Church Experiences in the Corona Days

Going to Mass since the pandemic broke out and restrictions were put in place has been a strange experience, to say the least. My home parish is one of the more “paranoid.” Every other pew has been blocked off. We enter through only one door and leave through another door. Two hand sanitizer stations are prominent in the gathering area. The bathrooms are now “for emergencies only” (a horrid diaper explosion counts, right?). We must have our temperature taken at the front entrance. Everyone must wear a mask. If you don’t wear a mask, you must either sit outside and listen to the Mass via speakers or leave and watch the Mass on the Facebook livestream. We can no longer sing in church because of the danger of droplets flying everywhere, propelled by the force of our Christian fervor. There is no shaking hands or hugging during the sign of peace. We can’t get up for Communion. The priest brings Him to you. You may not receive on the tongue, only on the hand.

The other Catholic church we have visited does not have nearly as many restrictions. They do the “every other pew” thing, but almost no one wears a mask, and they all sing. There are also tons of people congregating outside (probably not six feet apart) because the church itself doesn’t hold many and now holds even fewer due to the aforementioned “every other pew” thing.

Weirdly, I am finding my church’s Mass more reverent than I had before because of one reason: increased silence. Without everyone processing to the priest in the Communion line, I am not distracted by noticing everyone’s outfit and thinking stuff like, “Ooh, I had no idea she was pregnant!” and “Man, that guy’s beard is super long.” There is no singing, except by the cantor, so I can focus better on the lyrics of the songs and notice things I had not noticed before.

So in all this craziness, there is a silver lining. Or maybe I made it for myself by taking advantage of the extra “quiet” time.

The Name of Jesus

My son is starting to say words (actually, to be realistic, babblings that sound a lot like words). There is the usual “mama” and “dada,” but I’m not totally sure he associates those words with the concepts yet. He will reliably say “cup” when he plays with his cups and “car” when he sees a car or looks at a book with cars in it (or trucks; at this point, they are the same to him).

My husband got him to say “Jesus” by putting pictures of Jesus all over the apartment and handing him holy cards (laminated, so they are indestructible!). One of the pictures of Jesus is in the bathroom, so when I’m done changing my son, I make sure he sees Jesus before he leaves the room. Now it’s a habit, so he will swing around and say hi to Jesus.

This is not to brag about my son (who am I kidding, of course it is!) but to say that all this repetition of the name of Jesus got me thinking about the name itself and what it should mean. Often, we use it as a swear word when we should be giving honor to the name. I pay more attention to the name now. This past Sunday, I was trying to be super focused on the times when the name would be said in the readings or the homily. It isn’t said a lot. Instead, we use Christ or Emmanuel or the Son of God or any number of other titles. I might have heard “Jesus” once or twice. Would we benefit more from hearing the name spoken in a positive way? I think so. It is a nice reminder.

…at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth…

Philippians 2:10, NABRE

The Baby Jesus

Lately, I have been thinking about the baby Jesus. When I was younger (and by that, I mean only about a year ago), I imagined a tiny baby, looking as perfect as one of those Ashton-Drake dolls, wrapped up in a flawless swaddle, in a manger. Mary and Joseph are perfectly calm and nonchalant, as if in a nativity scene.

Like many things about the life of Christ, that was a completely idealized vision. We never think about the one-second-old baby Jesus looking gray and wrinkled, with an umbilical cord, covered in blood, wailing into the cold Bethlehem night. He is always perfect, like when a gorgeous blonde on a soap opera miraculously gives birth to a six-month-old.

We never think about Mary being exhausted from the birth or the constant feedings. She always appears angelic and serene. Yes, she was sinless, but she was still human. I can imagine that she felt much like any other new mother after one of those endless days in the first month or so: hungry and thirsty, totally exhausted, and wishing Joseph would hurry back from his trip to the market so she could have one minute to close her eyes.

Babies are hilarious little creatures. They make weird noises. They pop up in their crib to greet you at 3 in the morning, when any reasonable person would be asleep. They grab their feet and stick them in their mouth. They suddenly shriek with joy at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason. They fling food all over the place when eating. I’m sure the baby Jesus did all these things. He probably kept his Mother awake all night long when he was teething or had colic, but he must have kept her laughing, too.

Babies are also, quite frankly, disgusting. I’m not going to describe the bodily fluids or the incredible degree of literal crap one has to put up with as a parent. I’m sure you can imagine it (and you might have been there). Again, I’m sure the baby Jesus had his disgusting moments. True, he was God himself. But he was fully human and subject to all the nastiness of the human condition. It did not make him less holy, just like all those gross-out times don’t make regular babies any less lovable.

Maybe this Christmas, we should look closer at babies and be reminded that Jesus was once a baby, too. We might even be able to take that a step further and look at grown adult people, especially those who get on our nerves, and be reminded that Jesus was once a grown adult, walking among us, capable of feeling everything that we feel.