During these unprecedented times, we've had to adapt. After much prayer and soul-searching, and complying with all lawful orders and guidance, we decided to forge ahead and do the best we could to continue to minister to our parishioners and anyone else who would knock at our doors.
We began the last Sunday of Lent with Holy Communion At-Your-Car.
I never thought I would see the day this would ever happen. It was either shut down or find a way to provide the Eucharist to so many who treasure receiving Holy Communion weekly - after all, the Eucharist is food for the body and soul.
That first drive-up weekend, we gave Holy Communion to 39 people, several of them first-time visitors to St. Michael's. We handed out the regular worship bulletin and a printed Homily. The response was unanimously positive.
We immediately got to work. We decided to hold Holy Week services, with abbreviated and simplified rubrics and asking people to call ahead to save a spot (to limit the amount of attendees as prescribed by county officials). Vickie, our amazing Church Administrator, prepared all the bulletins for all Masses in record time! Thank you Vickie!!!
Palm Sunday was a hit! After blessing the palms, we got to work on setting up outside the church building.
And people showed up - 60 of them. Each one was thankful that St. Michael's
decided to remain open and available as witnesses to Christ's love and service, offering blessings, palms and Holy Communion. Some showed up with St. Michael medals asking for them to be blessed. Some took Communion to their home-bound family members. Some blessed us in return.
We celebrated a Pre-Sanctified Mass on Holy Monday through Wednesday - 15 souls participated with us. On Maundy Thursday, we celebrated an abbreviated Mass with a simple Stripping of the Altar.
It was a simple, moving ceremony overshadowed by sadness - so many people are afraid, abandoned by their churches, pushed away... 15 people attended together with Bishop Steve. The Altar of Repose was moved to the back of the church to allow for proper social distancing. At the end , we sang Taize's Stay With Me...some of us cried. I will let the pics speak for themselves.
After the Stripping of the Altar, when all the liturgical trappings are removed, the Altar washed, dried and covered with black linen, and the church is darkened, the Great Vigil began through Midnight. About 10 of us took turns watching over the Blessed Sacrament - some praying, some reading hymns, some thinking about all the things they had witnessed in the past few weeks...
Good Friday began with Matins at 9 AM followed by some impropmtu theological conversation. The church was then set up for the Good Friday Liturgy at 3 PM.
"Today is suspended on a tree He who suspended the earth upon the waters.
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.
We venerate Thy passion, O Christ.
We venerate Thy passion, O Christ.
We venerate Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection."
-Eastern Orthodox 15th Antiphon
Without the customary processions, vestments and elaborate ceremony, the Good Friday Liturgy took place, among 15 of us. It was simple, different, underscoring the days we have lived... but with the (known) hope that Christ Jesus was not gone forever, but has risen. And we walked out of the church looking to the Easter Vigil to come... And thus, the one day that the church is empty - without the Blessed Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood - began...
"Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, 'It is finished!' Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
John 19:28-30 (NLT)
Holy Saturday morning the Altar Guild got busy decorating the church for Easter. Yes, very few people would see it... But ultimately, Easter is the reason for Christianity. Without Easter, there is no Christianity... We decorated the church for ourselves (of course!) but also to honor that most sacred event when Jesus rose from the dead. Cynthia and Nancy worked very hard and we are grateful to them!
"'Mary!' Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabbi” . 'Don’t cling to me,' Jesus said, 'for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!”
And, though typically we would not do this (actually, this year we've done a lot that we would typically not do...), we celebrated a small wedding! The couple wanted to get married and not wait any longer since the lock-down prevented them from having friends and family. So the Altar Guild served as witnesses, Fr. Pete celebrated the marriage ceremony and I became the photographer - and the bride and groom, Michael and Deborah, ended up marrying among Easter lilies and tulips! What a start to the Easter season!
And Frs. Charles and Pete celebrated the Easter Vigil Liturgy with 8 parishioners. And Frs. Pete and I celebrated the first Easter Mass late at night together with 12 people - and in that one our seminarian, Nancy, served as "sub-deacon" for the first time, powerfully proclaiming the Resurrection Gospel to the world! Oh yes...a fine deacon she will make!
And, yes, we had Easter Sunday Drive-Up Communion, together with the printed liturgy to pray at home, Fr. Charles's homily, goodies and homemade birdseed hangers and we gave the lilies away.
One particular story stands out: A middle-aged man drove by and asked if anyone could receive Communion. He told us to hold on, he needed to get his elderly dad who could not walk. The man returned with his dad, we gave Communion to both and they cried. They blessed us.
"Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!"
Some parting thoughts...
For those struggling through these pandemic days, call loved ones, reach out to those who are alone, finish projects you've started, read a book, limit news consumption to no more than one hour a day, pray (and if you can't pray, simply offer everything you do today to God for His Glory), take a walk, run if you can, do some gardening, write a letter... Remember that you are alive! That life continues! That all of this will soon pass... Our God is one of Light and Life - He will never forsake you nor abandon you. He hears every sigh. He treasures every teardrop. He knows you completely - He understands your fear, your concern, your worry. He is with you always.
God's Peace be with you always,
"Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. He created everything there is—nothing exists that he didn’t make. Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it."
-John 1:1-5 (The Living Bible)