As you are likely aware by now, the priests of the Cathedral (minus Bishop Paprocki and Father Peter who were away at the time) had to go into quarantine due to close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. The first day or two of quarantine involved getting adjusted to a new, albeit temporary, way of life. But after settling into a routine, I found myself thinking: “I’ve been here before.”
Now, this is my first (and hopefully last) time of being in quarantine, but I could not help but feel like there was something very familiar about this experience. The “here” to which I have been is the experience of living life as a priest physically separated from the faithful. In particular, it is the experience of not being able to celebrate Mass with the people physically present that strikes me, something I had to endure for nearly three months this past Spring. Of course, during that time, I still celebrated Mass every day and even though people (including my mom in Texas) joined me every day virtually, it just was not the same. As I am in this situation again (though thankfully for a shorter length of time), I continue to celebrate Mass every day, knowing that doing so is more than just a personal devotion, but that every Mass benefits the entire Church regardless of who is present. Nevertheless, it is hard to escape that unsettling feeling.
However, lest I let my feelings have the final say, I am also reminded of the words of St. Paul: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The “good” that the Lord is working to bring about in this experience for me is the reminder of something that we Catholics (priests included) can sometimes overlook, namely, that what takes place at Mass far exceeds what we see, hear, or feel. In his last Encyclical Letter, Pope St. John Paul II addressed this very point:
This is an aspect of the Eucharist which merits greater attention: in celebrating the sacrifice of the Lamb, we are united to the heavenly “liturgy” and become part of that great multitude which cries out: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:10). The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 19).
I know that when I return from quarantine, I will be filled with joy at the opportunity once again to celebrate Mass with and for the faithful physically present. At the same time, I will have a greater awareness of how, at each Mass, Heaven and earth unite and we join with the whole host of Heaven in praising God. I pray that each of us will come to better appreciate how truly remarkable each and every Mass is, no matter how large or small.