The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has approved a special "Mass in the…
Navigating the uncharted territory of returning to Mass
Over the past month or so, once dinner has been made and eaten, the kitchen cleaned and the littlest children have been put to bed, my family and I have been binge-watching a show called “Alone.” I liken the episodes, which originally aired on the History Channel, a bit to potato chips: Not my favorite, by any means, but enjoyable enough, and impossible to stop after just one.
The premise is simple: 10 people are dropped and scattered in the wilderness with minimal equipment and forced to live off of the land for as long as possible. Because each participant films themselves, there are no cameramen to keep them company. They are truly alone in uncharted territory. When they’ve reached their limit, they contact the show’s producers via satellite phone to come and get them. The last person remaining wins half a million dollars. Like I said: simple.
While it might sound like reality-show schlock, there’s more depth to it than you might expect. It isn’t “Survivor,” where they take models, throw them into nature and watch them squirm. All of the participants in “Alone” are skilled survivalists. Still, the challenges begin to mount immediately: making a shelter, producing fire, finding drinkable water, hunting for food and warding off predatory animals. We’ve watched a handful of seasons, and some have tapped out just hours after they’ve landed. We don’t judge. Being confronted by a family of bears can make you rethink the value of half a million dollars pretty quickly.
Watching the contestants meet those challenges is interesting, but the show truly hits its stride after the first handful of weeks — once they’ve gotten settled and are forced to sit quietly, day after day, with their own thoughts, confronting their own struggles. For some, their bodies failed them after losing weight rapidly because of the lack of food; for others — for most, actually — it was the isolation, the lack of human contact, that drove them to give in. After weeks and months by themselves, they couldn’t stand any longer to be apart from their family and friends, and no amount of money was worth the emotional toll.
The irony that we stumbled upon this show while being quarantined hasn’t been lost on me. Aside from a handful of trips to the grocery store and a few visits to our parents’ houses, the eight of us have been hunkered down for more than nine weeks now. And while there have been a few rough moments, our struggles aren’t their struggles. We haven’t spotted any bears or wolves or cougars; we haven’t had to eat mice, or slugs; we’re not freezing to death; and there are days when the kids are fighting that loneliness doesn’t sound awful.
But we do long for our family and friends. We miss the ability to come and go without worrying about who might get us sick, or who we might get sick. And we miss Mass desperately (even taking the 3-year-old).
As I’m writing this, our diocese recently announced that public Masses will reopen soon. Our parish has put restrictions in place: every other pew is blocked off to maintain social distancing; adults are required (and children encouraged) to wear masks; our priests have added an extra Mass to the schedule to help manage the crowd size.
I thought I’d be elated to hear that Mass was returning, but my wife and I are both torn. Despite missing the liturgy, despite not being fed the bread of life for more than two months, it’s unlikely that we’ll return that first weekend. Perhaps we’re being overly cautious, but there are so many questions lingering: Will our fellow parishioners wear the masks? Will our friends, who have also longed for the Eucharist, pack the church? Will there be protocols in place for the reception of Communion? Is it safe for our 5-year-old? Our 3-year-old? Our 1-year-old?
These are all valid questions.
But just as valid are the feelings of those who have thought through these questions and have decided that they’re comfortable taking the necessary precautions in order to return to the Lord’s table.
For months, we’ve all been longing for our communities, starving for the Eucharist, fighting through isolation. How and when we return is going to be a personal decision for us all. Let’s not judge, because there isn’t a road map out of this; we truly are in uncharted territory, and we’re all doing our best to survive.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.