From scrambling to find church clothes that would fit their growing children, to finding new ways to greet fellow parishioners with the wink of an eye, some Catholics eagerly returned to Mass the weekend of May 23-24.
Catholics who headed back to church with the resumption of public Masses found clear communication from parishes, along with guidance from parish volunteers and signage and directions onsite, in following new guidelines for public Masses in the archdiocese.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson suspended public Masses in the archdiocese March 16 as a way of slowing the spread of
COVID-19, but lifted the suspension May 18, with new protocols in place for the celebration of Masses. The archbishop’s general dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation remains in place for all Catholics in the archdiocese until further notice, and parishes are encouraged to continue livestreaming Masses.
Angie Christ attended the noon Sunday Mass at Holy Infant in Ballwin with her husband and two of their children. The parish had an electronic sign-up form for weekend Masses, and communicated expectations at Mass via email and social media.
There were fewer people at Mass than she expected, but overall, Christ was happy to be back at church and to receive the Eucharist. The family had not been to Mass since mid-March when public Masses were suspended in the archdiocese.
“I’ve been watching Mass on the internet and TV, but it just wasn’t the same,” Christ said. “I just didn’t have that ‘blessed’ feeling afterward. I loved being able to receive Christ in the Eucharist.” The initial awkwardness of not knowing what to do with her mask at Communion was a distraction, she added, “but I’ll take that over not being able to go to Mass any day.”
The 8 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Crestwood drew about 60 people; the church can handle a maximum of 80 people with new guidelines in place. Parishioner Rosann Shannon said that Mass attendees were good about wearing their masks and remaining spaced apart in the pews.
Shannon had already been attending daily Mass since public Masses resumed on May 18. She also visited church for private prayer while public Masses were suspended. It was “great to be back in God’s house and receive Communion,” she said. “I enjoyed seeing others and sharing our Catholic family faith together again. So blessed.”
At St. Gerard Majella in Kirkwood, Tara Scherer attended with her husband, Paul, and their two sons, Paulie, 12, and David, 10. Paul Scherer was part of a small group of volunteers who stayed at church to help clean after Mass.
“It felt amazing to be back at church, praying with other parishioners, and to be able to receive the Eucharist,” Tara Scherer said. “It was emotional to be there. I hope to never take it for granted. Even though many things were different it still felt like home.”
Beyond the awkwardness of dealing with masks and spacing out among the pews, the family had one other issue with which to contend. “Since it’s been about 10 weeks since we’ve been to Mass and because of the season change, my boys were scrambling to find church clothes and shoes,” she said. “We haven’t been in dressy clothes for months.”
Tiffany Hoeckelman and her husband Matthew, and their 8-year-old son, Aayden, attended the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass at Immaculate Conception in Union. Hoeckelman said that normally when she catches someone’s eye at Mass she will offer a smile, but wearing a mask rendered that impossible. “I found that we were winking at each other instead,” she said. Every other pew was covered in plastic to keep Mass attendees spaced apart, and the traffic pattern for the distribution of Communion was altered accordingly. The parish also added an additional Sunday evening Mass. “It went much smoother than I thought,” Hoeckelman said.
Jan Martin said she could tell the logistics were “really well thought out” at All Souls Parish in Overland, where she attended the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass. Martin also attended a weekday Mass at Our Lady of the Presentation earlier in the week, when public Masses resumed. She expressed her gratitude for the preparation, including extra hand sanitizer on hand and ushers providing guidance on where to sit.
“I was super glad to be able to go,” she said. “I was really missing it. When we talk about how we believe this is Jesus (in the Eucharist) you should feel like it’s special.” Martin also observed that Father Anthony Ochoa, who was appointed parochial administrator of All Souls in March, was “really excited. Everybody was feeling really good about it.”
Of course, having to sing while wearing a mask presented a challenge, “but if that’s the smallest sacrifice I could make, then I can handle that,” Martin said.
Paige Byrne Shortal and her family are longtime parishioners at St. Francis Borgia Parish in Washington, but they were not ready to return to Mass quite yet, noting that she and her husband are “in that new demographic group known as vulnerable elders.”
Shortal, who directed the parish choir for 20 years until her retirement in 2016, has remained in the choir with her husband, Pat. The two also regularly serve as cantors, sometimes with their teenage children, and they were asked to sing at the Saturday Vigil Mass this weekend for those who were to have been received into the Church and baptized at the Easter Vigil. The family will sing from the choir loft at a distance from the congregants.
Shortal also expressed solidarity with Catholics for whom it is not safe to return, including those who are older or have health reasons. “It’s one thing to long for community when everyone is staying distant,” she said. “But when some gather and others can’t, I think it’s going to make the longing more painful.”
During the cancellation of public Masses, she has collected the choir’s intentions via email, and on Saturday mornings sends an email with a prayer sheet with the readings, a reflection and written intercessions that include the individual’s intentions. “We always pray after choir practice for people’s intentions and our new director, Katie Alexander, thought this was a way to keep everyone connected,” Shortal said. Her family also has a weekly “Shortal Sunday Service,” with singing, readings of the day and sharing bread and wine “in unity with those who are celebrating the Eucharist.”
The Morgan family of Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin visited the “holy mother Church” — the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis — for the 8 a.m. Mass. Kim Morgan said that she was curious about the logistics at the cathedral basilica, including an online sign-up form to attend Mass. She noticed that there was “a spirit of charity and care, but also some structure. They were keeping people safe and being careful.”
Despite missing Mass, Morgan said that she’s come to realize that Jesus “has been present to me the whole time.” With children at home, it was important to practice being a “domestic church,” which has included a regular routine of getting dressed in Sunday church clothes and attending livestreamed Masses together as a family. “It became very much a routine for us,” she said.
At Our Lady Parish in Festus, parishioners who didn’t want to go inside the church were invited to park cars close to the church where speakers were placed.
Father Gregory Klump, parish pastor, said an average of 35 people attended the Masses inside, but at two Masses more than a dozen cars were on the lot. “These were people who are mostly among the vulnerable population and would still like to connect, even if it is just sitting in their vehicles,” Father Klump said. “Distribution of Communion went very smoothly.”
It may take time for people to feel comfortable returning, but “we will be here when they do,” he said.
Smooth sailing at Immaculate Conception Parish in Arnold, thanks to volunteers who helped people to their seats and ensured they had masks. Several parishioners made 150 masks to hand out to anyone who didn’t have one.
Parishioners also raised money to purchase cameras allowing a permanent online presence for Masses. Many parishioners told Father Scott Jones, parish pastor, they weren’t ready to come back to Mass yet for safety reasons, so he wasn’t expecting a crowd. About 15 percent of the previous number of church-goers were present at the Masses held in the gym, which allows for better distancing.
Collections increased after a dip the first weekend that public Masses were canceled and that fact was communicated. “Parishioners are really committed to keeping the parish going in this difficult time,” Father Jones said.
Barb O’Neill, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception, attended Saturday evening Mass and was impressed with the procedures. “The only thing I missed was being able to sing, but everyone was probably happy I wasn’t able to sing,” she said with a chuckle.