TX Bishop Fights Coronavirus With Christ’s Real Presence

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 13, 2020   

Meanwhile, Chicago, Detroit, Washington bishops cancel Mass

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TYLER, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Texas bishop is fighting coronavirus with Christ's Real Presence — in sharp contrast to prelates like Chicago's Cdl. Blase Cupich and Detroit's Abp. Allen Vigneron, who instead are canceling all Masses.

Taking the Blessed Sacrament to the streets, Bp. Joseph Strickland of the diocese of Tyler held a procession on Friday at 7 a.m. nearly a mile long, circling the block around the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Strickland called the procession a "great blessing and a moment of grace."

"It was a blessing to collectively turn to the Real Presence of the Lord and ask Him to help us and protect us," he recounted.

The example set by Strickland, who said on Tuesday Masses will continue, is at odds with the examples set by Cupich, Vigneron and others, who have announced they're suspending Masses owing to the coronavirus scare.

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While Strickland was bringing Christ to the aid of his flock, Cupich was announcing that all liturgical services in the Chicago archdiocese would cease as of Saturday evening and remain suspended indefinitely. In the same statement, the cardinal further announced he would be closing all schools in the archdiocese.

This was not a decision I made lightly. ... But, in consultation with leaders from across the archdiocese, for the sake of the safety of our students, parishioners and all the women and men who serve the people of the archdiocese, it is clear that we must take the better part of caution in order to slow the spread of this pandemic.

Vigneron followed suit on Friday, canceling all public Masses until April 6.

"As we continue to receive reports about the spread of the coronavirus in our communities, I write to you today with some news that may be difficult to hear," Vigneron wrote in a letter. "After consultation with health care professionals and government officials, I am temporarily suspending all public Masses in the archdiocese of Detroit until Monday, April 6."

Strickland told Church Militant he has asked all priests in the diocese to have a simple eucharistic procession at a weekend or weekday Mass before the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19. 

On Wednesday, the bishop tweeted, "I call on every Catholic priest to lead a simple eucharistic procession around your church sometime before the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, for repentance, Christ's healing hand on the coronavirus & that all men may be Godly, manly sons & disciples of His Son Jesus Christ."

Strickland described his "simple procession" on as follows:

We processed inside the cathedral, pausing to the east, west, north and south to pray and ask the Lord of Lords to offer His grace and protection. Then the procession continued outside the cathedral and did the same around the cathedral block and, pausing at the four directions of the compass, to ask Our Lord to protect the City of Tyler, the diocese, the nation and all of God's people around the world.

Strickland's plan of having Our Eucharistic Lord battle the coronavirus mirrors the actions taken by Pope St. Gregory the Great to battle the plague decimating Rome in the sixth century. Hoping to appease God's wrath, Gregory led processions and prayers of repentance through the streets.

I encourage all people of faith to deepen our 'faith instinct.'

The procession, in which more than 80 participants died, ended near Castel Sant'Angelo, or Hadrian's mausoleum. Participants give the following account of what happened next:

As the procession neared the Vatican, the participants all saw St. Michael the archangel standing upon the cupola of Hadrian's mausoleum as he sheathed his flaming sword. It was a sign that the chastisement had come to an end, and at once the heaviness in the air abated and the air itself seemed to freshen and clear. Indeed, at that moment the plague ended as the faithful rejoiced and lifted up their voices to thank the Mother of God.

The spiritual approach of Strickland and Gregory is also at variance with the approach of prelates like Seattle's Abp. Paul Etienne, who is also canceling all Masses indefinitely. In a video released Wednesday, Etienne told parishioners they'll have to pray on their own without Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

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Eucharistic procession

This epidemic is going to continue to spread, said Etienne, going on to add, "So I am going to ask that all of our parishes in western Washington, in the archdiocese of Seattle, effective today, suspend the celebration publicly of the Eucharist."

As the first U.S. bishop to close parishes owing to fear of coronavirus, Etienne added, "I want to just encourage you, in a very deeply spiritual way, to pray with confidence, to pray with faith, to pray with hope, that the Lord accompany us during this, and that the Lord protect us as well."

Strickland believes a minor miracle took place during the eucharistic procession. He recounts that rain was forecasted and that he prayed before the procession that bad weather be held off until after the outdoor procession had ended.

"It literally began to rain as I was leaving the cathedral after the procession," Strickland said. "Many would discount this as just the quirky weather of East Texas, but I encourage all people of faith to deepen our 'faith instinct' and believe that as Christ promises, when we ask in prayer the Lord hears us."

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