By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Not a cough, whisper, fussy baby or choir could be heard as Bishop Thomas Zinkula, two priests, a deacon and three seminarians entered the sanctuary for the Easter Vigil on April 11 in St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church.
Yes, they sang the entrance hymn, led by parishioner Ryan Burchett, who also provided accompaniment on piano and live-streamed the Mass to viewers at home. But the Easter Vigil in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic had a monastic feel for the bishop and others celebrating the “feast of feasts” in a nearly empty church.
Bishop Zinkula described the celebration as surreal, yet joyful and hopeful. Father Tony Herold, the parish’s pastor, said that when he looked toward the iPhone anchored to a tripod facing the altar he could imagine all of the people at home, watching the Mass. That gave him a sense of community with the stay-at-home congregation.
As with each of his homilies for the Triduum, all celebrated and live-streamed from St. Paul the Apostle, the bishop referred to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on people’s lives. Their absence from churches at the most significant time in the liturgical calendar aimed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. But, the bishop acknowledged the sense that the world has been shaken up by a crisis never before experienced in most people’s lifetime.
“Early in his pontificate, Pope Francis famously told a group of youth from Argentina that they should ‘make a mess’ and shake up the Church. He was in good company. In our Scripture readings, we hear about God shaking things up throughout Salvation history,” Bishop Zinkula said in his Easter Vigil homily.
He gave examples of God shaking things up in the course of salvation history, shared in the Scriptures for the Easter Vigil. In the Creation story from Genesis, God causes a mighty wind to sweep over the waters. Again in Genesis, God rocks Abraham’s world when he asks him to sacrifice his son Isaac. In the Exodus story, God shakes things up so the Israelites can escape from Egypt. God stirs things up for the Israelites so they can return to Jerusalem after being exiled in Babylon for two generations. Paul’s letter to the Romans shows how Christians are shaken up in baptism, “so that we might be raised from the dead with (Christ) to live in newness of life.” In the Gospel from Matthew, a great earthquake occurred at the tomb of Jesus. When he emerged from the tomb, the guards were shaken with fear.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken us up on so many different levels. Perhaps it has even shaken our faith. But the suffering and anguish we are experiencing, some of us more so than others, won’t last forever. We will rise from it,” the bishop said.
“We are an Easter people. We are a people of resurrection. We are a people of hope. Pope Francis said that the spiritual antidote to fear of the coronavirus lies in Christ and the promise of the resurrection. We will find meaning in this pandemic if we tie our story of suffering to the much larger narrative of redemption — the Paschal Mystery.”
Bishop Zinkula encouraged his unseen congregation to consider three questions: “How might we die to self for the sake of, for the love of others? How might this pandemic shake us to our senses and awaken us so that we might joyfully embrace the new life Jesus has given us? How is God calling you and me to be like the two Marys in the Gospel passage, to leave the tombs in which we find ourselves, to run quickly and to tell everyone we meet that Christ is alive?!”
Seminarian Dominic Nguyen reflected on his participation in the Mass. “When Father Tony suggested the use of bells (during the “Gloria”) so that ‘it would sound more festive,’ it struck me because I realized that ‘yes, under any circumstance, and now without people singing in the church with us, we still can have a festive celebration. Our Savior has, indeed, conquered death to bring us hope to eternal life.’”
The seminarian continued, “The church was decorated with beautiful flowers and the change of liturgical color, and we had really good music and so on, and especially I don’t think we missed anyone in spirit. So, we may not have been able to say ‘Happy Easter’ to parishioners after Mass, but I did feel peace. I did not feel as if there were only a few people at the Mass meeting the Risen Lord, but thousands of us there. I have never understood deeply the following Bible verse until this ‘now’ that we are finding ourselves in: ‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him’” (John 4:23).