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Outside Northern Virginia, parishioners are back in the pews

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When they arrived at the parish, masked ushers navigated Massgoers to the pews not blocked by yellow caution tape. There were no hymnals and no holy water in the fonts. There were no handshakes during the sign of peace and no baskets passed during the offertory. So many of the familiar rituals of Mass were upended by the coronavirus prevention safety measures, but after weeks of quarantine, the parishioners of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester were happy to be in the pews again May 17.

“It’s really good to be back,” said parishioner Beth Schloemer. “We’ve been doing Mass online but definitely we’ve all missed it. Everyone was ready to go and on time this morning, no one needed any nudge.”

Windows were kept open to allow for ventilation during Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester May 17. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

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“You can really see the joy in the priests,” said Mark, her husband. He usually serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, but because only clergy are distributing Communion for now, he was asked to be an usher instead. “The biggest thing was the seating, making sure people were socially distancing, keeping people out of the narthex,” he said. “They don’t want people to think this is Mass as usual.”

After receiving guidelines from the diocese, planning how to celebrate Sunday Masses safely fell to Father Bjorn C. Lundberg, pastor, as well as the other clergy and parish staff. Masses at Sacred Heart alternated between the church and the school gym, with cleanings in between. There were overflow rooms showing a livestream of the Mass in both locations. 

“There’s a temptation to be very stressed about the details but I’ve been praying to surrender to God and he’s taking care of everything. We have a great staff, a great team, and everything has worked out,” said Father Lundberg. “It’s great to see people coming back and to give them holy Communion, to pray together.”

But the return to Mass hasn’t been without its hiccups, at least for one parishioner. “At home we still dress up for Mass, but we always had our slippers on with our dress clothes,” said Terri Dean. “(This morning) I put my slippers on and I forgot to take them off when I left the house. Oh my gosh, I was so embarrassed.”

Terri and her family were grateful to not have to watch Mass from behind a screen, to receive the Eucharist and to see their church family in person again. They were also thankful for all the ways Father Lundberg  kept them connected while they were apart, through livestreamed rectory chats, daily Masses and frequent emails, as well as opportunities to visit the church for private prayer.

“Father had offered adoration and in the absence of Mass, to be able to still come and sit in the sanctuary with the body of Christ, that was just so comforting to have that intimate time,” said Terri’s husband, Kevin.

A family prays after receiving Communion during Mass in the gym of Sacred Heart Academy in Winchester May 17. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

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It brought Terri to tears when Father Lundberg and two of the older altar servers went out to bless the four corners of the parish boundaries. By happenstance, her friend’s home was the eastern most point, and she and her family saw Father Lundberg and went out to talk to him. “She and her family were going through a lot of struggles and she said after (Father and the altar servers) left, that she, her children and her husband, their hearts were just so much lighter,” said Terri. “And I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that he did that.”

Because Northern Virginia is still in Phase 0, some parishes there held Communion services instead of Masses. Megan Jorns was deeply moved after receiving the Eucharist for the first time in weeks at St. Veronica Church in Chantilly. “It’s such a gift to be able to come back and receive Christ, the bread of life,” she said. “It’s a gift I hope we never take for granted.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020