Mass this morning at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Huntington was no more sparsely attended than any previous Saturday morning. But following the guidelines established by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the faithful dutifully staggered themselves among the pews. Families sat together, but everyone else maintained a healthy distance of more than 6 feet.
As in other dioceses, Bishop Kevin Rhoades has ordered the removal of missalettes and hymnals from all of the pews. I brought my copy of the March issue of Magnificat to Mass and noticed a few others who did the same, and a couple of people had their own daily missals. Seeing the hymnal board with no numbers on it was a bit more jarring than I expected, but since traditional Lenten hymns such as “These 40 Days of Lent,” “The Glory of These 40 Days,” and “O Sacred Head Surrounded” are so well known, there’s reason to hope that music will return soon to our celebration of Mass. If not, that will be one more thing that we can offer up in a spirit of Lenten sacrifice, and for the sake of all of those affected — physically, emotionally and spiritually — by the coronavirus and the measures put in place to combat it.
Old habits die hard, and when it came time for Communion, the faithful lined up in the center aisle as closely spaced as ever. And after Mass, people gathered to ask one another how each is doing, standing not quite shoulder-to-shoulder but not 6 feet apart, either.
Rather than finding either of these behaviors disturbing, I saw in them a sign of hope. We’ll all learn over the next few days what “social distancing” requires, but right now, we want to help one another, and we’re not recoiling in fear from those with whom we worship and among whom we live and laugh and love.
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That’s quite a contrast to the actions related in the Gospel for the Saturday of the Second Week of Lent, both those of the prodigal son, who could not wait to leave his family behind and squander his inheritance in a foreign land, and of his elder brother, who could think only of himself when his younger brother returned.
As Christians, we’re called to imitate the better qualities of both brothers — faithful always, ideally, but repentant when we fall. And we’re called to be the father, too — to imitate our Heavenly Father, who “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45).
In times such as these, the world needs more than ever examples of Christians living their faith, in service to Christ and their neighbor.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.