After eight long weeks, I was finally able to re-enter a church for Sunday Mass. The restrictions imposed by the pandemic that has plagued our country have started to lift. One of the biggest restrictions had been that people could not attend Mass, not in person at least. Thanks to modern technology, most churches had the ability to livestream Sunday Masses and other prayer services, like the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, etc., to their parishioners. This was a true blessing, but watching an online Mass could not replace the deep spiritual experience of attending an actual Mass with fellow believers. I have been unable to receive Jesus Christ through the sacrament of communion for over two months.
That being said, I should have rushed the doors of the church in order to receive communion and celebrate Holy Mass once again. At the beginning of this pandemic, I began to see the devastating effects it was having on the Church and started to envision what it would be like when we were finally allowed to attend Mass in an actual physical church. I pictured people flooding into church filled with joy and thanksgiving; people reuniting with each other and receiving the essential healing they all so desperately craved during this time of isolation and deprivation. Unfortunately, this vision was not the reality I encountered when re-entering the church yesterday.
First of all, I did not have the feeling of excitement I expected. I didn’t wake up in the morning filled with anticipation knowing I was going to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist once more. Instead, I found myself making excuses as to why I should not go to Mass. I had too many obligations that day, and if I were to go, I would probably be turned away because the church had reached its limited capacity of 25% full. I feared I would be rejected by the church. Of course, this fear was illogical, but my mind still dwelled on it. I overcame all these doubts and hesitations and set off for church. When I arrived, the parking lot was almost empty and I had expected it to be packed with cars. I immediately wondered if I had the wrong time. Had Mass been cancelled at the last minute? The Holy Spirit quelled my doubts, and I got out of the car and went to the church.
In church I had to face the difficult truth that the state of this pandemic was still alive and well. We may have been granted permission to attend church, but people are choosing to remain at home and watch Mass virtually. The fear of catching the coronavirus is prevalent in our lives and though we can celebrate communally again, we are unable to celebrate as a complete community. Social distancing was blatantly evident by the blue tape on the floor indicating where we were to stand and almost everyone’s face was hidden behind a mask. I was so focused on maintaining social distance while walking up to receive communion that I almost missed my chance to fully encounter Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. My mind was engulfed by fear–the simple fear that I would make a wrong move and compromise the health of my fellow parishioners.
Amid all this trepidation and doubt, the joy of the Lord would not be denied, and the gift of joy He gave me will sustain me until the threat of the coronavirus has been totally extinguished. During Mass, a deep silence rested over the church, and within this silence, I entered the Lord’s presence. It was the first time the ceremony did not revolve around the homily or the dialogue I engaged in through prayer. In holy silence, the Lord is most present. He did not have a grand message for us all; He wanted us to be with Him in His home again. It seemed like a reunion with loved ones you haven’t seen in a long time. We first embrace each other without words; we know they will come later; it is more important to be with the other person and take in his or her entire being. I believe this was my experience in church. I may not have been able to physically embrace my brothers and sisters in Christ, but I was embraced by Christ. Before and after receiving communion, my body felt waves of goosebumps or “Godbumps” which is the better term. Every time I receive these “Godbumps” I know the Lord is near. The Lord was very near in that church yesterday, and He did not need to reveal His presence through grand and elaborate gestures, but rather in His deep and abiding silence.