The second weekend of public Masses is in the record books and from all accounts, with few exceptions, attendance is still relatively low, and the 25-percent capacity rule is not being pushed to the limit. Part of me is actually pleased that attendance is still on the low side. I say this, not because I don’t want people to be at Mass, but because it makes me realize that parishioners, especially those in higher risk categories, are still being cautious about putting themselves into bigger crowd situations. We have been emphasizing the need for people to “stay home-stay safe” and “stay smart-stay safe” and I believe that is what our parishioners are choosing to do.  We are still hearing stories of spikes in Covd-19 cases throughout the country, and I believe that the old saying still communicates an important truth: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I’d rather have lower attendance and healthier people than bigger attendance and sicker parishioners.

Having said this, however, I also have to share a bit of disappointment that Mass attendance, at least at my parish, wasn’t a bit higher. I’m not offering these thoughts to make anyone feel guilty if they chose to remain home this past weekend as I realize there are very valid reasons to stay home and the obligation to attend is still suspended, but I had thought that after the first weekend back people would have heard that the church is taking very positive steps to keep parishioners safe at Mass. Not that I expected a full church (at 25-percent capacity of course), but I did think I was going to see an slight increase in attendees. There may be many valid reasons for the low attendance, but I am fighting back a nagging thought that some parishioners may have decided that there is no real difference between attending Mass in our churches and participating virtually at home. My nagging fear is that this exceptional situation is bringing us to a point where people will prefer just to watch Mass from the comfort of their living room than make the trip to their parish church to gather around the table of the Lord and unite as a community of faith to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Celebrating the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ this past weekend gave me an opportunity to speak to the importance of coming together in person to celebrate Mass.  At the Last Supper accounts of the Synoptic Gospels and in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the importance of eating and drinking together. When He said, “Do this in memory of me” He was not just asking us to remember the events of Holy Week, the Last Supper, His death and resurrection, He was reminding us that we are to be together as a family united by word and sacrament and are to eat His body and drink His blood so that we may share in eternal life.  We can’t really do that if we are all in our individual homes and participating virtually.  To celebrate the Mass together, to eat the Body of Christ, to drink the Blood of Christ, is meant to be the source and summit of our life of faith as individuals and as a Church.  I pray my homily helped my parishioners, though not large in number, remember that there is no substitute for the Body of the Christ, the Church, gathering to worship God and to be nourished by the Body of Christ, the Eucharist.  As St. Augustine proclaimed to his flock, “See who you are, become who you receive.”

As I said, this is the fear I am wrestling with and I know that two weeks into re-opening is not a very large sample to project such a dire conclusion, but it is a fear nonetheless. So join me in praying for a speedy resolution to this pandemic. I know that there are worries of another outbreak in the fall and winter, and it is my hope that it does not lead us to have to cease the public celebration of Mass again.

The Mass is at the heart of the Church and at the heart of the priesthood, and I have to admit that celebrating private Masses, though grace-filled in many ways, lacks the joy of being together with the community of faith entrusted to my pastoral care. It is in the Mass that all of us bring our joys, sorrows, highs and lows and join them together with the prayers of fellow pilgrims on the way to eternal life.  There is no substitute for the Mass virtually or anywhere else, of this I am certain.

Know of my continued prayers for you and stay well,

Msgr. John J. McDermott

Vicar general