These are strange times. I think we all feel a profound need for prayer and togetherness, perhaps more than ever. At the same time, our celebrations of the Mass feel somewhat bizarre. As parishes gradually return to public liturgies, the balancing act between safety and solemnity has led to some changes — new seating arrangements, less singing, reduced ministerial roles, simpler processions, elimination of certain rituals, and so on. God is asking us to adapt — a lot.
It is very easy to think that because things are not like they were before that they cannot be good. This is a losing perspective, both on liturgy and on life more generally. We always prefer the familiar, so it takes real cognitive work to alter our way of thinking to adapt to new contexts.
Even as we are grateful to be able to return to Mass, we are naturally inclined toward complaint. Too much, too little, too lax, too restrictive, too slow, too fast. I am sure you have heard the grievances. In an effort toward positivity, I would like to share a few things that I am enjoying about the “new normal” at Mass.
First, changes in the music have brought more simplicity, silence, and instrumental music. In short, the liturgy is more contemplative. Participation is less external and more internal. I am using this opportunity, when I’m not asked to sing or speak as much, to simply behold. For example, I observed the setting of the altar at the offertory. There were no processions, actions, or words to distract. I just focused on the holy objects and watched the minister prepare them with care. I can’t remember the last time I did that.
Second, I do not have to wear the “social face” to Mass. As wonderful as it is to greet friends and chat before or after Mass, the constant interaction can be exhausting. Maybe I speak only for fellow introverts, but I find that the need to be “on” gets in the way of my ability to focus on authentic worship. “Good morning” is sometimes just a façade that obscures our earnest desire to worship no matter what emotional state we are in. With new restrictions on socializing in place, I’ve felt some freedom from all of that.
Finally, the sparse attendance — no more than one-third of regular capacity, per Archdiocesan guidelines —serves as an obvious reminder of the need to pray for the sick and homebound. That is something I should do all the time, but when the church is full and vibrant, it is easy to forget that there are others who are no less a part of the parish community.
There are two ways to move forward. The first laments change and asks, “How quickly can we go back to what we were doing before, and what shortcuts can we use to get there faster?” The other attitude acknowledges change and asks, “How can I take this opportunity to increase prayer and reverence?” I pray that we will take the latter approach, looking for ways to rethink liturgical beauty and reshape it for the better.