By Barb Arland-Fye
I noticed a friend two pews ahead of me wiping away tears with a tissue during Mass at Our Lady of the River Church in LeClaire. Was she feeling the same mix of emotions that I was feeling? A lump formed in my throat hearing all of us in the church, on the eve of Pentecost, singing a hymn for the first time in 14 months. We sang the entrance song “Come, Holy Ghost” with a sense of yearning and yet, hope.
Kateeya, our cantor, stimulated my tear ducts with the joy she exuded as she told us just before Mass, “I am very excited to announce that you are all going to sing with me today!” Earlier in the week, the Diocese of Davenport announced that we could sing again in church and, if vaccinated, participate without masks. Last year at this time, we couldn’t even attend Mass because of the raging, confounding COVID-19 pandemic. The disease collapsed our plans like a puncture in an inflatable bounce house. I needed time to grieve the loss of the rites and rituals I cherished.
On the eve of Pentecost this year, my heart swelled as we hit the high notes of “Come, Holy Ghost.” Why does singing have such a profound effect on me? Everything seems new again and I savor the return of elements of the Mass suspended for safety reasons during the pandemic. Now, at our parish, we can enter and exit the church from the front entrance … a wonderful metaphor for opening the church.
I sang the “Gloria” by heart; that did not happen when we couldn’t sing it. Singing the responsorial psalm and the Gospel acclamation felt awesome. I did not sing the Communion song because I was distributing Communion to Catholics listening to the Mass on their car radios in the church parking lot. What a gift to take the body of Christ to them!
Our pastor, Father Apo Mpanda, asked how many of us missed receiving the Eucharist during the time the church was closed for public celebration of the Mass. I think all of us raised our hands.
We have been able to celebrate the Mass for the past 11 months, for which I am grateful. Still, for me, the necessary safety protocols made the celebration seem too sterile and dampened the sense of a faith community. We made sacrifices for the sake of the common good, and we felt those sacrifices deep in our hearts.
As the restrictions ease, ever so slightly in recent months and weeks, my appreciation for the Mass and my faith community deepens. Each week, someone returns to Mass after a long absence and it feels like family coming home. Father Apo focused his homily on coming home. The best place to worship God, he said, is in God’s house. He asked each of us to invite someone back to church.
Some parishioners are waiting to come home to church in person until they feel safe in doing so. Our right to not disclose our vaccination status prolongs the uncertainty that surrounds the COVID-19 pandemic and its spread. We do the best we can, praying that God will guide us through the pandemic and lead us all to look out for one another.
For now, my family thanks God for being able to walk through the front door of the church, to sing, to exchange the sign of peace within our family, and to receive the Eucharist. Singing again “brought back memories of what singing was like pre-pandemic,” my son Colin said. “But the church is not back to 100 percent.” As a person with autism, he depends on beginnings and endings. He needs closure to the pandemic. We all do.
“Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, And in our hearts take up thy rest …”
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)