Everything is going to be different.
The ninth week of “ordinary time,” as delineated by the church, may come right after the feast of Pentecost May 31, but there will be nothing ordinary about it.
As the Archdiocese of Baltimore makes plans to come out of coronavirus pandemic “quarantine,” not everyone will have the same experience. Some areas of the archdiocese will open more slowly than others, due to local conditions and COVID-19 caseloads.
In the meantime, we know many people are eager to return to church for Mass. We’ve heard people clamoring for weeks that the churches should be open at least for private prayer. What those commenters don’t realize is that for each person who visits the church, someone must come behind them to disinfect the area. It’s not so simple.
I’ve been praying privately at home – well before the pandemic. It’s not only allowed; it’s encouraged. I don’t have to be in a church to pray to God.
I know that praying before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle is beneficial and efficacious. I know that it is good for Catholic Christians to join together and to lift up each other in prayer. But it has been wise for our churches to be closed when the coronavirus was at its peak.
And it is wise for the archdiocese to be cautious in reopening churches to ensure that parishes are able to adequately sanitize high-touch surfaces.
You think it’s been hard for you to find disinfecting wipes for your home? Think of finding enough disinfectant for church pews that seat hundreds of people. You’ve had problems finding a small bottle of hand sanitizer? Multiply those needs by 100 or 1,000.
In all this, it’s helpful to remember that we’re not alone. “The safer course means caring concern for our people, protecting their health, knowing that if they can’t be in church and they can’t receive the sacraments, the Lord does not abandon them,” Archbishop William E. Lori said in an interview to discuss the Phase I guidelines for the archdiocese. “The normal way is to receive the sacraments, to attend Mass, but it’s not as though the Lord will abandon us when we cannot.”
Phase II of reopening some parishes began the weekend of Pentecost, allowing regular public Masses at one-third of the church’s capacity for the first time since mid-March.
It’s important that when we can go back to church, we do so safely. You’ll need to wear a mask, not sit too close to others, and not spend time chatting with and hugging people as you come and go from Mass. Your priests love you, but they won’t be greeting you on the way in or out of church.
The archdiocese produced a helpful video that explains “What to Expect When You Return to Mass.”
We also should expect some hiccups as the state reopens. There might be fits and starts as an establishment or institution opens and then finds it doesn’t have enough staff or cleaning supplies to stay open, even with restrictions. We hope that Maryland won’t see the scuffles we have seen elsewhere, with people fighting over places in line or the availability of goods or services.
As everything gradually opens up – not just our parishes, but also restaurants, entertainment, hair salons, etc. – will we bring with us any lessons we’ve learned?
Now that we can be closer, will we be kinder?
Now that we have to cooperate as we navigate grocery aisles, restaurants and church pews, will we be more courteous?
Now that we can receive the Eucharist again, will we ponder what it means for Jesus to be truly present in the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ? Will we act like we have just received the risen Lord into our bodies, into our hearts?
If we can’t open our hearts, then reopening church won’t matter.