In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.JC
I don’t miss going to church.
I’m writing this after being unable to attend in-person mass for two and a half months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been watching a pre-recorded mass on television and often reading a homily from the Catholic Women Preach website. These are good resources, but I feel more like an observer than a participant. Obviously, there is no opportunity to receive communion, which is a very important part of Catholic practice.
I should interject that there has never been a time in my life when I haven’t gone to church every weekend. For many years, I was involved in music ministry and liturgy planning. I am also a long-time advocate for church reform, including the ordination of women, the recognition of equality among the laity and clergy, and the model of servant-leadership. In 2005, my parish home was shattered due to abuses of power. Those wounds have never healed, but I still continued participating in mass, even though I would sometimes cry – and sometimes feel that I could write a more thoughtful homily than the one I heard in church.
Perhaps, being an isolated home observer feels safer than being in the midst of a congregation when I get emotional. It’s also unlikely that televised mass will plunge into fraught topics, so there is a certain level of safety that doesn’t exist when you are in the pews.
Some church congregations or groups have taken to meeting via Zoom or other kinds of video conferencing during the pandemic. The congregations that I know that have done this are much smaller, though, so there is opportunity for interactions, such as offering prayer petitions. There are well over 1,000 families in my parish here, which makes meaningful videoconferencing impractical. Some of the church reform groups with whom I affiliate are offering prayer services, which is appealing in concept, but I worry that participating would make it even more difficult to remain within the institutional church. Leaving has been a decades-long temptation for me. [There is not enough room in this post to explain that struggle. Maybe, someday…]
I received a letter from my parish, explaining that this weekend they will begin celebrating mass under a new protocol. The priest will livestream weekend masses so that people can see and hear it on their phones or other wifi devices from the church parking lot. At communion, several Eucharistic ministers will zigzag through the parking lot, stopping at each car so that its occupants can come out and receive communion and then get back in their cars so that they won’t be near to anyone else.
This scenario does not appeal to me. I worry about the risk to the Eucharistic ministers, who will be in close contact with dozens of people, albeit outdoors. Other than being able to receive the Eucharist, the participation quotient is about the same as watching a televised or live-streamed mass, other than being in your car in whatever weather that day offers instead of in your home.
The root meaning of the word liturgy is “the work of the people.” To me, the current methods of celebrating liturgy at a distance feel more like watching a performance. I don’t know if I will adjust to this over time or not. I also don’t know if, many months from now when larger gatherings with singing are reasonably safe to attend, it will be difficult for me to muster the energy to leave my home and be in the midst of people and all the uncertainties that involves.
I don’t know and it makes me sad.