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In-Person Masses Are Back!

Father Mark’s Note On Unintended Consequences of Response to COVID | October 2020

My dear parishioners,

We are excited to see many of you and celebrate Mass together!

The Church is human and divine. We communicate invisible, spiritual realities by means of physical, visible signs. For example, the bread and wine truly is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We use oil that communicates the reality of the Holy Spirit. Immersing in water helps one understand the reality of dying with Jesus and receiving a new life in Him. The words of the priest actually forgive the sins of the penitent. The signs and symbols that we use communicate at a deep psychological level, deeper than words alone. The candle at the tabernacle shows that Jesus is present; the Pascal candle represents Jesus resurrected. Some signs speak at an unconscious level. The incense, priests’ vestments and high ceilings reveal that something sacred is taking place, different from what happens in the daily life of the world.

The human body is something physical, but it is the way we communicate thoughts, feelings and desires, all of which are invisible. Because signs speak to us, we have to be attentive to what is being communicated. The Church is about being together and sharing life together with Christ in the midst. The Church communicates through signs that God is love; above all, the Christian community is a sign of the communion that exists in God.

The different responses to the Covid-19 virus have been with the intention of saving lives, which is clearly a good reason. At the same time, the actions taken have had unintended consequences that should be acknowledged.

The fact that the mask is to protect the other from me and me from the other suggests that the other is a danger to me. The relationship between two people becomes one of suspicion. The other is one who can harm me. Also, if there is a barrier between me and the other, it is more difficult to communicate and be in communion. Even before social distancing, misunderstandings occurred. We pick up nonverbal clues from the speaker. If I cannot see the mouth of the speaker, it is easier for me to misread what is being communicated. A meeting with another person via Zoom is not the same as a meeting in person. When there is an electronic barrier between me and the other, something is lost. The barriers, separation, distancing and isolation have consequences on all of our relationships, but they are particularly significant for the Church.

With the intention of saving lives, people are dying alone without the support of their family and at times without the anointing of the sick. Similarly, isolation has caused an increase in anxiety, depression, alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse and suicide. Grandchildren are discouraged from hugging their grandparents. We have to hold things in a balance: take measures, but be attentive to unintended consequences. When we go to extremes, we can lose more than we thought.

In regards to the Church, one extreme option is to shut the doors of the Church and do everything online in the name of safety. In my opinion, we lose the personal interaction and sense of community that is so important to the Body of Christ. The other extreme is to pay no attention to the reality of the virus. I want to strike a balance where the Church is who she is called to be and minimize the unintended consequences.

God bless,

Fr. Mark