Right from the beginning of the pandemic, when we were down in Palm Springs, and all the churches were closed, my husband wanted to make sure we went to mass some how each week. We watched as our favorite Irish priest living near Garderville, Nevada, figured out how to film his mass from a small studio, practicing how to stay 6 feet apart as they did it. Later on, they graduated to the actual church, and after they mastered how to do it well enough, they had a very limited amount of folks who could attend, but only with reservations. Each person was seated by an usher in their appointed spot, more than six feet apart. When it came time for communion, the folks in attendance came down the aisle to receive the host, from the priest with a mask on, and they obediently stood on the exes marked on the floor with masking tape 6 feet apart, moving slowly forward as if they were in a wedding….step together step.
The people watching from their computers, had to settle for virtual communion, and a few words were on display on our screen for us to read and say about how we believed that because of the circumstances, this was the best that we could do. It was fine, and we got excited when our priest mentioned his friends in Palm Springs, (“that’s us!!”, we’d cry), and a couple of times he’d do a little wave and smile to the camera (to us, we were sure), as he came back down the aisle at the end of mass.
When we came to Tahoe, we kept watching a mass online, since our parish church still wasn’t open for business. Finally, they started taking reservations, but you had to remember to call before Friday at noon or you were out of luck. We talked to our friend the priest on the phone and he said he was going to be saying mass at a tiny chapel occasionally a little over an hour from us, and 35 minutes south of his home. He’s been retired for a couple of years, but finds himself busier than ever filling in here and there. He invited us to come, and it was so wonderful to actually see him in person, a twinkle in his eyes represented the smile we couldn’t see behind his mask, in this small mission church that was started and attended by a very small group. They were always happy to have Father O. come to help out, since the bishop very rarely includes them in his rounds, and they’re stuck saying a special mass without a priest.
The first time we went there, we were ushered to our socially distanced seats, and looked around to recognize about 6 others from our Tahoe church, doing a double take, as everyone had their masks on. We all listened attentively to Father O’s special way of presenting mass, with his 3 “sermonettes”….explaining each reading before it’s read.
In the past, he always enjoyed going out to lunch after mass, with what we privately call his “groupies”, (those of us who follow him around), but we decided we wouldn’t go, because of the virus. The next week, we drove our hour and 4 minute drive, along windy Kingsbury Grade, going somewhat over the speed limit so as not to be late. I love driving pretty fast on the curves, but only as fast as I feel safe, and Doug says it’s exciting to ride along with me. We come over the summit, and can see down in to the valley, which became very smokey lately because of all the California fires. Our favorite part is driving down in to the valley and seeing all the herds of cattle and different birds, like the falcons peering down from the wires for their prey.
When we got to the chapel there were even more of the folks that travel to listen to our priest. Two sisters that had worked with him in Tahoe, drove all the way up from Placerville. Even with all the extra folks, the total in attendance, including the piano player and singer, was only 18. It was so nice to see old friends, and everything seemed so clean, that when it was suggested that some of us go out to lunch, we decided to do it. It would be our first time to mingle with anyone since the corona outbreak. Six of us all drove our separate cars and thankfully were seated outside at a Mexican restaurant, a nice breeze blowing on us, only venturing to take off our masks while we ate. It was fun joking with the nuns, (which I had never done before), and as we were leaving, one of the jokes was, “Let’s all see how we feel in 2 weeks…..” Not a very funny joke, but everyone is fine, thank God.
This week, though, Father O. suggested that we drive by and pick him up on Sunday and we could drive to church together. We really wanted to, so we could have some special alone time with him, but we decided that since he had flown to Palm Springs to do a funeral, that he may have been exposed. We called him yesterday to say that we didn’t think it would be wise. He had almost been part of our bubble, and now it had a possible leak. (We didn’t put it that way, but he understood.)
A friend of ours from Palm Springs, who spends her summers in Freedonia, New York, talked to us last week and told us how she attends mass. She is over 80, and is very careful not to be near anyone outside of her “bubble”. She and her daughter pile into the car on Sunday mornings and drive to the shores of Lake Erie, turn on the car radio and listen to I believe, a relative of theirs who is a priest as he delivers mass. I’m not sure if it’s been advertised as such, but other cars are parked in the same area, and when it comes time for the kiss of peace, everyone honks their horn and waves at each other.
We hope and pray that this need to be so careful will come to an end sooner rather than later. This “new normal” stinks.