“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
This Saturday evening, public Masses will resume at Sts. Peter and Paul here in Huntington, Indiana. Our pastor, Father Tony Steinacker, has doubled the normal schedule — from one Mass on Saturday evening and two Masses on Sunday to two Masses on Saturday evening, two Masses Sunday morning, one after noon and another Sunday evening. To accommodate all who wish to attend and still keep within diocesan and state guidelines for social distancing, Father Tony has also set up overflow seating in the parish hall in the basement of the church and in the auditorium of the Huntington Catholic School primary building.
As other parishes around the country have found and are finding, reopening for public Mass is a major undertaking. In the case of Sts. Peter and Paul, everyone will be seated by an usher, and the traffic flow at Communion and while exiting from the church after Mass will be strictly controlled. The timing of Masses has been determined in part by how long Father Tony expects it will take a crew of parishioners to sanitize the church in between.
Though everyone who attends will be required, by diocesan policy, to wear a mask, the congregation will not sing in order to reduce the likelihood of an asymptomatic carrier from joyfully belting out a hymn and infecting his fellow parishioners two pews ahead. That’s going to be a tough adjustment, because we have a magnificent choir and a congregation that loves to sing.
But such sacrifices are worth making, considering the great gift that those in attendance will be able to receive for the first time in over two months. I’ll be the first to admit it: I haven’t always made the effort I should have to prepare myself for receiving the Eucharist. Too many Catholics, myself included, have taken this sacrament for granted — week after week, month after month, year after year.
If two months without the body and blood of Christ has taught us anything, it should be that our cavalier attitude toward the Eucharist should come to an end.
My paternal grandmother, a Missouri Synod Lutheran, once told me that she thought it was a good thing that the Catholic Church took confession so seriously. Even though confession isn’t a sacrament in the Lutheran church, when she was young, it was common for Lutheran pastors to require all those who wished to receive Communion on Sunday to have gone to confession on Saturday. Times had changed, and Grandma Richert wished that they hadn’t. She understood, in a way that many of us Catholics too often forget, that — beyond the benefits that act confers in itself — tying confession to Communion reminds us just how awesome (in the fullest sense of the word) the sacrament of the altar truly is.
Father Tony seems to understand that, too. As he works hard this week to prepare the church for its reopening, he’s set aside an hour and a half every day for confessions, so that his flock can prepare to reopen their souls to receive their Savior.
Imagine what it might mean for our parish if enough of us took advantage of this opportunity that Father Tony continued to offer it every day even after the church reopens. Then imagine if that practice spread throughout the Church in the United States.
What might the Church in the United States look like a year from now, let alone a decade, if the fruit of all the sacrifices we’ve endured during the COVID-19 pandemic culminated in the Great Reopening — of our parishes, and of our souls?
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.