Random Nun Clips

The Sign of Peace at Mass feels like a health risk. What should I do?

Podcast Recorded: December 31, 1969
The Sign of Peace at Mass feels like a health risk. What should I do?
Description

A listener worries because people at Mass walk around at the Greeting of Peace instead of social distancing and wearing masks. Hear the full Ask Sister episode at AS233. Hosts: Sister Maxine and Sister Shannon.

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Show Notes

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Transcript (Click for More)+

Sister Maxine   

Our first question comes in from Eleanor in Pennsylvania. Eleanor writes, “I've really missed going to Mass on Sunday, so I decided to start going again. The reason I stopped was because of COVID. When I talked with people from the parish, they said everyone at Mass is supposed to be social distancing and wearing masks. ‘Great,’ I thought, and I went the very next Sunday. It started off fine, but then some people took their masks off right in the middle of Mass. And during the Greeting of Peace, they walked around, even though the priest had said to just greet one another in your hearts. I was going to talk to our priest about this, but am I wrong to think that public health practices should be enforced at Mass? And whose role would that be--the priest, the ushers anyone?"

Eleanor, we appreciate this question and you know there are a lot of questions and some anxiety about going to church at the time of COVID, so I'm sure that you're not alone in this experience.

Sister Shannon  04:27

It sounds as if this is a strong desire in your heart, Eleanor, and that's a good thing. Our connection with community is so important. At the same time, our safety is really key. I'm sort of distressed to hear that people have not taken that role seriously when they've come together as a Christian community because it's not only about ourselves and our safety but it's about protecting others--those that we are interacting with at the liturgy and those with whom we will spend the rest of our day, when we leave there.

Sister Maxine   

It's also interesting that it's happening during the Sign of Peace, which is supposed to promote harmony and community and here it's sort of having the opposite effect.  

Sister Shannon   

One of the things that is clear is that the bishops have instructed the local priests to communicate well with their communities of faith as to the expectations of liturgy today. You would have received or your priest would have received a letter from their bishop, talking about no processions, no kiss of peace--eliminating those elements of the liturgy that would bring people into close contact with one another, for the sake of safety. So, you when you ask who's the enforcer, I would suggest that it really begins with the pastoral team of local parish community.

Sister Maxine   

I think it's fine for Eleanor to raise the issue. And we know that some people can't wear masks all the time because they may have a health condition. But it sounds like the situation is really that people are choosing to get up and walk around during the Greeting of Peace, which I think is probably not a practice that's widespread. I don't know about how it is at your church or your Motherhouse. In the past, sometimes we might tend to walk around a little bit to give the Greeting of Peace. But the Greeting of Peace is not meant to be like, “Hey, how are you doing, how's your day.” It's really meant as part of a ritual.

Sister Shannon   

It is. And so, typically, it's the people immediately around us that we greet and offer them the Sign of Peace. That's a tough one. You know, it took them a while to train us to even engage in that. If you go back to prior to the Second Vatican Council, there was no touching at Mass at all. But that was introduced, that and I think holding hands at the Our Father was another thing that was introduced not long after the Second Vatican Council, and it took people a long time to get comfortable with that. And so now, in this pandemic time, we're sort of rolling that back and that makes people uncomfortable, too. They want to do what they've become accustomed to doing.

Sister Maxine   

During the ritual, to follow those safety procedures and give each other the Greeting of Peace, that can still have the desired effect. It can still help to build community.

Sister Shannon   

You know, Eleanor, I think you have some choices. You can consider other parishes in your area. You can ask how they approach social distancing and protection with masks. I'm aware of parishes in our diocese here where they mark the seats in some churches, or they take reservations, and they're very particular about how they distribute communion. All of those things are in order to keep people safe, so you've got that as an option. And you've also got the option of finding out which parishes in your diocese livestream their liturgy so that you could watch on your computer or your iPad. It’s not the same as being present and receiving the Body of Christ, I recognize, but it is a way that we continue to keep each other safe.

 Sister Maxine   

You make a good point with that--to find a place if you are intent on going to Mass in person, to find a place where you do feel comfortable. I have a friend who's a minister and they have very well-defined protocols, and the people follow them. They do stuff like, if your last name is A to K, then you go on this time and, and they'll have staggered times for their church. I think that is a really good option, Eleanor, if you feel that you really want to be there in person, and at the same time be safe.

Sister Shannon   

I would encourage you to say something to your pastor. I think that you have a responsibility and a right as a member of that parish to at least express that you were not comfortable, and that you were surprised at some of the actions of the people. And I don't know what your pastor will have as a response, but it doesn't hurt to bring it to attention, for the sake of those that would be frightened to speak up or would not go because they heard that what was happening in church,

Sister Maxine   

The public health issue that you mentioned, I mean that's a pretty big deal because whoever you might encounter in church, that's all going home with you and the same for them. So, at the time of COVID, I think that's not unrealistic to worry. I do like when she suggests maybe it's the ushers [who should enforce social distancing]. And that's not unrealistic. It sometimes can be easier for somebody in a, so to say, official capacity just to remind people if they forget. I mean that's the other part of it. Finally, people are around other people again. And I think for some people, it's just like they just kind of forget that it's a pandemic--they're just so glad to be with people.

Sister Shannon   

I was sharing with Sister Maxine before we started that, in our chapel, we have our seats well-marked with little blue pieces of tape to make sure that the sisters are sitting separate from one another. But we tend to forget when we're going up for communion, and we sort of bunch up. And every once in a while, one of the sisters who's serving as sacristan or one of the leaders will get up and say, “Now sisters, try to remember to keep a few feet between you when you're going up to receive communion so you protect yourself and protect the priest.” And we're doing that, not only to protect ourselves but to protect our community because these are people we love and you don't want to spread any kind of virus.

Sister Maxine   

Some of that is almost unconscious. One of the rare times I have gone to our Motherhouse since COVID, because of safety precautions, I remember walking in and I see one of my one of my friends, one of the sisters there, and our first instinct is to go up and give each other a hug. We each took two steps and we're like, oh my gosh, what do we do now.

Sister Shannon   

Two days ago, I was headed to chapel for Mass and I was running just a little bit late so I wanted to get there before the opening song began. I was coming down the hall as fast as I could and I passed another sister who just looked at me and said, “Mask.” I had failed to put it on. I went back to my office to get my mask. And it was her charge to me to protect others, and of course I wanted to wear it, I just forgot. These things happen, but you want to be as careful as you can.

Sister Maxine   

Eleanor, I hope that you start to consider a few options, and that you begin to feel safe wherever you go so that you can really, truly, deeply, enter into the celebration of the Mass.

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