It’s hard to believe that it has barely been a month since I had to make my first significant personal behavior decision because of COVID-19.
I decided not to share the cup. I mean THE cup.
I was at the regular 12:10 p.m. mass at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church in North Rapid City, where Mary and I are parishioners. The day before I had learned that churches in the diocese would not be sharing the communion cup or exchange handshakes of peace during Mass.
So that noon mass would be the last day for some time that those receiving the Eucharist at St. Isaac Jogues would also be offered wine and the chance to share the cup. And sharing meant taking a sip from a chalice that is wiped with a cloth after each participant sips.
From a public-health standpoint, I’ve always had reservations about the process. But it’s a beautiful tradition filled with meaning and symbolism going back to the Last Supper and the offering of the cup by Jesus to his Apostles.
Beauty and tradition aside, however, the COVID was coming. And I decided against taking a sip after receiving the Eucharist. That moment was the first time I felt a tremor in advance of the earthquake of change that was coming because of the virus.
Public masses were held that weekend, but not the next. And since then, we have only been able to celebrate the mass by way of TV broadcasts or teleconferencing, websites or social media offerings. It helps. But it’s not the same. Not even close.
When I stood in our kitchen and read aloud from a notice on my iPhone that public masses were to be suspended, almost certainly through Easter, Mary let out a gasp. We stared at each other, wide eyed.
Cradle Catholics, we couldn’t imagine a Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday without the gift we had taken for granted our whole lives — that is, being both physically and spiritually present for the ceremonies and music and prayers and fellowship that define our spiritual year.
Since then, so many things we couldn’t have imagined have become the things of every day life. The horrid national death toll, of course, and the fear and confusion. Also the smaller, less-significant things: No Y workouts. No library stops. No coffee-shop visits. No handshakes and hugs.
Now grocery shopping is a masked-up mission of military style planning. The recent spring shearing of my winter-furred springer spaniel was a similarly stragegized affair. I scheduled and paid in advance by phone, announced with a text my presence outside the Animal Clinic and walked with Rosie on a leash to meet a masked, gloved staffer out in the parking lot.
Personal health care changed, too. When I noticed a worrisome spot on my head, I notified my dermatologist. Rather than an office visit, I downloaded an app, set up an appointment online, had Mary shoot pictures of the spot and sent them in by smart-phone.
Five days later, telemedicine took over. I sat in my den looking into my phone at my doctor sitting in her office as she told me the pictures gave her a great look at that spot. No worries, she said, and no need for followup until my next office visit, likely in August.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Why go into the Animal Clinic and risk transmission, when the parking lot will do? Why go to the doc’s office, when the wonders of telemedicine are literally at our fingertips?
And suspending public church services makes sense, too, to protect public health. But it’s impossible to replicate the spiritual blessings of being there in person. Especially today.
Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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