Yesterday, my wife and I did something we, along with most people in Rome, haven’t been able to do since March 8: We went to Mass. (We also went out to lunch for the first time in two months and ten days, enjoying a gorgeous Roman spring day and a fine meal, but that’s a story for another time.)
Herewith, a few sights and sounds from the “new normal” on the first day the Church both in Italy and the Vatican began to exit the coronavirus catacombs.
A Patchwork of Practices
Up and down Italy, mostly small pockets of Catholics attended Mass at one of the country’s more than 26,000 Catholic parishes Monday – small in part because it wasn’t Sunday, and in part, too, because some people may have been scared off by fears of long lines, stringent controls and the still-present danger of the disease.
Those who did show up were treated to a patchwork of precautions and new practices.
At a parish in our Rome neighborhood, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Christ the King, the 10:00 a.m. Mass drew a hardy 30 souls, perhaps in part because Monday wasn’t just the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II but also the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the church. The parish is entrusted to the Dehonian Fathers.
When we entered, a large bottle of hand sanitizer was positioned in the back of the church – in effect, it’s the post-coronavirus version of holy water, since everyone’s expected to take some as they come in. There were signs indicating where people are permitted to sit, on pews that had been repositioned to ensure the minimum meter and a half of distance. Everyone in attendance had masks, with the exception of the vocalist who sang during the liturgy, but gloves were hit and miss.
In theory, the basilica, designed by Italian architect Marcello Piacentini, a doyen of rationalism who was a favorite of Mussolini during the Fascist period, can accommodate 4,000 people, but the pastor, Dehonian Father Albino Marinolli, explained that under the terms of the protocol between church and state, they’re now limited to 200. That wasn’t an issue Monday, he said, but likely will be next Sunday.
Our celebrant, Dehonian Father Marco Grandi, wore a mask during the Mass, though most of the time it was hanging beneath his mouth so he could he heard. He had a bottle of hand sanitizer on the altar and applied it before beginning the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
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