Gather and Rejoice Together in Christ!
It’s a joyful invitation to all Catholics in the 57 parishes, Christ Cathedral, and five faith centers in the Diocese of Orange. Everyone is encouraged to attend Mass in person, receive the sacraments, and offer praise and worship to God together.
After months of isolation, loss of life, economic hardship, and serious illness, diocesan churches are mounting a weeks-long reopening effort to urge Catholics to return physically to their parishes.
Bishop Kevin Vann has declared Saturday and Sunday, June 12-13, as the kickoff for the Gather and Rejoice Together in Christ initiative. This coincides with the revocation of the dispensation from attending Mass in person on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.
“It is time to gather back together in our parishes as one body, one community in Christ,” Bishop Vann declares. “We come to Sunday Mass each and every week because God tirelessly calls each one of us to worship Him.”
The initiative is designed to gather O.C. Catholics in their home parishes to practice and continue building up the sacramental and spiritual life of the local Church. It will continue in the coming weeks with special events, receptions, outreach, and other efforts to welcome parishioners back to church.
“It is in these local communities where daughters and sons of God are spiritually nourished and strengthened by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ,” says Bishop Vann, “and His mercy and forgiveness are supported by their relationships with other members of their communities.
“The goal of this diocesan initiative is to assist people in hearing this call to worship God and respond with the totality of their lives,” he continues. “Our personal presence is a gift we offer back to God as He calls us to be in His Real Presence of the Eucharist.”
Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer, who is leading the diocese-wide initiative, says the invitation to Gather and Rejoice Together in Christ is a joyful opportunity for unity. “Our personal presence in church is a gift we offer back to God,” he says. “Due to the restrictions of the pandemic, we can appreciate more than ever the value of personal presence in our relationships and interactions.”
Orange County Catholics may not realize fully the deep and lasting effects COVID-19 has wrought on the local Church and community, Bishop Freyer says.
LOSS OF LIFE AND LIVELIHOOD FROM THE CORONAVIRUS
Church leaders, parish and diocesan staff, parishioners, and their families have suffered great losses, which were made worse when people couldn’t turn to their parish churches for help. Virtual services were no substitute for the ability to meet with priests, share grief with others, and lean on fellow parishioners.
Many Catholics throughout the county have suffered serious financial losses, although the economic recovery is well underway locally, statewide, and throughout the nation.
ECONOMIC HARDSHIP FOR LOCAL PARISHES
Churches in disadvantaged neighborhoods were hit especially hard, but all O.C. parishes suffered when people weren’t allowed to attend Mass and receive the sacraments in person. When collection baskets didn’t pass through the pews, parishioners largely stopped giving to their churches. A return to normalcy means that struggling churches have the hope of getting back on more solid financial footing.
EXTREME ISOLATION AND LONELINESS FOR CATHOLICS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Virtual worship connected us during the pandemic, but homebound elderly, the chronically ill, and others were isolated from one another and suffered lingering depression and other mental illnesses as a result.
STUDENTS MISSED ATTENDING SCHOOL IN PERSON, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THOSE ATTENDING O.C. CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
For most students, the coronavirus meant attending school virtually. For parents, it meant juggling jobs with home-schooling children. Fortunately students in the Diocese of Orange were, for the most part, attending in-class instruction. For families experiencing stress, and too much togetherness under one roof, relationships sometimes grew strained.
Due to the restrictions of the pandemic, we can appreciate more than ever our newfound freedom to worship God in person, Bishop Freyer notes.
“The sacraments of the Church are tangible and concrete ways we encounter and receive God’s grace in our lives,” he observes. “Through Holy Communion, God unites us deeply to one another as One Body in Christ. The Eucharist not only draws us together, but also propels us to evangelize, love, and serve; we are drawn back to the Eucharist each week, because nothing replaces personal presence.”
Catholics returning to worship in person will notice banners welcoming them back to church; special buttons identifying hospitality ministers who will offer a smile and words of welcome; events such as receptions; and other joyful activities. Parish leaders are planning historic welcome-back events and activities, including receptions, coffee-and-donut after-Mass events, and prayer services. Some pastors and priests are reaching out via phone and email to invite people back to church.
The bishops of the diocese of Orange are grateful to all who have supported their parishes and the many important ministries throughout the pandemic.
For more information, and to participate in parish and diocesan welcoming events, please contact your local parish, visit the parish and diocesan website, or call the parish office.