Home Catechetical Corner Summer Mass in the gym: Find beauty in temporary spaces

Summer Mass in the gym: Find beauty in temporary spaces

Father Andrew Clyne of St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Bethesda, Md., celebrates a Mass in the school gym in this file photo from July of 2022. (OSV News photo/Mark Zimmermann, CNS

By Rita Buettner, OSV

Our church is under renovation, so we will be celebrating Mass in other parish spaces for a while. Initially, I thought how sad that was — that weddings and funerals, especially, wouldn’t be able to be in our parish church. And there is some disappointment there.

What I’ve been surprised to discover, however, is how much beauty I find in the liturgies held in our temporary spaces. When we celebrate Sunday Mass in the school gym, and daily Mass in the basement of the parish center, there’s a simplicity that seems to make the miracle on the altar that much more pronounced.

There’s also a beauty to the connection among the people in the congregation. I find myself connecting with parishioners I normally see from a distance. We are all walking in and out of the same doors, and so I’m smiling at familiar faces and new ones, falling into conversation with people I rarely had the chance to talk to.

Yes, there are basketball nets overhead and paper towel rolls near the kitchen where school lunches are made during the week. The school logo that’s painted on the gym floor certainly can’t compete with the stained-glass windows of our historic church.

But there’s a sacredness to this space, too. God is most definitely here.

Of course, I miss the kneelers. The blue folding chairs are a meager replacement for the polished wooden pews. But I find myself completely absorbed by what is happening on the altar. And I do love the starkness of the experience.

The truth is that I love feeling as if we are making the best of a situation together. I admire this sense of resourcefulness. And I love that we are marking our steps on this extended journey, waiting together with anticipation and hope — and enjoying the beauty of this time as much as we can.

I’m especially struck by the presence of the people. When we first learned about the renovations, I thought maybe our children would want to go to other parishes. Would being in a school gym feel like going to church? But although it is of course not the same, and we do miss our church, it offers so much more than I had expected.

The people are there. Our priests are there. The greeters are out in full force, smiling and welcoming us, every time. And I find myself realizing again and again that the people are the church.

I know we will be overjoyed when the work on the church is completed and we are back in a pew, admiring the beauty of a space designed to enhance our worship. But Jesus is most definitely here. Just as he came into the locked room where the apostles were waiting, he comes to us in the gym. Just as he brought them peace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, he meets us with peace and the gifts we need for the week ahead.

It all feels like an unexpected gift and serves as a gentle reminder of why we are here.

Rita Buettner is author of the Catholic Review’s Open Window blog.