back to church

Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I attended mass in person.

If you had told me prior to the pandemic that I would ever go a year without going to church, I would not have believed it. I grew up Catholic and going to mass for Sundays and holydays was an important part of our faith practice. I was in church as a teen more than most because I became our small country church’s only organist in my second year of high school. I spent many years in music and liturgical ministries and, although I hadn’t been active in them in recent years, I still considered taking part in mass and receiving the Eucharist a vital part of my faith life.

Last March, when the severity of COVID was first becoming apparent, I decided not to go to mass for fear of exposing my father, one week before New York State went into lockdown and the churches temporarily closed. I began participating via televised mass as my mother had done when she was ill. Over time, churches here resumed services, first outdoors or broadcast to congregants in their cars in the parking lot. Later, indoor services were permitted with distancing, masking, temperature checks, pre-registration, and other measures in place, although the bishops have kept the dispensation from in-person attendance in place.

Because being part of a large group of people who are speaking and singing is inherently more risky than being at home or in a grocery store, I had made a personal decision not to attend mass in person until I was fully vaccinated. Last week, two weeks after my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, I called the church to make a reservation to attend the Saturday vigil mass yesterday.

I arrived early, knowing that there would be a check-in process and that we would need to maintain spacing. I was masked, of course, and gave my name to the volunteer at a table, who found my name and contact information on her list. They keep the information on file so they can call if a positive test is reported. There was a temperature check and the distribution of a leaflet with the day’s music. I was allowed to choose my own seat among the pews, although every other row was blocked off by purple cords draped around the end. I sat near the music ministers, so that I could watch my friend play the organ and see the cantor who would be leading the singing.

If I had to choose one word for the experience, it would be stark. This is partly a function of it being Lent, which is a penitential season. There are no flowers and the sanctuary is kept as simple as possible. What was striking to me, though, was the space between all the ministers. The priest, deacon, two lectors, and single altar server were in chairs scattered around the altar and ambo, which is necessary for viral reasons. It amplified my sense of separation from them and from the rest of the congregation. Only people from the same household can sit in a group, so many of us were sitting alone.

I felt most like I was part of the assembly when we were praying aloud together. Although we were masked and there were far fewer of us than our pre-pandemic numbers, our voices carried well and we could hear one another, ironically helped by the acoustics of the space without so many bodies to absorb the sound. This was, however, a double-edged sword. During the prelude, I was annoyed by a couple behind me discussing home improvement projects, no doubt unaware how well their masked voices carried in the space.

As often happens, there were emotional moments for me during the liturgy, although not when I had expected them. As part of the prelude, my friend improvised on the Irish hymn tune St. Columba, which is often used with the text “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”. It is one of my favorite tunes. Back in the days when I could play the organ and was practicing, it was one of the hymns I would sing as a personal prayer. I was very grateful to hear it yesterday.

When we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together, I was particularly drawn to the last phrase, “deliver us from evil.” I am still pondering the full implications of being drawn to that at this time. Like most Christians, I have prayed this prayer thousands of times. It is a testament to its strength that it reveals different aspects of faith as our circumstances change.

The third moment was that I choked up as we started to sing the Lamb of God. This simple text, which is placed in the liturgy shortly before communion, has long been my favorite prayer of the mass ordinary. Long ago, I set it in a choral anthem paired with a text from Isaiah. Again, a prayer that I have recited or sung thousands of times but that was somehow connecting with me in a new way.

Strangely, the thing that I expected to be very emotional was not and perhaps goes back to my feeling of starkness. In order to maintain distancing, communion was not distributed at the usual time. Instead, we prayed the concluding rite and then received communion. The priest and the deacon went to positions at the end of the far aisles and the congregants, keeping six feet of distance between them, filed up to receive the host, step away, briefly lower their mask to consume the host, then immediately process to the doors by a different route and exit, all while the communion hymn was being sung. Because I was near the front of the church, that meant exiting during the hymn without an opportunity to join in that prayer. Intellectually and from the public health viewpoint, this procedure for communion makes perfect sense. It keeps people from congregating in the building or around the exits and minimizes the chance of spreading the virus. From a liturgical perspective, though, it feels stark. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving and the word communion has the same roots as the word community; this more isolating experience feels counter to that. As someone who has study music and liturgy, it also was very difficult for me to leave while there was still sung prayer ongoing.

I was grateful to be able to attend in person but I don’t think that I will try to do it every week yet. Due to the cleaning protocols involved, there are only two masses per weekend; with fewer masses and reduced capacity, I don’t want to deprive other people from being there by taking up space myself on a regular basis. I do hope to go once during Holy Week, Easter Vigil if possible or Holy Thursday if the Vigil is in high demand.

Otherwise, I will continue to participate from home until our area progresses to the point where we can gather safely in large numbers again, when we can exchange a sign of peace, when things will not be so stark.

When we do get to that point, there will be another, more complex decision to make, which is how much of the politics and abuses of power in the church itself I can continue to tolerate. The clergy of the church continue to grapple with its own history and legacy of crimes, abuse, and sin, or worse, some grapple and some continue to deny. Meanwhile, lay people are not given the opportunity to fully use their gifts in service to the people and the church.

It’s exhausting.

The pandemic has blunted the effect of having this struggle before me every week. I haven’t decided yet if I can take it on so consistently again. I used to go to mass every week, even when I cried because of the pain. I did it because I couldn’t imagine being separated from the Eucharist. Because of the pandemic, I now know that spiritual communion is a reality, that I can feel close to Christ and to creation and all people, even when I’m not able to attend mass in person.

I don’t know what I will choose to do.

Another aspect of life in which I dwell in mystery.

a new civic/religious hymn

Since the Jubilee of 2000, I have belonged to NETWORK, a lobbying and educational organization dedicated to the principles of Catholic social justice and how they can be expressed through our democracy in the United States.

Their Lenten program this year is “Becoming Faith-Filled Voters.” In the introduction, the prayer segment was this new hymn. I was very moved by it and wanted to share it. While it is written in a religious context, I find that it invokes many principles that are shared by all people of good will.

A Hymn for a Time of National Crisis

O God of All the Nations
LLANGLOFFAN 7.6.7.6 D (“Lead On, O King Eternal”; “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)

O God of all the nations, your ancient prophets saw
that kings and institutions are not above the law.
Integrity is precious, and truth will one day stand;
Your way is peace and justice, and love is your command.

O God, when times are troubled, when lies are seen as truth,
When power-hungry people draw praise and not reproof,
When greed is seen as greatness, when justice is abused,
We pray that those who lead us will know what they must choose.

We pray they’ll gather wisdom and lift up high ideals,
To guide our struggling nation along a path that heals.
We pray they’ll have the vision to value each good law,
To put aside ambition, to seek the best for all.

O God of all the nations, may those who lead us see
that justice is your blessing, that truth will set us free.
Give all of us the courage to seek the nobler way,
So in this land we cherish, the good will win the day.

Tune: Traditional Welsh melody, from Daniel Evans’ Hymnau a Thonau (Hymns and Tunes), 1865 (“Lead On, O King Eternal”; “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)

Text: Copyright © December 19, 2019 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Permission is given for free use of this hymn.

Capturing the moments.

Tric is a blogger from Ireland who writes beautifully about the full spectrum of life. I was especially moved by this post today and want to share it with you.

My thoughts on a page.

Growing up most of our photographs were of holidays, birthdays, gatherings or special occasions. If I were to have taken a ‘selfie’ as a teenager, people would have questioned my sanity. Nowadays, I rarely pose or share photos of myself and often forget to take my camera out during special occasions, but that doesn’t mean, I don’t like photos. I do, and rarely a day goes by without my taking at least one. You might be surprised to know, I don’t use a camera to take these photos nor in fact do I tell anyone I am taking them. I do it with the blink of an eye, capturing the moment and filing it away in one of my many albums in the far recess of my mind.

I began to take these photos twenty years ago, when a lovely friend of mine was facing the sad reality that her…

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Words of love from the Binghamton vigil

I am honored to share the blog post of my friend, Rev. Pat Raube, which includes her remarks at last night’s vigil in Binghamton for the victims of Orlando’s Pulse.

A taste of what Pat said:  “At the same time, for you, for me, for each of us: I offer you what my faith tells me to be true: that Love, a love greater than any of us is capable of on our own, created us, each of us, and made us mysterious, and beautiful and perfect, just as we are.”

Please visit her blog here:  https://swimmerinthefount.blogspot.com/2016/06/binghamton-responds-to-orlando-fl-mass.html to read the rest of the post and see some photos from the vigil.

Muslim-American women seek change from within | National Catholic Reporter

Source: Muslim-American women seek change from within | National Catholic Reporter

I appreciate hearing from these young American Muslim women about their experiences and their faith. Like Sister Christine, I am especially drawn to the centrality of divine mercy which is common to both faith traditions.

Hope for the climate

This week, the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change was announced, calling for Muslims around the world to phase out use of fossil fuels and switch to renewable forms of energy.

This follows on the heels of the June release of Laudato Si’, the encyclical issued by Pope Francis on the environment, climate change, and care of creation, including humanity. The encyclical draws deeply not only on climate science but also on the tenets of peace, love, mercy, caring, and justice that underlie many different world religions and philosophies. Francis intended this document for the world’s Catholics and “all people of good will” whether or not they follow a religious/spiritual practice.

Faith leaders from other spiritual and religious traditions, including the Dalai Lama, have also voiced their concerns on combatting climate change and environmental degradation.  The People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 brought people from all corners of the globe together in solidarity to demand action on measures to reign in the greenhouse gases that are already wreaking havoc on our climate and people’s lives.  Various governments have made pledges to cut emissions and convert to renewable energy sources, all as a lead-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, November 30-December 11, 2015.

Past conferences have been disappointing, as countries could not demonstrate the political will needed for the huge change in energy systems required, but, this time, finally, there is hope, due in large measure to the diverse voices demanding or pleading for change.

I have spent years in the grassroots movement to ban high volume hydrofracking in New York State, which drew me into the fight against fracking in other states, as well as promoting the rapid expansion of renewable energy in order to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible.  This led me to not only being involved in the climate movement but also to being more open to expressing calls for climate justice, environmental justice, and social justice in keeping with my Catholic faith.

There were many times when I thought we had lost the fight against fracking here in New York (and we are still involved in some issues with it, despite the current regulatory situation). There were even times when I had no hope left, but we did ultimately prevail.

There have been times when I had no hope that meaningful action against global climate change would materialize, but, seeing so many disparate groups of people come together to demand climate action gives me hope.

The years of inaction have put us in a precarious situation. Demand climate action now! Contact the government agency in your country and tell them they must reach an effective accord in Paris.

The world can’t afford to wait.

President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Pinckney

The link below is to the inspiring eulogy that President Barack Obama gave today at the memorial service for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed last week at his church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston, South Carolina. Our challenge in this country is to live up to our president’s words.

https://youtu.be/GNcGW2LYtvg?t=1h22m23s