Last year this week the unthinkable happened — Governor Mike Parson issued a stay-at-home order, because of the coronavirus, closing our churches and in affect canceling holy week.
This forced many denominations to improvise. Numerous churches quickly put together live-stream services using Facebook. Some held drive-up services for their parishioners with the minister addressing his/her congregation using a loud speaker as they sat in their vehicles.
A few small churches were forced to stop having liturgy all together.
In the Catholic faith — which my family is part of — able bodied parishioners are required to attend Mass every Saturday or Sunday. To solve this dilemma bishops across the nation issued general dispensations relaxing the church’s rules on attendance.
In the past this has been done for trivial issues such as allowing Catholics to eat corned beef on a Friday during lent when St. Patrick’s day falls on a Friday.
So Catholics turned to pre-recorded Mass that was already available on YouTube for the sick and homebound. We could now “watch” Mass anytime we wanted from the convenience of our living room as we sat on the couch or recliner in front of a computer, tablet or television.
Not only that, we had dozens of choices from churches all across the country, most of them lasting just 30 to 40 minutes.
Last June, when Connie and I helped move our son and daughter-in-law to New Jersey we listened to a Mass on YouTube from our cell phone as we drove through the state of Indiana.
All of this served its purpose, to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives- but none of these options were adequate as a replacement.
As with most things in life, when something is taken away it can have one of two effects. You either decide that it was not worth it in the first place, or the heart aches for its return.
In my case no YouTube video could ever take the place of the Mass and the real presence of Christ in holy communion. I could not wait to get back to church and the fellowship with other believers.
It’s not the same without the congregation reciting prayers as a group and the joy one feels as we all praise God together in song.
Some believe they don’t need a church to worship God. They are missing out on so much. Church is not a building, but an extension of our family in faith. Faith is meant to be experienced and shared. That is how it grows.
Also, I believe the reason Jesus started his church on Pentecost was that he knew we needed the extended family of fellow believers for our faith to grow.
As the initial panic subsided, the Catholic church re-opened it’s doors, albeit with several restrictions:
Holy water at each entrance was removed — until recently
Hand sanitizer is available at the entrance and on the altar
Donation baskets at the entrance, instead of being taken by ushers
Every other pew is roped off
Only immediate families should sit in the same pew
Social distancing is observed
No sign of the peace -— where we hugged or shook hands with other parishioners
Facemasks are required, except when stationary in the pew
Holy communion, in the presence of wine, has been eliminated
Only those under 60-years of age are allowed to give out holy communion
Pews are disinfected after each Mass and the roped off pews rotated
Other denominations slowly opened their doors as well with similar safety measures in place.
This week is Holy Week. The most sacred week in Christianity. Without the cross and resurrection we would not have a church. And this year we are able to celebrate the passion of Christ — as I believe he intended — together as a family of believers, not in our homes or in our cars.
May you and your family have a blessed Easter.
Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18; “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”