Well, it’s been about two months since we’ve been unable to attend Mass and receive the Sacraments. For the first couple of weeks, it was an interesting adventure, as my wife and I set up the living room on Sunday morning to participate in the Mass on TV. We arranged a couple of chairs and got some foam padding to kneel on. I had the Scripture readings on my iPad so we could read along, and receiving the graces of a spiritual communion was a fairly positive experience.
Then Holy Week and Easter Sunday arrived, and participating in the services and liturgies via the television stopped being an interesting adventure. It turned into what this entire coronavirus crisis has become: a completely frustrating and infuriating ordeal with no end in sight.
When Holy Week arrived, and the truth of this situation really set in, I shook my head and muttered, “Be careful what you wish for, pal.” You see, my wife and I are members of our parish choir, and Holy Week is the most grueling part of the entire year. We have extra and more intense rehearsals leading up to Holy Week, and then we sing in church on Holy Thursday night, Good Friday afternoon, Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, and finally Easter Sunday morning Mass. By the time we stagger out of church on Sunday morning after the 9:30 Mass, all I want to do is go home and sleep for four days, since my brain and my throat are completely fried.
So, back in the winter, when we started working on Easter music about 20 minutes after the Christmas season ended, I thought to myself, “This is such a grind. Maybe I should take a leave of absence from the choir and skip Easter this year.”
Guess what? I got my wish. I haven’t had to sing a single note for three months now. This calls to mind my copywritten observation: “Silence is never off key,” which is kind of the way I approach those notes that are not in my three-quarters of an octave range. I figure lip-synching is much more preferred to screeching or growling the wrong note.
On Easter Sunday morning, while watching Mass on TV in my living room, my eyes welled up with tears. At that moment I would’ve given anything to be crammed into the choir loft, shoulder-to-shoulder with the other sweaty songsters, and joyously belting out “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” in four-part harmony. (Or if I forget which note I’m supposed to sing, five-part cacophony.)
I’m not a particularly touchy-feely, huggy-huggy kind of guy. But this social distancing thing is getting to me. I am really craving the opportunity to hug my daughters and sons-in-law, along with all my other relatives. And I really long to see my fellow choir members and parishioners, and yes, even give them a hug, too.
As soon as “Mass on TV only” became the new normal, I felt a deep desire for the Eucharist. But it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realized I also miss being in the presence of other people in the parish.
This situation reminds me of the words of one of my favorite Old Testament prophets, Joni Mitchell, who said, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
I like to think that I haven’t taken the Mass for granted for many years. After all, I wrote a small book called “Is the Real Presence Really Real?” and I’ve given parish talks on the subject. However, if I’m honest with myself, I definitely have taken Mass for granted. And now after many weeks of no Mass (with who knows how many more weeks or months to go), Joni Mitchell’s words ring true: I never understood how much the Eucharistic celebration and my fellow parishioners meant to me until it was all taken away.
Surely the day will come when we can return to normal. In the meantime, I’ll continue to watch Mass on TV and miss my friends. But don’t worry, once we can go to Mass again, I won’t sing any Joni Mitchell songs. Her voice is way too high and out of my range.