Tears of joy, gratitude to receive Communion mark parishioners’ reactions as parishes cautiously reopen for public liturgies

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Msgr. Gary Smetanka didn’t see any smiles in the pews, but he could tell parishioners were happy to be there.

The 7:30 a.m. Mass on May 19 at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Grosse Pointe Woods was the first public Mass since March 13, when public liturgies were suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak that has plagued the region and the world.

With a few dozen in the congregation, Mass had a different sound and look to it, with no music, no Sign of Peace, and no intermingling before and after Mass.

But the Eucharist was there, Christ was there, and for one hour, a semblance of normal reigned in an abnormal world.

“I thought it went well; you could see people were happy, some were crying, happy to be back,” Msgr. Smetanka told Detroit Catholic following Mass. “You couldn’t see them smiling because of the masks, and you could see people struggled with pulling down the masks to receive Communion and learn all the procedures, but they will get it.”

Parishioner kneel and line up six feet apart as they approach for Communion at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Grosse Pointe Woods on Tuesday, May 19. 

After two months of the Mass not being available publicly, the faithful seemed more than willing to don a mask and learn the new routine.

“This was where I had my last Mass, in March, and to just treasure that moment and to be able to come back and receive the King of kings in my soul and body, it’s just a remarkable gift, and I missed it,” said Our Lady Star of the Sea parishioner Angela Theis. “The spiritual communions have sustained us, by the grace of God, but there is nothing like the Word made flesh. So it was great to see all these people back and to feel that joy and anticipation.”

Mass in a COVID-19 world omits the Sign of Peace, singing, receiving the Precious Blood and other facets of Catholic worship that have been taken for granted before the coronavirus arrived. But after a two month wait, parishioners were grateful to return to the highest form of prayer in the Church.

“The moment I saw public Masses were coming back, my wife and I were thrilled to finally go back and receive Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist,” said Nick Switzer, a parishioner of St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit. “This time has been extremely difficult. To have this moment finally arrive here today, it was great news.”

Fr. Leroy Moreeuw, C.S.Sp., a retired priest of Old St. Mary’s Parish in Detroit’s Greektown district, distributes Communion during Mass on Tuesday, May 19. 

Churches have been open for Eucharistic adoration and confession, and many pastors have been creative in bringing Jesus to the people in the streets — or even in the skies — but nothing replaces the Mass, parishioners said.

“To be able to go back to Mass, when so many people have not been able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, it is something that is so central to our lives,” Switzer said. “We’ve had to go about it in a different way for so long. So to go back to worship as the Church has always done, to bring my family back to Mass is wonderful.”

While parishes had the option to begin celebrating Mass publicly beginning today, parishes aren’t required to do so until May 29. Further, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron has lifted the Sunday obligation to attend Mass until Sept. 6, and the Archdiocese of Detroit is encouraging parishes to continue livestreaming Masses for the faithful who are immunocompromised or are not comfortable attending Mass at a time when Michigan still ranks seventh nationally in COVID-19 cases.

A man sits by himself wearing a mask during Mass at Old St. Mary’s Parish in Detroit on Tuesday, May 19. For parishioners who might not feel comfortable attending Mass in person just yet, parishes have been encouraged to continue livestream Masses.

Some parishioners have expressed concerns that parishes might be opening too soon, and parish staffs are encouraged to take precautions such as spacing out congregations and cleaning churches after Mass.

Fr. Mario Amore, administrator of St. Aloysius Parish in downtown Detroit, said he was glad to see his parishioners and celebrate Mass, but acknowledged some might not yet be comfortable coming to church, and that was OK.

“If you don’t feel like you’re ready for that, you feel like you want to continue watching online, that is OK, too,” Fr. Amore said. “You are not a second-rate Catholic if you don’t feel comfortable coming to Mass in person. Just know the Church is here for you, keep praying that prayer for spiritual communion, and try to connect with these feelings of longing that we have for the Eucharist, because that is our longing for Jesus. He is our hope.”