This morning delighted and refreshed me. I participated in Mass in person for the first time in over seven weeks.
As I head west, I stop at campgrounds or Harvest Host parking lots, depending on my need to replace water and empty tanks. Last night, I stayed near Owensville, Missouri. This diocese had just started to partially reopen churches with rules to protect the health of Mass participants and celebrants. My GPS and cell service failed me, but after a circuitous drive, I arrived at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church shortly before 9 am daily Mass began.
How wonderful! To Jesus through Mary, as the saying goes. I entered the church wearing my mask and read the instructions posted for safety. Every other pew was closed with tape. Tape marked spaces six feet apart on the aisle. Near each entrance a bottle of hand sanitizer invited use.
A lovely example of Midwestern Catholic churches, Immaculate Conception displays wooden beams, decoratively painted walls, and a traditional sanctuary with a tabernacle centered on the wall behind the altar, beneath the crucifix. Above the crucifix, a beautiful round stained glass window depicts Mary with angels.
The morning sun filtered through the colorful window into the church. Pale blue and gold carved stations of the cross caught my attention. These delicate and detailed carvings were recessed into the side walls, separated by narrow rectangular stained glass windows. Statues of Mary and Joseph carrying the child Jesus welcomed parishioners to the left and right of the sanctuary. I felt at home.
I took a spot in the third pew to the left. Six other people prayed silently, scattered about the church in separate pews.
Father Wayne presided. During the homily, he described safety measures that he asked us to follow as a matter of charity. The sign of peace and distribution of the Precious Blood remained suspended. We could remove our face masks while seated in the pews, but every time we left the pew we needed to wear the mask.
To receive Communion, we were to go up in single file, six feet apart, wearing a mask, then pull down the mask before extending our hands to receive the Eucharist. That way we would not be fumbling with the mask while holding the consecrated host. After receiving, we were to put the mask back on before starting to walk back to our pew.
Father Wayne explained that the Bishop asked that everyone receive in the hand for now, rather than on the tongue. Kindly, Father Wayne demonstrated how to hold our hands as apparently many people in that parish normally receive on the tongue. It was a good reminder for me to cradle one hand in the other and wait for the priest to place Jesus in my palm.
Through the entire Mass, I couldn’t stop breaking into a smile, because I was so happy to be there. Tears gathered in my eyes at the time of consecration, knowing that I soon would receive my Lord whom I love and adore. While I have grown to appreciate spiritual Communion, Catholicism is a physical religion that unites us with Jesus. He humbly becomes our food so that we may become part of Him as He becomes part of us.
At each Mass, Christ is truly present – body, blood, soul and divinity – in the re-presentation of His redemptive sacrifice on the cross. The Sacred Body and Precious Blood are not symbols hiding under the appearance of bread and wine. Rather, during Mass Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice on the cross transcends time and space. He becomes present sacramentally on the altar. All time unites with the one unique and sufficient moment of Christ’s sacrifice, as it was at the first Mass, the Last Supper. As we pray and receive Him, all the angels and saints rejoice there with us. Also, at each Mass, we become united with every person participating in any Mass anywhere and with all Masses ever. We receive the actual body and blood Jesus sacrificed for our salvation, so kindly hidden in the outer appearance of bread (and wine, when the Precious Blood is shared with those receiving Communion).
This incredible miracle happens at Mass, because God longs to be with us and for us to be with Him. The intimacy of receiving the Eucharistic Lord is something I hope I never take for granted again. Truly, God generously blessed me with the timing of my trip to allow me to be present at the Mass at Immaculate Conception. I pray that you too will be able to join this eternal celebration very soon.