In many parts of the U.S. and Canada, churches had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, Masses are resuming in a limited fashion, with social-distancing guidelines implemented in various ways by dioceses and local parishes.
It’s not the same as before. Attendance is restricted in some areas to a fraction of capacity. And, because elderly or immune-compromised parishioners are not able to risk public exposure, local bishops generally have temporarily suspended the obligation to attend Mass.
So seating is limited, the safety procedures are unusual, you might have to wear a face mask, and attendance isn’t obligatory. What should you do, then? Here is your seven-step guide to navigating the return to Mass.
Step 1. Go to Mass anyway. If you normally attend Mass only because it’s an obligation, then you’re missing out. In the Mass, you can receive the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, with your fellow believers. There is no greater expression of the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. It’s a privilege not to be taken lightly.
After weeks of watching Mass on television or social media, we might feel a certain hunger for the Eucharist. Let’s offer prayers of thanksgiving that the Eucharist is available to us once again. Remember that the word “Eucharist” derives from a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.”
Naturally, if you have serious health reasons, then it might be prudent to wait on Mass a bit longer.
Step 2. Follow directions. Your local parish might require you enter through particular doors, wear a facemask, use hand sanitizer, or avoid congregating before and after Mass. You might find that ushers will escort you to your seats, as well as direct you when you may leave. Communion procedures might be in place, and the sign of peace will likely be dropped. There might be no congregational singing, or instrumental music only.
Don’t groan or roll your eyes. Relax. You might not get that favorite pew you want, and wearing a mask in church might seem a bit surreal. But why sweat the small stuff? You’re used to being directed to a table at restaurants, and you’ll practice similar social-distancing measures in any public building. The liturgy might seem a bit more somber, but let’s face it: These are somber times.
So roll with it. Think of the many Catholics around the world over the centuries who have had to participate in Mass under difficult circumstances — on battlefields, in prison camps or in the catacombs, for example. By comparison, this is a piece of cake.
Step 3. Remember the collection. The pandemic and lockdown have hit churches hard. Even parishes that offer electronic giving options receive most of their weekly contributions through the collection basket. If you haven’t kept up your giving in recent months and you have not taken a serious income hit yourself, it’s time to catch up with your parish giving. In fact, consider putting in a little extra to help support the parish’s mission.
Step 4. Avoid judging. Attendance might be smaller than you expect. You might notice some regulars missing. Don’t assume they have grown lazy or lukewarm. Those who aren’t at Mass might have legitimate reasons. Pray for them.
Step 5. Invite others to return. By the same token, when you meet or speak with other Catholics afterward, encourage them to return to Mass. Express joy that you’ve been able to do so yourself. You might help some overcome their fears that way.
Step 6. Get back to the box. There’s more than just Mass awaiting your return. Confessions were hard to come by in many areas during the pandemic, often limited to special requests or creative drive-by opportunities, but scheduled times should resume soon. If you haven’t been for a while, gather the family and get in line. Let’s all thank God for the grace and forgiveness he offers us through the sacrament of penance.
Step 7. Gradually resume parish life. If all goes well, things should return to normal with time. Watch for service opportunities to open up further as parish ministries resume. As a Knight of Columbus, your council will likely be on the front lines in serving your parish and the larger community. You can be a part of that.
The “new normal” at Mass might seem inconvenient or uncomfortable at first, but it’s a small act of charity we can offer for the protection of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
See you in church?
Gerald Korson, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a member of the Knights of Columbus in Indiana.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. To access Knightline’s archives, click here. To share your story, email email@example.com.
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