My family and I started going back to Mass in person. This was not an easy decision, but it is a real blessing after months of video Mass to be back to participating in person. That said, thing have changed.
At our parish, some of the changes include encouraging attendees to wear face masks, closing the cry room, removing the hymnals in the pews, spacing people out so that every other row in occupied. In addition, Mass is not yet mandatory in our dioceses and only a fraction of parishioners are attending in person.
This experience is different, but it is not all bad. Here are ten good and bad aspects of going to pandemic Mass in person if you have a large family:
1. No cry room
Our kids range in age from 13 to 1, so I have spent eons in the cry room. When a kid is freaking out it can be a life saver, but I have found that going to the cry room tends to become a habit. Part of the reason is that it is tough to stay in the main church when your kids are acting crazy and you start to get those looks. Additionally, my kids turn the cry room into a playroom. No matter our good intentions, sitting in the pew becomes much less appealing than acting up and going to have fun with their fellow rambunctious tots.
For our family, removing the option to flee to the cry room has been a positive change. The kids are still misbehaving in the pew, but they get over it. I even notice them paying attention to what is happening at the altar. In addition, we cannot see those looks because most people are wearing masks. I pretend that they are smiling at our unruly kids.
2. No books and papers in the pews
Related to the issue of misbehaving in the pews is the removal of hymnals, missals, and other papers from the pews during the pandemic. I like this a lot.
I have spent countless Masses moving and shifting worn copies of Gather and other used and abused books away from destructive little hands.
Does the parishioner in my place at the next Mass know that my kid spent the last hour trying desperately to lick the book they now hold, and sometimes succeeded? And it is miserable as a parent to hear the nail on a chalkboard horror and sighs of dismay when the baby decides to loudly rip On Eagles Wings out of the hymnal.
I think that parishes can do with out these materials in the pews or make them available to bring in if you want. Why not make the songs and readings available for free in an app and set the hymnals and missals on a shelf for those who what a hard copy? This is a cleaner, less distracting, option and prevents my kids from defacing the books.
3. Online donations are better
I have long had mixed feelings about donation envelopes. While inevitably scrambling to get kids shoes on and get out the door, I remember at the last minute to write the check, find the always lost donation envelopes, and get cash so each kid has something to add to the basket. That is a lot of work! Plus, every summer you hear that donations are down because of vacations and the predominant way of making donations is in person. I rarely ever write checks except for that weekly Mass donation check because everything is else is done online. This whole process makes parishioners work to donate as opposed to making the process as easy and seamless as possible.
Additionally, there is a negative aspect to envelopes as it injects a moment of commerce and bureaucracy into what is otherwise a solemn ritual. This is particularly true at parishes that use the envelopes to track participation in Mass. While there are certainly good intentions for using envelopes this way, I have never cared for this. I do not want to know if the family sitting next to me is able to donate and it feels off for the parish to track Mass attendance like a middle school vice principal. I think it is a better practice to encourage auto pay or online donations and keep a locked box for in-person donations before and after Mass.
If you understand what Mass is you should want to attend and care about it. And people give money to what you care about. It is best to keep the donations behind the scenes and make it mostly online and automatic like most other financial transactions in modern life.
4. People with colds stay home
I have spent so many Masses behind the guy constantly sniffling, sneezing, coughing, and blowing his nose only to, unsurprisingly, learn at the sign of peace that he is not shaking hands because he is sick. While I admire the dedication of such a person in making it to Mass, and I know I have been this person before, there is really no reason for a person who is visibly sick with a cold or flu to be at Mass.
I would hope that the pandemic leads to people who are getting over an illness staying home or at least wearing a mask if they attend. There are other options to attend, such as . . .
5. The Video Mass
As I have written previously, there is a benefit to the normalization of participating in Mass by video in certain situations. If you are sick, if you are medically vulnerable, or if you would like to attend Mass but extenuating circumstances makes it impossible, video Mass is a great option. While it is still inferior to attending in person, I honestly believe that video Mass can help you to grow in faith when the alternative is not participating at all or compromising the health of others or your own health.
For large families, I find that there are frequently times when a parent or child is sick and at least part of the family must stay home. Why not have a parent participate in a video Mass and have the other parent bring home the eucharist (when that is allowed again)? The pandemic has made me aware that video Mass can be a good option.
6. When the world is in crisis there is no better place
The death, the sickness, the economic collapse, the racism. These are times unlike anything that I have ever experienced, and I am sure many other feel the same way. It feels like everything is falling apart and nothing will put it back together again.
During crises, families need a core, something to hold onto that cannot be destroyed. That is God. And in the Catholic tradition we find God at Mass. So even with the distance and the masks and the misbehavior in the pews, it is good to be back.
Of course, not everything is sunshine and roses at pandemic Mass. Here are my main concerns
1. Will everyone come back?
My family and I normally attend the most crowded Mass at our parish, the “Family Mass.” In the past, if we were running late there was a chance that we would be standing in the back or not sitting together. When our parish resumed in-person Mass, it divided the Family Mass by last names and encouraged portions of families to attend either the noon Mass or the 6 pm Mass. That said, I thought that the Family Mass would still be packed because people are creatures of routine.
This was not a concern. There are dramatically fewer people at Mass and I have heard this is true for all Masses. Of course, in our diocese, Sunday Mass is not mandatory yet. However, I wonder if everyone is going to come back.
Mass is an obligation, an act of love, but it is also a good habit. Habits take time to change and four months of pandemic is plenty of time for families on the fence about their faith to move on to other things and adopt other Sunday habits. I pray this is not the case, but I am afraid that not everyone is coming back and I am not sure what the solution is other than to pray.
2. There is minimal human connection
Pandemic Mass, even in person, can be a lonely experience. Pre-pandemic, a highlight of my week was seeing friends that I do not normally see after Mass. This is not really and option for the pandemic Mass. Everyone goes home at the end of Mass as is rightfully encouraged. While I understand the reasons, I look forward to the social aspect of Mass once things get back to normal.
3. Singing in a mask is horrible
Have you ever sung in a mask? It literally feels like sound and air is reverberating back into you mouth. I guess this means that the mask is doing its job and preventing the spread of your breath over your neighbors. But it is not an enjoyable or joyful experience. Perhaps just play instrumentals?
4. Apprehension about doing the right thing
I am back to going to Mass in person because I think it is the right thing for the faith of me and my family, but I do so with apprehension. Is this safe? Is this a risk to the medically vulnerable who also attend? Me, my wife, and our 13 year old wear a mask the entire time. The younger kids, apart from the 1 year old, wear a mask most of the time (Strangely they enthusiastically wear masks when the priest wears it and refuse to wear it when he takes it off to say Mass. I guess that means they are paying attention). We wash our hands and keep social distance. We are doing what is recommended to stay safe and to keep others safe. But what if that is not enough?
The last thing that I would ever want is to get anyone sick and if any of us had any symptoms I would not go. But that does not alleviate a tension between wanting to keep my family’s faith strong and respecting the severity of this very real public health crisis.