Coronavirus emanated from China in December 2019. Its rapid escalation was reminiscent of the seed-distribution of a dandelion, and it had somehow travelled the world in the blink of an eye.
As the ‘pandemic’ word drifted through the media – we became more cautious of ‘close company’. Many who had resisted the handshake of peace at Mass – and even had situated themselves remotely from others to avoid it – were relieved when that practise was officially abandoned. Social isolation was easier to do at weekday Masses in our 1,100 capacity parish church as attendance would generally be about 150 souls.
Prior to the distribution of the Host at communion time, the finger-washing in cold water by our Eucharist Ministers became a full hand-washing in warm water and soap. Receiving in the hand was advised and sharing the chalice was terminated.
Ash Wednesday, February 26th, saw our church reasonably full and, for the last time in God knows how long, Christians had the blessed thumb of their priest laid upon their foreheads as a prophesier of what would become of many of the world’s loved ones – a lonely departure from this earth and, in many cases, an almost anonymous cremation.
February 29th would tragically bring Ireland’s first covid-19 fatality.
In early March, following this reality, communicants were giving even more space to each other as they queued for the Body of Christ. A number of our parish-connected meetings were postponed indefinitely. Among these were the Parish Assembly, our Ministry of Consolation (funeral team) and a just-commenced Alpha course as well as the suspension of activities in our parish community-centres.
Our hearts went out to senior patrons and organisers of the weekly bingo/tea dance ‘social’. ‘Meals-on-wheels’ volunteers were to be a vital link for them in the months ahead.
On March 12th, our government decided to close all education facilities and followed with a restriction of 100 persons – later reduced to 50 – at any single indoor gathering. Even though many of our places of worship would not attract that number for weekday Masses, church authorities eventually deemed it impractible to allow any of the churches to remain open.
The initial curtailment of unnecessary travel beyond two kilometres and direction to over-70s and ‘others at risk’ to confine themselves to their homes probably further justified the closure of the churches. Plenty of assistance was on offer from secular authorities – county councils, G.A.A, Gardaí, etc., but being an independent-minded septuagenarian, I simply had to take a walk on every good day.
Like others, I resented the term ‘cocooning’. With little traffic, it became a joy to stroll on our country roads, even within the 2km limit. One of my favourite walks begins with a hill which used to require me to pause on several occasions. Reciting the Rosary allows me to reach the summit without taking a ‘breather’!
On a ramble, as I stood into a meadow ‘headland’, I could hear the Angelus bell from our Chapel of Ease over a mile away. Normally it would have been inaudible with the distant drone of traffic.
Thank God for the internet, too, as our parish initiated daily Mass on Facebook. This also allowed us to keep in touch with our ‘church friends’. Sharing the broadcast onto my own Facebook brought some new worshippers from all over – one friend in America tuning in at 5.00 am before heading to work! Employing a Daily Missal, I commenced to post the following day’s Readings onto my own FB, with notes on relevant saints’ lives.
Mass is again being celebrated in our Church since June 29th, , Deo gratias. Like many other parishes, covid-19 has caused us to accelerate our introduction of modern technology to spread the Word of God.