By Barb Arland-Fye and Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Three long months after suspension of public celebration of the Mass, Catholics eagerly returned on a rainy Monday morning, June 22, to celebrate the Eucharist with appreciation and joy. They accepted the new normal — wearing facemasks, using hand sanitizer, sitting where instructed to sit and conscientiously maintaining physical distancing as protective measures to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
“We’re beginning our way back,” Father Ken Kuntz, pastor of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, told the 30 people gathered for 8 a.m. Mass.
“I know you can’t see it, but I’m smiling under this mask,” Father Tony Herold, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport said as he welcomed parishioners at the beginning of the 8:30 a.m. Mass.
Ten days earlier, parishes throughout the Diocese of Davenport received the go-ahead from Bishop Thomas Zinkula to resume public celebration of the Mass on June 22. The advance notice provided an opportunity for parishes to plan strategy based on the protective measures that the diocese required for the safe return to Mass at this stage in the pandemic.
“The process of resuming the celebration of Mass will occur in stages,” said the bishop, who with his staff continues to monitor data about the pandemic from the Iowa Department of Public Health. June 22 also marked the third anniversary of Bishop Zinkula’s ordination to the Episcopate, the day on which he became the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport.
“The bishop was very bright in telling us on a Friday that you have all week to figure this out. That was invaluable for us,” Father Kuntz said. He and his staff have been sketching out preliminary plans for several weeks in anticipation of the reopening. “We’re on version 18. We’ve been tweaking and tweaking,” he told The Catholic Messenger. Minutes before Mass began he gave a brief demonstration of the reception of Communion with assistance from Faith Formation Director Brenda Bertram.
Parishioners paid attention. When the time came to receive Communion, they followed the instructions flawlessly. They spaced themselves according to taped markings on the aisle and opened their hands for a spray of hand sanitizer before receiving Communion from Father Kuntz. They turned to their right to lower their masks and consume the body of Christ, and then opened their hands for a second spray of hand sanitizer before returning to their pews.
Twenty of the faithful attended the first in-person Mass at St. Paul the Apostle. As mask-wearing parishioners entered the church through Denning Hall, Michelle Herrington, director of parish life, greeted them and directed people to sit where the pews were marked. Hand sanitizer was available as well.
June 22 marked the feast day of 16th-century martyrs St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, who demonstrated great courage and steadfast commitment to the faith. Father Herold asked the Catholics gathered for Mass to be courageous and strong through this pandemic and to maintain a strong faith. “Know God’s love and protection,” he said.
Everyone had to make adjustments, including the priests. Wearing a facemask while presiding at Mass was an adjustment for Father Herold. “My glasses fogged up every once in a while,” he laughed. Father Kuntz agreed that wearing a facemask while presiding is challenging.
As Mass concluded, Father Herold told parishioners to share God’s love, not the virus, by continuing to wear their masks, keeping their social distancing as they left the church and not congregating after Mass. Parishioners who stopped to talk briefly afterwards maintained the prescribed six feet of distance from each other and kept their masks on.
St. Paul the Apostle parishioner Mary Adams shared her joy in receiving Communion for the first time in 96 days. Even though she had her mask on, she said she kept humming to herself the hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing.” “I am so excited to receive Communion and be back here,” she said. Parishioner Judy Otto loved being at Mass. “What a way to start your day.” Still another parishioner described the return to Mass as heartwarming.
“It was awesome. We’ve been looking forward to it for so long,” Prince of Peace parishioner Kathy DeBo of Clinton said after Mass at her parish. She said the long absence made her realize how much she appreciates the Mass. Her husband, Al, said he thought the Mass was very nice and very well organized. Both commended their pastor and his staff. “I don’t think anyone will have a problem following the instructions,” Kathy said.
Prince of Peace parishioner Karen Hood said she felt lost after suspension of public celebration of the Mass. “I felt cut off,” said Hood, who in normal times serves as an altar server at daily Mass on Mondays. “I think the virus has taught me how much more I appreciate my faith and the body and blood of Christ.”
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