In March of last year we began to feel locally the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Coronavirus was known to be out there. Knowing it was coming, precautions were put in place. In church it began with the suspension of the Sign of Peace at Mass, as well as stopping the distribution of the Cup with the Precious Blood. The holy water fonts were also emptied. All this was done to “flatten the curve.” We also saw a marked drop in attendance in Mass as people chose to stay home to avoid getting the virus.
Who would have ever expected any of these precautions, especially in church? We had seen nothing like this in our lifetime. I stress “our lifetime” because there is a history of plagues and diseases in the world. The most recent being the Spanish Flu in 1918. Before the Coronavirus, I did not even know there had been a Spanish Flu pandemic.
Then, the shutdown came. Non-essential businesses shutdown and people stayed home. Churches were not exempted from the shutdown. This was not a question of freedom of religion. It was about public health. In the Diocese of Rochester where I serve, the last public Masses were celebrated on March 16th. That afternoon, Bishop Matano ordered the suspension of public Masses.
I stress “public” because Mass did not stop. The priests celebrated Mass privately. Before the shutdown, I had never celebrated Mass privately. I found it a very different experience without people present. While the people could not be present, the people were very much on my mind and in my prayers when I said Mass. While you could not be there, I said Mass for you.
Mass had been available on television and radio for a long time. A few churches had begun to livestream Masses but it was few and far between. That changed with the Coronavirus. About two weeks into the shutdown we began to livestream on Facebook and Zoom. Even when we began livestreaming, it was with the expectation that it was a short term measure during the shutdown.
Holy Week and Easter were celebrated without any people in the pews. It would be three months before public Masses resumed in the Diocese of Rochester. When we did resume public Masses, it was with facemasks, social distancing, removal of the hymnals, and limited capacity. Knowing not everyone would feel safe coming to Mass, the dispensation from attendance remained in effect.
A lot of people still were not able able to come to Mass. With people in the pews, we had to find a different way to livestream. Some equipment was purchased and we switched to YouTube. We have also heard from parishioners who were homebound even before there was a Coronavirus how much they appreciate the livestreaming. This is perhaps one of the positives that have come out of the Coronavirus pandemic.
We made other adjustments to continue to be able to serve the people. For instance, rather than stop the presentations I used to do in person to help people learn about our faith, I learned how to host a webinar on Zoom (my next webinar is tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 10th at 6:30 pm on euthanasia/assisted-suicide. You can register at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_3PBguDBhTEejhlqqD1mEWQ.).
Weddings and funerals were delayed. We have not been able to do routine home visits.
How has your life been affected? How has your faith been affected? Has this giving you a new appreciation for being able to come to Mass? Has it given you a new appreciation for the time you spend with other people? Do you pray more or differently now?
For me, it has been a mixed experience. I very much missed having people in the church when we were in shutdown. Even now, I am sad when I think of the people still not able to come. I am an introvert so the solitude of the shutdown gave me some wonderful quiet time. However, I also love discussion about our faith. Even now, while I do the webinars, I miss having face to face discussions with people.
One of the positives that came during the shutdown for me was having more time to post blog articles here. Even now, I continue to post a couple of articles a week, something I did not find the time to do before there was a Coronavirus. I make the time now because I feel it is something God calls me to do to support you in your faith journey.
We continue to wear facemasks and social distancing. Attendance is still down to less than half of what it had been before the pandemic. We are grateful that the number of new cases is decreasing. We are grateful that God enabled the medical researchers to develop vaccines in record time. We are grateful for the work of healthcare workers and all workers that have helped supply us with what we need.
So, how has your faith been affected?