Coronavirus certainly has changed the way we participate in the Mass. It’s different than it used to be because of safety measures undertaken by our dioceses and local parishes. It might seem a bit strange even now with the limitations still in place. But is there something good that we can derive from the experience?
I believe there is.
In cooperation with state and local recommendations, my diocese suspended in-person Masses for three months and dispensed Catholics from the Sunday obligation. My wife and I gathered our family around the television set to participate as best we could in the streaming liturgies that were available each Sunday, but of course it wasn’t the same — and never could be. When Masses resumed in mid-summer, social distancing practices and several safety measures were implemented, including required facemasks, no missals or hymnals, no singing, no sign of peace and new procedures for receiving Communion (and under only the single species). The dispensation from Mass has been extended into November.
Your mileage may vary depending in part upon local circumstances. But here are a few things I’ve observed and learned along the way — and maybe a few points you might think about too.
Our return was surreal, but ultimately joyful. After weeks of no Mass, highly unusual conditions prevailed. Everything seemed a little tentative. There was a sense of reclaiming our church after a crisis, and perhaps that is an apt description. On the television screen at home, we could follow the action, hear the Scripture readings and homily, recite the prayers, and make a spiritual communion. But there was something we could never do from home, and that is to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. The word eucharist means “thanksgiving,” and it was a profound experience to once again enjoy the privilege of partaking in the sacrament that had been denied us for so long. It was a wonderful morning.
Thought: Do I take the Mass and Eucharist for granted? Do I sometimes go through the motions, neglecting the wonderful gift that Our Lord provides in this sacrament? Do I truly appreciate the relatively easy availability of Mass and the sacraments in my area, something lacking in mission areas of the world?
Social distance is awkward. Ropes cordon off every other pew, and tape marks on the floor indicate a safe radius for the communion line. We were urged not to socialize before or after Mass. Although I’m a fan of getting out of the parking lot quickly, it was a bit odd at first to respect the now-enlarged personal space of others and to greet one another with muffled hellos and raised eyebrows rather than handshakes and more extended conversation.
Thought: Do I value the other members of the faithful in my parish community? Do I see them as true brothers and sisters in Christ, sharers with me in the one true faith? Do I pray for their strength and well-being during these trying times?
The crowd is smaller. There were, and remain, far fewer of us at Mass than attended in the pre-pandemic days. That’s partly due to health concerns, and partly perhaps due to the dispensation: there’s no obligation to be here. We pass no judgment there. But we come voluntarily, for our spiritual good, for the Eucharist. We need the grace and strength it provides us.
Thought: What is my attitude toward the Mass under normal circumstances: do I view it primarily as an obligation, or do I yearn for the Eucharist? If the latter, then should I make more of an effort to attend Mass more frequently on weekdays?
Music promotes meditation. My parish went to instrumental music only — no cantor, no choir, no congregational singing. It eliminates certain distractions, to be sure: the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time children’s choir, the person across the aisle whose voice is a little “pitchy,” my own faltering efforts to join in with my rather limited vocal range. But something else interesting happened: as the organist played the familiar hymns, I found myself “singing” the lyrics with my heart. It became a prayerful experience, perhaps even more so than when I sing aloud, too focused on trying to hit the right notes.
Thought: Do I ordinarily participate in congregational singing at Mass? When I do, do I recognize it as prayer and “sing with my heart”? Will I try to do so when congregational singing returns to my parish?
Silence is sacred. With less music and fewer people, there seems to be more silence, which for me adds to the sense of reverence. Sometimes in our non-pandemic liturgies it seems there is little time allowed for silent prayer, even after the Communion Rite. I have a renewed appreciation for sacred silence and how precious it is, within or outside the Mass.
Thought: Does my prayer life suffer from a lack of silence? Will I seek out more opportunities for sacred silence on a regular basis as an aid in deepening my experience of prayer and contemplation?
Missing his Presence. We encounter the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist at Mass. We also can encounter his real presence in Eucharistic adoration. Our parish is blessed to have a perpetual adoration chapel. Before it was closed due to the pandemic, I would stop to pray there on an irregular basis. Recently it reopened with social-distancing restrictions in place. I’ve missed that occasional time of prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.
Thought: Do I take advantage of opportunities to pray before the Blessed Sacrament regularly — in a perpetual adoration chapel if available, or else before the tabernacle in church? Might I at least arrive at Mass 15-30 minutes early so as to spend some time in quiet prayer in Christ’s Eucharistic presence as preparation to receive him in holy communion? Do I assist or participate in the Holy Hour initiative promoted by my council?
Gerald Korson, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a member of the Knights of Columbus in Indiana. He has 11 children, including four sons, and 15 grandchildren.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. To access Knightline’s monthly archives, click here. Or, share your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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