By Lara Pickford-Gordon
I live a ‘stone’s throw’ away from my church—Church of the Nativity, Crystal Stream and like those folks who consider their place of worship, “my Church” did not initially register for Mass.
Anticipating a rush back to pews, I actually delayed returning right away when the announcement was made that places of worship could open on Corpus Christi, June 11.
June 21 was the first Mass I attended in my parish. I was curious about the implementation of the protocols for temperature checks, social distancing, sanitising and mask wearing. I turn up and was advised to sign a register with the thirty-something others who also did not register. The sanitisers are located at the entrance and a handheld thermometer was used to check I did not have a fever. There’s no guarantee of sitting in the usual spot and one must be thankful to be seated.
I found myself at a back pew with a couple who were regulars. We greeted each other with a nod. The a/c was off, side entrance doors opened and there was stillness. I always like moments of quiet in church. I looked around for the familiar faces and it felt strange to see them wearing masks or shields; I was struck by the absent faces, a senior couple the Juliens, Valerie and her grandson.
The stickers on the centre aisle told us where to stand for distancing when going up for Communion and sanitiser was distributed for those who did not have their own supply.
The mask wearing can be annoying at times. The Sahara dust has impacted my sinuses so a sinus drip and cough are common. Every now and then I have to dab my nose…or cough.
Parish priest Fr Christopher Lumsden drew attention to Jesus’ words to His disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 10: 26-33 for them to not be afraid. It was said three times. He noted the relevance of those words for us. Receiving Communion was a wonderful feeling. Many people have spoken about the inward hunger of not receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist. There was ample time confined indoors to think about what kind of Catholic exists when routine is disrupted and the physical church and Eucharist could not be accessed.
My colleague Renee Smith, Catholic Media Services Ltd communications officer, “officially” returned to her parish in south Trinidad Friday, June 28.
She said, “We have the option to reserve a seat at Mass by using Calendly or calling the parish office. I have no issue using the Calendly. I think it’s convenient and quick. I also get alerts to my email/phone reminding me of my reservation and if I would like to cancel.”
While most parishes are accepting walk-ins, she preferred not to take a chance of being turned away or “put in an awkward position”. Her congregation is relatively small with less than 50 persons.
Wearing a mask is strange. She said, “It’s hard to describe the feeling but I often find myself wondering what others are thinking while at Mass wearing a mask. I wonder if the priest recognises his parishioners or what he is reading off of the faces of others as he can only see their eyes.”
Smith noticed that despite the protocols there were persons not consciously sticking to the guidelines. “There is a lazy approach re sanitisation e.g. sharing handheld mics without sanitising before or after, touching the ambo when reading etc, not sanitising hands after receiving Holy Communion.” There were individuals not wearing masks, she said they should be given a warning and did not agree with their being turned away.
Smith said it was “beautiful” to be back at Mass, present to appreciate the transubstantiation, the rituals, kneeling and standing at appropriate times to adore Christ.
“I missed the bells being rung, the space for absolute quiet and connection you feel of sharing that communion experience with others,” Smith said. She added that “despite the risks” efforts should be made to encourage people to return to Mass. It may take some time, but she urged “let your faith be greater than your fears”.
Here are the views of a few parishioners about the protocols associated with Mass attendance.
Michael Sookhan, a parishioner of St John’s the Evangelist Diego Martin said, “….without air conditioning it is penance, and the distancing, it’s like isolation and you better not be here versus the comfort of home. I rather view online that is my view and 68 per cent of the people I regularly discuss the Mass with after every Mass.”
Lee Reis of Church of the Nativity RC said, “I have to get adjusted to this new normal. I am offering it up like a sacrifice. For me, it is an act of penance.”
Betty Harroo Church of the Nativity RC said, “I am just so happy to be here despite whatever I have to wear it does not really matter; maybe a little uncomfortable but it is worth just coming to Mass hearing the Word and receiving Jesus. It’s like I’ve been hungry and thirsty for the Lord so when I come here, I am satisfied and braced to go back and deal with everything. I need to be here.”
Mask wearing and sanitising etc are intended to safeguard health. It may be inconvenient now but is preparation for when the borders reopen and the likelihood of catching COVID-19 increases. There is no vaccine against this virus.