Despite Being Absent From Church, Catholics Learn to Cope With the Effects of the Coronavirus

As+a+result+of+the+coronavirus+outbreak%2C+members+of+the+Catholic+community+haven%27t+been+able+to+physically+attend+masses.

Julia Tran

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, members of the Catholic community haven't been able to physically attend masses.

By Carlie Weigel, La Salle Catholic Preparatory High School

In the month since Governor Kate Brown issued her ‘stay home’ order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, school campuses have remained closed, the doors of many small businesses have been kept locked, and several long anticipated events have been cancelled. 

In addition to these significant disruptions, members of the Catholic community have been left without a key part of their faith — the ability to physically attend masses. 

For nearly a month, they’ve been absent from the pews of their churches and have gone without receiving communion. While this is tremendously important to those who are practicing Catholics, many also understand why they must abstain from gathering at their spaces of worship.

“It is everyone’s responsibility during COVID-19 to protect the vulnerable and not overload our health care system,” religious studies teacher Ms. Jane Nitschke said. “For Catholics, it is not only a privilege to attend mass — it is required. If the Archbishop did not close church, many would feel obligated to be physically present at a church every Sunday, potentially sharing the virus and putting people at risk. We can still celebrate mass and be spiritually present while physically staying at home.”

These sentiments were echoed by religious studies teacher Mr. Ryan Darmody. 

“As much as I want the Eucharist and… need it in some ways, I don’t think that need or that want outweighs the greater needs of the community for isolation, for self quarantine, and social distancing,” he said. 

Junior Anthony Nguyen, who is an altar server at both La Salle and Our Lady of Lavang masses, shared similar thoughts. 

“Churches’ doors should remain closed for now,” he said. “It’s God’s intention that you stay healthy, and you shouldn’t just go out there and defy orders because that’s not what God would do.”

Aside from not being able to receive the Eucharist, some Catholics have been reminiscing on the sense of community that the Catholic Church has to offer.

“I miss having a sacred space to come together as a community and devote my attention to prayer,” Director of Faith and religious studies teacher Mr. Gary Hortsch said. “It is cliche, but absence does make the heart grow fonder.”

Despite not being able to physically attend church or enjoy coming together as a community in person, members of the Catholic Church have had access to online masses.

Senior and Officer of Faith Aylin Begines would usually attend mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Milwaukie, but since the introduction of Brown’s ‘stay home’ order, she and her family have been streaming live masses as well as Gospel reflections on YouTube.

“Really an online mass is not very different from a regular in-person mass,” she said.

Begines said that she still sings along with the choir, prays beside her family, stands with the readings of the Gospel, kneels for the consecration of the Eucharist, and offers the sign of peace by shaking the hands of her family members.

Ms. Nitschke has been participating in mass, similar to Begines, and is beginning to acclimate to it. 

“The challenge is to participate fully even though we [are] at home,” she said. “That means not answering phones, taking a break, or talking during the service. At first it was difficult to be prayerful when sitting in the middle of the living room, in front of the TV, but as the weeks go on it is becoming more normal.”

In addition to streaming masses online, several members of the Catholic community have been exercising their faith in different ways.

Ms. Nitschke has been listening to spiritual music, Mr. Darmody has been reading prayers posted to Schoology by his students, and Nguyen has been saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m. in reflection of Jesus’ sacrifices. 

Mr. Hortsch has especially been keeping the senior class in his thoughts. 

“There is not a day that goes by when I don’t miss seeing them,” he said. “They are on my mind and prayers daily.”

The school has also been having students from Lasallian ministry post morning prayers to Instagram, Facebook and Schoology. 

“What I really like about what La Salle has been doing is trying to maintain such a tight-knit community… especially during such difficult times,” Begines said. “I love that La Salle is able to use its digital resources to maintain a prayerful atmosphere even in our own homes, remembering that ‘we are in the holy presence of God.’”

Moving forward, religion classes will have access to activities in place of chapel day celebrations, similar to how Lasallian ministry students put together a Google presentation for the Stations of the Cross and Easter holiday.

“Next month, Lasallian ministry will put together a virtual chapel day to conclude the year,” Mr. Hortsch said. “Additionally, student council will put together an end of year prayer service in place of mass to honor our founder and bring our school year to a close.”

Mr. Hortsch said that he appreciates the student voice and leadership that has been a part of these activities. 

“Students are rising to the need and call to be of inspiration to each other,” he said. “To boldly proclaim their own words of inspiration embedded in a sense of faith is inspiring.”

“Now is when we need each other the most,” Mr. Hortsch continued. “Now is a time of testing our strength and faith. Now is a time for us to gather together, even if virtually, and provide the support to one another. No one is in this alone. We are together. Our call as Lasallians is to be brothers and sisters to each other.”

During this time of uncertainty, several of the Catholics The Falconer spoke with appreciate the reassurance that is provided by their faith.

“I think that the Church, more than anything, reminds us that life is sacred,” Mr. Darmody said. “The Church teaches us that we sacrifice for the good of others… that all comes from my faith. Catholicism has taught me that.”

In addition to this, Mr. Hortsch noted that “there is an opportunity during a crisis to re-evaluate one’s life and choices and consider ways to grow,” he said. “Hopefully, in ways that are fruitful beyond the scope of this pandemic.”

Nguyen also said, “I’m pretty sure God knows what he’s doing. Maybe in a few years we’ll know… why this event was meant to happen.”

While everyone remains in quarantine and continues to practice social distancing, Ms. Nitschke recommended that everyone, no matter their religion or beliefs, indulge in something that is important to them.

“I encourage each person to find a time and place to become centered and calm, to practice your own faith and focus on what you believe, and to take time every day to be thankful for the good things in your life,” she said. 

Mr. Hortsch’s advice to everyone is to “be with your learning and trust that God is leading you to exactly where you are called to be,” he said. “[Your] vocation is your best self in the proximity of the people around you… Be patient and pray to offer your best self everyday and make that offering to God knowing that none of us are perfect, but our grace is greater than our failings.”

This story was originally published on The La Salle Falconer on April 22, 2020.