Now that parishes are opening up again, I’ve been disheartened to see row upon row of empty pews. I also read a post on social media recently that made me especially sad: “Once the pandemic is over, can’t we please still stay at home and watch Mass on TV? I really like the ease of worshiping God from the comfort of my couch.”
The question came from an elderly man and was directed to a priest. While I realize there may be compelling reasons for a person to feel this way (perhaps poor health), the idea that someone would prefer a streaming Mass over a real one disheartens me for so many reasons. It also makes me conclude that, somewhere along the line, many of us (myself included) have lost sight of the glory, the supreme treasure, the sublime mystery that is the Mass. Folks like St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and Padre Pio speak to such realities far more eloquently than I ever could (and I’ll cut to them in a moment). But for now, I’ll stick with the analogy of cooking shows and touch on the smell of incense.
An altar boy worth his salt would use words like smoky and sweet to describe the effect of his swinging golden censer. But I guess we could just burn some on the living room table, right? What about stained-glass windows—the way they catch dust mites dancing in floating puddles of light? Or a cold stone floor beneath your feet; how about hundred-foot-high vaulted ceilings; antique statues of Our Lady, St. Joseph and other saints; walls painted with frescoes; candles flickering with light. This hopeful description of your nearby parish—cliché as it sounds—certainly renders a sense of timelessness and transcendence. But it’s all just a peek inside the sanctuary.