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Attending Church on Easter During the Pandemic

Chuck enjoys celebrating holidays with his family. This has led to an interest in researching & writing about holidays & their traditions.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church - Tucson, AZ

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church - Tucson, AZ

I Attend Church On Easter Sunday Morning

As I crossed the street and approached the church I pulled out my cell phone to check the time. It was about 18 minutes to 7:00 which meant that if this were an ordinary Easter I would end up squeezing in amongst the crowd of other non-early birds standing in the back. But it wasn’t an ordinary Easter since we were in the second year of the COVID Pandemic. What was extraordinary was the fact that the Church was open, alibit with numerous pandemic safety precautions, unlike last year when churches and most other gathering places for people were closed.

The church is located on a large plot of land and sits four or five hundred feet or more back from the road with its main entrance on its far side. While the parking lots on each side of the church each had a fair number of cars in them there was still room for more cars which gave me hope that I might still be in time to find a seat. Coming around to the front I noticed eight or ten rows of folding chairs set up facing the main entrance. However, none were yet occupied.

The church is very large with four groups of pews arranged in a semi-circle facing the altar. When the church reopened in the late summer or early fall of 2020 the two smaller sets of pews along the two sidewalls of the church were roped off and not used. However, as I entered I noticed that these two sets of pews had people seated in them.

At first glance it appeared that most pews had been filled, but closer inspection from a different angle as I moved along the back to the area where I have been sitting recently I noticed that they still had every other row of pews in each of the four sections roped off and social distancing was being practiced by many. The exceptions were couples, couples with children and small groups who always sat together before the pandemic. Since I was alone (my wife was at work) I took a seat in one of the smaller 15 to 18 foot pews which was occupied by one fellow at the far end and one in the middle leaving the other end seat to me.

The Mass Begins

I had resumed going to church on Sunday during the Fall of 2020 so I was familiar with the temporary changes made due to COVID. Of course masks were required and this was conspicuously posted at all entrances. Social distancing was required as well, but not strictly enforced as I saw a number of families and close friends sitting together. However, all of them not only appeared to be concentrated toward the front and thus were obviously among the first to arrive. Based upon the way they appeared to be interacting with each other I assume they were either extended families or close friends who, prior to the Pandemic, probably always sat together in church. Most others appear to have socially distanced out of fear of COVID or simple respect for the concerns and emotional comfort of others.

The choir had been disbanded for the duration of the pandemic but one of the members had been chosen or had volunteered to act as cantor. Every Sunday since I resumed attending the 7:00 a.m. Mass she was in front playing the harp and leading a couple of hymns and chants during the Mass. She was also tasked with giving a short announcement just before the Mass started welcoming everyone and explaining that Communion would be distributed after the Mass outside the exits due to COVID.

After the cantor had welcomed everyone she sat down at her harp and sang the entrance hymn while the Priest and Deacon came down the aisle. A few people joined in the hymn signing with a soft voice and masks still covering their mouth and nose.

Many have justified closing churches during the pandemic as singing and robust vocal responses can result in the release of both virus germs as well as so called aerosols which are microscopic bubbles of saliva with a virus inside. Viruses can float around a bit especially in moving air and aerosols can float much longer. While my wife and I have avoided crowds, especially indoors, of people singing and shouting during the pandemic this is a suburban Catholic church the majority of whose members are middle to old age. While we might be very boisterous at a ball game or party in a bar we tend to be quite subdued in church especially since, to help stop the spread of COVID, the hymnals and cards containing congregation responses to prayers have been removed from the pews and are not available anywhere in the church. Further, as a result of the continuous changes to the Mass since Vatican II most of us haven’t had time to memorize one set of changes before another arrives. So, in addition to masks and social distancing, this lack of robust verbal activities further reduces the chance of spreading the virus.

The priest, deacon and cantor all wore masks except when speaking into a microphone as did the Lector who also took off his mask while doing his two readings and then replaced it before returning to his pew.

Before starting his sermon, the priest commented that he couldn’t move around too much as was his habit when giving a sermon because he was required to stay within a certain area by the altar so the camera could see him as the Mass was being streamed online. A temporary camera had apparently been set at the church for this Mass which allowed those who didn’t feel safe venturing out. I presume that it was recorded and rebroadcast a few more times on Sunday.

Just before the Mass ended the Cantor reminded the congregation that communion would be served by Eucharistic Ministers at each of the three exits on their way out. Communion consisted of the host only and given only in the hand and not the mouth. As a child in the pre-Vatican II era only the priest had both bread and wine with the people only receiving the host. After Vatican II communion consisted of both bread and wine (the body and the blood). With the precious blood (wine) frequently being dispensed from a communal chalice people have the option of receiving the host only. During recent years, in our parish at least, wine is not available during flu season.

Finally, as a precaution, the pastor had apparently stipulated that the priest would not be distributing communion for health reasons. While this priest has frequently been officiating at the 7:00 a.m. Sunday Mass during the past few months, he is by his own admission, older than he looks and despite being fit and in good health it was felt that due to the anticipated large crowd many of whom were just emerging out of their pandemic isolation posed a potential health risk greater than the smaller group of regulars at the Sunday Masses.

Concluding Thoughts

For me, and I am sure that for most of the others attending the Mass, the experience of attending Mass on Easter was another step back to our normal, pre-Pandemic lives.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has wreaked havoc on all of our lives with some having to endure more suffering and challenges than others. For many there was great tragedy and loss while others were more fortunate but still faced some challenges.

Finally, unlike some other states, the Governor of Arizona’s shutdown orders were limited to a few areas, such as bars, restaurants, movie theaters, where COVID was most likely to be spread. For the rest of the state he issued suggested guidelines to follow. Thus, churches were among the many organizations and businesses that were free to decide how best to respond to the pandemic.

While not required to most if not all the churches and other non-essential organizations and businesses shut down immediately in March 2020. Since May of 2020 churches and other organizations have been slowly reopening with practices and materials in place to limit the spread of COVID among those visiting and patronizing their establishments.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Chuck Nugent

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