As the faithful left Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice on May 24, 2020, there was a feeling of joy and hope. The joy came from the return to public Sunday Mass after a two-month absence. The hope was that this small step means that lives are closer to returning to normal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, it was fitting that the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord was the moment the faithful returned to the regular Sunday Mass for the first time since March 15, 2020. The Solemnity includes the reading from the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew called the “Great Commissioning” – when the Lord gives instructions and sends forth the Disciples into the world to spread the Good News.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who lifted the suspension of public Mass effective May 18, 2020, celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass on May 24, 2020 at the Cathedral, noting it was a pleasure to be back before the faithful after such a long absence.
“It is gift from the Lord that we are able to come back to our churches and our Parishes,” Bishop Dewane said. “At the same time, we have to acknowledge that Christ calls us to be a people of hope. During this time of the pandemic we must remain believers and hope for the best – for one another, for ourselves, but most of all for our Faith. We have to have hope in Jesus Christ.”
Brad Gaines attended the Vigil Mass at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers and was very happy to be back.
“It is such a blessing to be here for Mass,” Gaines said. “It brings me great comfort, just like I had been every weekend since I was born, at least until the pandemic hit. I never realized how much I would miss being at Mass, in the presence of the Lord and singing hymns with others.”
The reopening of public Mass came with some restrictions as churches were only allowed to accommodate up to 50 percent of normal capacity while maintaining appropriate social distancing. As expected, many decided to remain home because they are older, are vulnerable to illness. or they are not fully comfortable to return. For this reason, Bishop Dewane extended the dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass through June 28, 2020.
For those who did go to Mass, signs were posted reminding everyone of social distancing regulations. Greeters kept doors propped open and ushers directed people to available seating as half of the pews in churches were blocked off. All Parishes required that masks be worn. There were no missals in the pews, thus the music selections were more common, making it easier for people to participate. Hand sanitizer was readily available and between Masses extra cleaning took place.
Many Parishes also created instructional videos to prepare the faithful for what to expect when coming to Mass, such as which entrances would be open and providing directions on receiving Holy Communion while wearing a mask.
Fran Kingman admitted she was wary about going to Mass until she saw the instructional video on the precautions being taken at Epiphany Cathedral.
“I so wanted to come back and was very worried,” Kingman said. “I soon realized that the Cathedral was taking this situation seriously. For me, wearing a mask at church is strange but a small price to pay. Honestly, I would rather do that from now on if it meant keeping the churches open for Mass.”
At the Cathedral, and many other Parishes, Holy Communion was made available in the afternoon for those who watched the Mass through a live stream and did not feel comfortable being at Mass in the church. Such accommodations were made to ensure the Sacrament remained available to all during these unique times.
During the pandemic, the live streaming of Mass became commonplace. While some Parishes have opted to stop or reduce the number of live streaming Masses, the Diocese of Venice will continue to offer its live stream service (available on Facebook or at www.dioceseofvenice.org) from the Catholic Center at 9:15 a.m. daily through June 28, 2020.