On Going Back to Church, Post-Quarantine

From social distancing in the pews to restrictions on singing, going to church looks different now—but that’s okay
Altar at Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota

Photo by Living Word Photography

I experienced many transitions when COVID-19 hit back in March, but no longer going to Mass was a big one. At first, I didn’t realize how much it would affect me. Alongside millions of other Catholics throughout the U.S., I temporarily lost a beloved, holy, weekly commitment—one that we spend our whole lives attending.

On a smaller scale, I lost my weekly reset. Without physically going church, I felt like my days blended together. Don’t get me wrong: I still watched weekly live-streamed Masses via YouTube and Facebook, sometimes from my hometown parish (shout out to Fr. Aaron, and all the other priests and pastors who suddenly needed to figure out how to lead and serve their congregations via technology), and other times from well-known Duluth-based priest Fr. Mike Schmitz. But, as any fellow churchgoer can attest, it’s not the same just sitting on your couch, probably with some final sips of coffee. You’re praying that the livestream doesn’t crash at the church, and that the audio is all right coming across your device.

Getting the Go-Ahead

In May, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod made national news for their announcement concerning Mass and large faith-based gatherings. Shortly afterwards, Governor Walz began engaging in more dialogue with faith leaders and came to an agreement: Church services could begin as long as detailed guidelines and social distancing practices were maintained.

When I heard the news, I immediately had high hopes. I looked forward to going back to Mass. I missed the familiarity, the universal prayer, receiving communion, and hearing my favorite hymns. And I had confidence in our faith leaders to figure out how to safely allow people to attend church again.

Imagine my surprise, then, when anxious thoughts started peeping up. I had so many questions: What was the seating arrangement going to be like? Was it going to be easy to follow? How well would people actually practice social distancing? Would the elderly and vulnerable take extra care to stay safe? How would receiving communion work? This was also one of the weekends following the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death, so I found myself worried. What if the priest didn’t mention our current state of racial division and call for racial unity in his homily? (He did, by the way, and it was powerful.)

My First Mass Back

For my first Mass post-quarantine, I decided to attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul since it allows people to come without a reservation, unlike many other parishes throughout the state that are requesting congregation members to sign up for specific Mass times.

As soon as I arrived, all my anxieties took the backseat. An usher welcomed me at the entrance. I noticed he had a little clicker to keep tabs on how many people came through the door. Another usher explained the seating chart to me, and pointed me into the direction to where I could sit as a single attendee. The cathedral is huge, but true to the guidelines, the doors would shut after 250 people entered the space. The majority of people wore face masks (they are highly encouraged at the cathedral, but not required). And, before Mass began, there was a call for any volunteers willing to go through training and help sanitize all the pews after everyone had left.

If you’ve ever gone to a Mass before, you’ll know that it follows the same rite or pattern every time, all over the world. Besides the singing, which is limited to one cantor under the current guidelines, the only other big difference in a post-quarantine Mass is communion. Rather than receiving communion during Mass, communion is distributed after the Mass had ended, as people made their way out of the cathedral—section by section, of course, to limit to rush to the doors that were very clearly labeled “Exit Only.”

I left the cathedral feeling light and peaceful. It had been 12 Sundays since my last Mass. Of course, the situation surrounding COVID-19 may continue to change, but for the time being, I’m looking forward to my Sunday mornings at church.

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