Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
As the end of this year is fast approaching, I want to express my ongoing gratitude and joy to be here in the Diocese of Gaylord. As shared in our recent end-of-year issue of FAITH magazine, I want to provide you a brief update on various topics as we reflect on these past months and prepare for the beginning of a new liturgical year in the coming days.
In my time to date in the diocese, I have visited and celebrated a weekend Mass in 49 of our parishes. It has been a great blessing to me and I have felt very welcomed. I will continue to visit the parishes as long as I am here serving as the Apostolic Administrator. I continue to be uplifted by these visits and the deep faith I see being lived out in our parishes. These are difficult times, but faith is strong. I am impressed by how well our churches are maintained and the reverence and devotion shown by those at our celebrations of the Eucharist. While it certainly is true that many have returned to in-person worship, there are many more to be welcomed back. We need to be concerned about that and extend a warm welcome to all.
Even though we are still in the midst of the pandemic, our parishes and schools are beginning to return to the “new normal.” Although uncertainty remains, many of our parish programs and activities are beginning to resume. It is worth noting and reflecting on the good work being done in our Catholic schools. We are thankful that in many of the 16 schools of the diocese, enrollment has seen a modest increase. We have 2,462 students enrolled in grades K-12 this year. Our schools face many challenges, from limited financial resources (low salaries) and enrollment demands, to an increasingly secular culture. I am grateful to our school administrators, faculty and volunteers who keep our schools alive and vital. Our parishes are generous in their financial support, keeping in mind that the schools are an important but not exclusive part of parish life and ministry. Thank you to all who make it possible and to parents who send their children to our schools.
I want to express my sincere gratitude to you and your families for your overwhelming financial support over these past months. From our Catholic Services Appeal to our special collections, including the Haiti Relief Fund and the Seminarian Education Fund, you have given generously. Your gifts make a real and significant impact in the lives of others, and I am thankful to you for continuing to step out in faith and giving unreservedly. At the time of my writing, your gifts have totaled $3,412,606 to the Catholic Services Appeal.
Additionally, your gifts have totaled $227,990 to the Seminarian Education Fund. As you know, we have three seminarians this year — thank you for supporting them through this special fund. Please continue to pray for these young men in their journey to the priesthood, a journey that is demanding in many ways, and takes years to complete. Although this vocation and preparation for it are difficult and have many challenges, it is one of great blessing. Please pray for and encourage our young people, and those who are older as well, to consider a priestly or religious vocation.
On July 16, 2021, our Holy Father issued an apostolic letter addressed to the bishops. This motu proprio, called Traditionis Custodes, asks all to embrace the richness and fullness of the liturgical books promulgated by St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II in conformity with the decrees of the Vatican Council II. The texts of this apostolic letter, along with a letter sent to the bishops of the world, may be found on our diocesan website.
Following the Vatican Council II and the revisions to our liturgical books, there continued to be some who remained strongly committed to using the traditional forms in place before the Vatican Council II. Over the years that followed, various popes gradually permitted the use of the traditional rites in place prior to the council, with Pope Benedict XVI expanding the right to use the older rites broadly.
Pope Francis has found that based on a survey of the world’s bishops, the use of the Tridentine rituals has become a source of great division in the Church and directed that the use of the Tridentine rituals be limited. He has directed the bishops to restrict its growth and use and, at the same time, provide for the pastoral needs of those who have embraced the older forms of worship.
Thankfully, I have not sensed a great division here in the diocese, except where efforts have been made to inject elements of the older forms of worship in the approved present celebrations that most would experience.
Following the instructions of Pope Francis’ motu proprio, I have designated Holy Rosary in Cedar and St. Thomas in Elmira as the two locations in the diocese where one Mass each Sunday may be celebrated using the Tridentine form. (This Sunday Mass at Holy Rosary is at 11 a.m. and at St. Thomas at 3 p.m.) At Holy Rosary, there are several additional times during the week when Mass in the extraor-dinary form may be celebrated. Beyond these, other Masses in these parishes and all other parishes and institutions in the diocese must use the Novus Ordo, or ordinary form of the Mass, approved after the Vatican Council II.
The Holy Father makes clear that new groups wishing to use the Tridentine form may not be established. He also challenges us to make sure that all the celebrations of the Eucharist be carried out in a reverent and respectful way carefully observing the appropriate ritual books.
The Church (including our Holy Father) continues to call us to be concerned about each other, get vaccinated, wear masks and do those things that protect ourselves and others from this virus. In the past months, we have had to scramble in a few of our parishes where priests have contracted the virus and could not celebrate Mass or perform their other priestly duties. We’ve grieved the loss of many members of our parishes as a result of the virus, often including friends and relatives. We mourn their loss and cherish their memory, and we commend them to the love and mercy of God. Let us continue to care for each other.
During November, we traditionally remember those who have gone to the Lord. It is a special time to pray for the dead and to cherish those that have gone before us. It is also a time to give thanks to God for the gift of life and the call to eternal life.
As we soon enter into Advent and await the season of Christmas, I encourage you to find renewed hope in this time of expectation. We have spent much time waiting in the past months — waiting to see and hug our family and friends; waiting for an end to the pandemic; waiting for a return to the way things were. Once again, we find ourselves waiting, but this time for the ultimate promise of hope. Together, we await the birth of our Savior, the coming of our Lord to live among us and redeem us. May we be drawn ever closer to our Lord and the Holy Family during these days of hopeful expectation.
+Bishop Walter A. Hurley