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Today after fifteen weeks, I returned to Mass since the Coronavirus caused the lockdown. It was the first Sunday Mass allowed in New York City, the first Mass had been allowed this past Monday but I had not the opportunity to go the entire week.
Yes, we had to wear masks. Yes, every other row was cordoned off from sitting, and there were tape marks on the pews locating a six-foot distance. My church has two center aisle sets of rows of pews and one set on each side. The two outer sets could be used for families where one was not required to sit six feet apart.
People were, however, required to fill out from the front of the church towards the back. As it is my habit to get there a half-hour early, I sat in the first row on the family side with my son. There would be no collection at the offertory, but everyone should drop their envelope or offering in the basket at the rear of the church. That is how I know we missed fifteen weeks of Mass. I had fifteen envelopes at home before I got to the one with today’s date.
Everyone wore masks, even our music director, Ms. Williams. There was no choir and she sang alone with the mask on. We were actually surprised to see her. We thought it would be a bare-bones, no music Mass. There were no altar servers or readers. The priest had to do all the readings. But there was precious music.
Father Eugene was alone in procession on the opening hymn, wearing a mask, but thankfully took it off once he got behind the altar. Before Mass, when he came out to ensure the altar was set properly, I was able to speak to him. If you remember I mentioned he lost his mother to the virus early on in the pandemic. I passed my sympathies to him, and then he told me between family and friends he had lost six to the virus. Oh my, I was stunned. What a cross he has had to bear through this. My son said he had a tear in his eye when he was retelling it. I was so stunned I had looked away and not noticed.
There were no missals to avoid sanitizing them, but I knew this would be, so I took with me my monthly Magnificat which has all the readings.
And then we stood for the opening hymn, “Table of Plenty.”
Come to the feast of heaven and earth!
Come to the table of plenty!
God will provide for all that we need,
Here at the table of plenty.
As the organ played and Ms. Williams, opera voiced trained, sang, Father Eugene in green vestments walked down the nave, genuflected as he faced the tabernacle, held that genuflection on his knee for a good moment, walked up the altar steps, got behind the altar, took off his black mask, bent over and kissed the top of the altar as is custom, and stood facing the congregation. “Welcome back home,” were his first words.
And for the next hour, all the troubles of the last fifteen weeks, the virus, the lockdown, the ventilators, the deaths, the protests, the riots, the statues, the cops, the cancel culture, the controversies all disintegrated into particles one by one before one’s eyes and fell from the air like dust mites. Time suddenly transformed into the timeless time of heaven, and peace settled into the sacred space.
I love Collin Raye’s version of that classic!Published in