SCROLL THE ARROWS to see three more photos.
The bells of St. Mary’s tolled the evening “Angelus” as Father Paul Hartley elevated the Most Blessed Sacrament.
“Behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world!” the priest called out. “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!”
About 60 people, keeping proper distance from one another, were kneeling under the gothic arches of St. Mary Church in Glasgow.
It was the first publicly celebrated weekend Mass there in seven weeks.
“As we will soon come to that moment when we will share in Holy Communion, let us give thanks to God that we can once again gather as His people,” said Fr. Hartley, pastor of the Glasgow parish and of St. Joseph parish in Slater.
“Let us resolve never to take the Eucharist for granted, but see it as a true gift of Christ Himself, given out of His love for us and for our souls,” the priest stated.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight had suspended the public celebration of Mass in the Jefferson City diocese in mid-March in response to the order from Gov. Mike Parson, to slow the spread of the dangerous COVID-19 virus.
Upon expiration of Missouri’s statewide stay-at-home order on May 3, the bishop authorized parishes to resume the public celebration of Mass, so long as state and local health regulations continue to be followed.
At the same time, Bishop McKnight has dispensed until June 30, the obligation for all the faithful of this diocese and for all who are present within its territory, to attend Sunday Mass.
People who are 65 or older or who have health conditions that increase their vulnerability to COVID-19 are encouraged to refrain from attending Mass until further notice.
People who are sick or who have been exposed to the coronavirus must not attend Mass.
All people, including children over age 2, who enter a church must have a face mask or other covering for their mouth and nose. It must be worn at all times except when they are seated in a pew.
At least 6 feet of social distance must be maintained at all times between members of different households.
The Offertory Procession, the Sign of Peace, the holding of hands at the “Our Father,” and the reception of Holy Communion from the chalice is suspended until further notice.
Pews and frequently touched surfaces are to be cleaned with disinfectant before and after every Mass.
At parishes throughout the diocese, catechumens and candidates have been preparing to be welcomed into full communion with the Church.
They were to receive Sacraments of Initiation in their home parishes at the Easter Vigil, but the pandemic and suspension of public Masses put that on hold.
In his April 17 decree regarding the pandemic and the instructions he issued on April 28 for implementing the decree, Bishop McKnight encouraged parishes to hold such baptisms and receptions into the Church by May 31, the Solemnity of Pentecost.
Place of encounter
Eastern sunlight through the stained-glass windows of Holy Family Church in Freeburg poured tall, red Chi-Rho images onto the pews and Father William Debo’s vestments the morning of May 6.
The Chi-Rho is an ancient symbol for Christ.
About 16 people were present for the first publicly celebrated Mass at Holy Family since the Third Week of Lent.
“Here we are in the Fourth Week of Easter, filled with Easter joy as we come together for the first time to receive Jesus in the Eucharist after a long period of longing and anticipating,” Fr. Debo, pastor of the Freeburg parish and of Sacred Heart parish in Rich Fountain, stated.
He noted in his homily that no one has been immune to the sacrifices made necessary by the pandemic.
“We’ve had to challenge ourselves,” he said. “We’ve had to change our very way of living. Our very way of praying and worshiping has been altered in various, very significant ways.”
And the days ahead will likely remain filled with uncertainty and challenge — the very things that made the weeks leading up to Easter so memorable.
“We know as Christians, as followers of Christ, that every day, regardless of the season, is a time of prayer, of fasting if we are able, of almsgiving and reaching out to those in greatest need among us,” Fr. Debo stated.
“So we continue that journey in the midst of this beautiful Easter Season,” he said. “And in that prayer and in that sacrifice and in that concern and help for those who are suffering through this time of pandemic — that is where we truly celebrate Easter joy and encounter Christ in His resurrection.”
Lost and found
Lifelong Freeburg parishioner Nancy Maxwell said this was her first time at Mass since March 16.
“It was wonderful today to be able to receive the Body of Christ,” she said.
She hopes the time of separation from communal participation in the sacraments has created in many a deeper appreciation for what was being missed.
“You just can’t match the joy of being in the Real Presence of God and sharing that with your fellow parishioners, receiving the Body of Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” she said.
“It needs to be like, ‘Oh wow! It’s great! Let’s go to church!’” she said.
Mary Jane Bexten, a lifelong Rich Fountain parishioner, went to Mass early the previous morning in Sacred Heart Church.
“To receive the Eucharist was like reuniting with a loved one after a long absence, desiring some time to just be in His true presence,” she said.
“And to think, all this time He was waiting for us!”
Priests of the diocese offered Mass privately each day during the suspension of public Masses.
Fr. Debo said having people in church again felt like a homecoming, with the exception of being able to greet them before Mass and shake hands with them afterward.
“I still miss that,” he said.
Signed and sealed
“It is so good to be with people once again!” Bishop McKnight proclaimed on May 7.
He was in St. Peter Church in Jefferson City to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation for the first time since the pandemic began.
“It’s especially in times like these that we need the gift of the Holy Spirit, to continue to proclaim and witness the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” he said.
He commended everyone present for observing proper social distancing and wearing face masks “so that we can continue as Church.”
He urged the 53 young people who were about to be sealed with the Holy Spirit to be vessels of God’s mercy.
“When you go forth from this church, the one thing I want you to remember is your obligation, personally, to help the whole Church fulfill that mission of Jesus Christ that has been given to us: to bring glad tidings to the poor,” he said.
“You are called to help the Catholic Church to be recognized as an institution that is here for the poor and for those who are most in need,” he stated. “And I hope to God that you do not limit that to people who are materially poor!”
He reassured them that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, poured out in Confirmation, will give them strength to help and sustain one another “in good times and bad, in sickness and health.”
At the Saturday Vigil Mass in Glasgow, Fr. Hartley marveled at St. Peter’s description of God as “Him Who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light,” (1 Peter 2:9).
“What wonderful words of encouragement at this time, when we are at last able to gather together again as God’s people, in this church, to give praise and thanksgiving to Our Heavenly Father!” Fr. Hartley stated.
He said that as followers of Christ, “we are united to each other, relying on each other to help us accomplish all that He asks of us, so that the world might be brought to a knowledge of the salvation that He has gained for us.”
Everyone has something to contribute to building-up God’s kingdom.
“We have the responsibility to meet the spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ,” the priest declared. “In this way, the Body of Christ continues to grow as person by person, the faith is shared.”
“He is here!”
Glasgow parishioner Brett Witte said he has been praying throughout the pandemic for God to bring healing to all who are suffering, grieving or afraid, and to cleanse, purify, sanctify and restore the Church and the entire world.
“Suffering is the path to peace,” Mr. Witte stated. “And now we get to suffer together as a world.”
He hopes God will sanctify people’s time away from many of the things that consume so much of their energy, in order to bring healing to marriages and families and help restore the Lord’s Day to its rightful prominence.
Mr. Witte said he loves being tied to Christ through the Church He founded.
“He is here! He lives here all the time,” said Mr. Witte. “I can come and see Him any time I want to, and spend time with Him person-to-person.”
“Who God is”
For weeks, the marquee sign outside Immaculate Conception Church in Jefferson City proclaimed, “Our prayers are not postponed.”
“It’s true that anytime you have Mass, the place is full of angels and the entire Body of Christ is present,” Father Donald Antweiler, the pastor, noted. “But it’s so good to be able to see you!”
About 30 people attended the Saturday Vigil Mass on May 9. Between 30 and 60 attended each of the Sunday Masses the next day.
Elaborate chalk illustrations on the sidewalks and steps welcomed people back to Mass.
Ushers wearing face masks wiped down the pews with disinfectant and helped people find socially distant seating.
Fr. Antweiler preached about Jesus’s appeal to His friends to “have faith” and “not let your hearts be troubled,” (John 14:1-2).
“The core of life, of happiness, of everything is to put Jesus at the center and trust in Him Who goes ahead of us so He can prepare a place for us,” said Fr. Antweiler.
That “place” is an eternal home.
“And ‘home,’” said Fr. Antweiler, “is characterized by who is there — people you know and care about, who you know you’re safe with, who you can depend on, who you can trust.”
“That’s Who God is!” he said.
Toward fulfilling His role as “the way to the Father,” Jesus offers His Body and Blood in the Eucharist and bestows the Holy Spirit for the power to forgive sins.
“Keep your eye on things that are eternal,” said Fr. Antweiler. “Focus on Jesus. He is the One Who brings everything together, all of us together, in communion with the Father.”
“In front of the altar”
Lifelong Immaculate Conception parishioner Michele Caywood said it “meant everything” to her to be back in sacramental communion with her fellow parishioners at Mass.
“It really affirms the purpose and meaning of Christ in our lives,” she said. “He leads us toward making a fuller impact on the world.”
Parishioner Dennis Lueckenotte said he had enjoyed staying connected with the Mass through livestream but missed receiving the Eucharist and “the feeling of God’s presence in our midst.”
“The Lord hears our prayers from wherever we are,” he noted, “but sitting in front of the altar feels like a stronger connection.”
Fr. Antweiler said he’s been very impressed with people’s hunger for the Eucharist, but he also admires the sacrificial prudence of those who stay at home for good reasons.
“Safety is important,” he said.