BRANDYWINE HUNDRED – The coronavirus pandemic cost faithful Catholics 10 weeks of attending Mass in person, but that came to an end the morning of June 1, when several churches in the Diocese of Wilmington welcomed people back into their pews for the first time since March.
The fact that a new reality has taken hold was immediately evident, however. All of those heading into the Church of the Holy Child in north Wilmington for 9 a.m. Mass went through a single entrance, where ushers instructed them to use hand sanitizer before proceeding to the pews.
Every other row of pews was closed, and those that were available were marked with masking tape every six feet to show people where to sit. Before Mass started, the pastor, Father Michael Carrier, went through a list of changes made in the wake of the pandemic. There will be no singing at daily Mass, and only by the cantor on Sundays. The sign of peace is not happening for now. Communion would be available at the end of Mass, and distribution would be with outstretched arms on both sides.
Of course, masks had to be worn in the parking lot and in church, and there was no socializing allowed. Still, Father Carrier told the approximately 35 folks who were in attendance, it was nice to be saying Mass in front of people instead of just an iPad.
“It’s good to have you back,” he said. “I get to see your smiles.”
During his homily, Father Carrier said he felt like “an empty-nester” whose children have returned home.
“It has been lonely here the last 10 weeks as we set up the iPad. That’s our congregation,” he joked. “Today we come back as a family.”
The priest also touched on the unrest and violence that has taken place in Delaware and across the country over the past several days in the wake of the death of George Floyd. The Minnesota man died a week ago while being restrained by police in Minneapolis, and protests have taken place since. Father Carrier called on Catholics to pray for healing and peace, and an end to racism.
“We need to work, my brothers and sisters. We need to be the peacemakers. We ask Mary for her intercession,” he said.
Parishioner Tina Gilbert was thrilled to be back at Holy Child. “Being away from church has been the hardest thing about the quarantine.”
She said Father Carrier did a good job sticking to the rules that have been imposed, even if it was more uncomfortable for her to pray with a mask on. She has been watching Mass online, but getting back to church was a way for her to see some friends for the first time in months.
“I wish I could talk to them, but it’s good to see everybody,” Gilbert said.
Kathleen Deemer also has been tuning in on YouTube but was happy to get back into the routine of going to Holy Child. She’s curious to see how the weekend Masses work out since the church is limited to approximately 110 people under the current restrictions.
She has been able to see her sister-in-law during the quarantine, but “the other people I haven’t seen since the last day of Mass here.”
Neither Deemer nor Gilbert were able to secure their normal pew, but that is something they can live with.
“I’m just happy to be here, no matter where I sit,” Gilbert said.
After Mass, Father Carrier said having familiar faces in the church “put the joy back in your heart.” The congregation was about half the size of a normal daily Mass, but he understands some people might not be comfortable returning just yet.
The staff at Holy Child has been busy making sure the church was properly marked off so they could resume services. He knows people have been watching online, but that is not the same for a big reason.
“Being able to receive Eucharist – because they have not received Eucharist for all those weeks – that’s the main thing for a lot of folks, just that opportunity to do that again,” he said.
The iPad, he added, will be going away, but not the streaming of Masses. Holy Child will have a camera installed soon, and the online availability will continue.
“With an older parish, it affords those that aren’t able to come because of health or whatever under normal circumstances to be able to participate.”