bishop encourages it). You can expect that if your neighbor isn’t wearing one that it is the sin of rash judgment to consider him uncharitable. If you find these expectations troubling, it may be a good barometer to help you determine if you should attend. Generally speaking, I find that the mask is rather optional in Middleburg. If this makes you uncomfortable, then perhaps you’re not ready.

We are expected to disinfect our hands for things like Holy Communion. I’ll have some hand sanitizing stations available. You are welcome to bring your own. Please, know that it should contain 60% alcohol. Speaking of hooch. Holy Water isn’t prohibited, but it is now a controlled substance. We stash it is the Usher’s Closet. BYOB (bring your own bottle) and help yourself.

Besides the fact that there is no longer an obligation to attend Mass (until further notice), there are some reminders and actual changes to the Mass as instituted by Bishop Burbidge:

  • No holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer.
  • No exchange of peace.
  • No distribution of the Precious Blood.
  • Only Priests & Deacons distribute Communion.
  • Only those in a state of grace may receive Communion, but those who have health concerns are not obliged.
  • One is encouraged to disinfect his hands immediately before receiving Communion.
  • Please maintain social distancing in the Communion line.
  • One retains the right to decide how to receive, whether on the tongue or in the hand.
  • Holy Communion cannot be received in the hand with gloves.
  • I am to disinfect my hand immediately if accidental contact is made with a communicant.

Procedures at SSM to be aware of:

  • I invite those attending in the church nave, narthex, front porch and parking lot near the front of the church to come to Communion at the altar rail.
  • Those in the parish hall or seated in a car near the parish hall, please, wait for me to bring Communion to the hall after those in the church receive.
  • Regarding the altar rail:
    • There are six Communion stations.
    • They provides proper spacing, time for preparation and recollection, and speed.
      • Each properly spaced Communion station at the rail has a pad for kneeling.
      • One has the option to receive standing or kneeling but the pad is the location from which to communicate.
      • One may receive on the hand or on the tongue regardless of posture.
      • Look for tape on the floor for guidance as to where to stand as one waits for the communicant ahead to receive.
      • Such tape indicators are found throughout the main aisle.
    • Many will have for the first time the experience of wearing a mask for Holy Communion. This will require extra time for:
      • The removal and reapplying of masks.
      • It will require a moment extra to recollect oneself for the great unique privilege of sacramentally receiving Our Lord.
      • I ask that the mask be lowered from one’s mouth when I present the Eucharist.
        • It would be impossible to receive Holy Communion on the tongue if it isn’t.
        • For those receiving on the hand, I fear that one may drop the Sacred Host while engaging in this unfamiliar action of holding the Sacred Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior in one hand and deftly extricating one’s mask with the other hand.
      • Counter-intuitively this will be faster because I am the one moving and therefore the whole congregation doesn’t depend on the velocity of one individual communicant.
    • Those in vehicles must come into the church or parish hall to receive.
    • Ushers will maintain roughly the 140 number and social distancing in the church during this time, so, please, follow their instructions.
    • Those in the Parish Hall can line up and follow the markings on the floor in order to maintain social distancing.

I’m obliged to disinfect the church and hall after each Mass, so I need some volunteers. We need to wipe down pews and chairs after Mass to prepare for the next one. Lamentably this may cut into the time of those who prefer a lengthier thanksgiving after Mass. Please, be flexible, we are trying to serve as many parishioners as possible.

Mass times for Pentecost, May 31: 8:00 & 10:00am in English and 12:30pm in Spanish. There is no Saturday evening Mass of anticipation for Sunday.


Christ’s Peace,

Fr. Murphy


P.S. This Sunday’s Private Mass (May 24) is the same as last week. If you have no idea what that means, ask around, we’re getting a reputation.

P.P.S. On May 29th, the Knights of Columbus will be collecting non-perishable food to replenish the Saint Lucy Project’s food warehouse. Donations will be accepted at the Food Lion parking lot off Washington Street in downtown Haymarket between 10AM and 2PM on Friday the 29th. If you can’t deliver your donation to the Food Lion parking lot on the 29th, you may bring any donations to Saint Stephens from May 11– May 28. There will be a bin labeled “St.Lucys” in the narthex for your donation.


Guide for the Lay Faithful from the Diocese of Arlington – May 13, 2020