A religious brother serving at our Sorrowful Mother Shrine outside of Bellevue, Ohio, describes life and ministry at the shrine in these unusual times. Visit the shrine website for the latest updates on Mass and confession at the shrine.
This summer has been an experience of multiple ways of dealing with COVID-19. It was March 16 when the governor and the bishops began a shelter-in-place order and we basically closed down for two months. The local residents met each day in the Mary Lay Center for Mass.
It was May 25, Memorial Day, when we started having public Masses once again. We observed diocesan regulations and were able to serve the spiritual needs of our local population with proper adjustments and cautions.
All Masses since then have been in the outdoor chapel. We have marked off every other bench so that people don’t sit too close together. The priest has been doing all readings and intercessions, etc. For communion, the priests (two priests for communion for weekdays and three priests each for the three weekend Masses) take communion to the people, using the open benches as access points for the distribution.
From the beginning of this mode of operating, we have invited people to bring their lawn chairs and sit on the grass beyond the roof of the chapel so they can observe distancing and, at the same time, hear and participate in the liturgy. This makes for some interesting communion distribution as there is always a good number of people who take advantage of this possibility.
It is a challenge to approximate the number of hosts that might be needed at any time but we have figured out how to do that pretty well. It is interesting to note that we use about 300 hosts at each weekend Mass. That shows a wonderful response to our ministry in this time. Many people feel better being outside in the fresh air than enclosed in a church space.
At this time, it has not been determined how we will proceed when the weather turns colder and we have to be inside. Our chapel usually seats about 120 worshipers so we would be limited to maybe 40 with distancing. Stay tuned for further developments.
We have also been having drive-in confessions since March. The priest waits in the parking lot between the Pilgrim Center and the chapel (or sometimes in the lounge in the Pilgrim Center). The penitent just drives up (or walks up) and the sacrament is celebrated. Occasionally we have a second priest by the gift shop if a large number is expected. It has worked very well.
With the danger of contamination in mind, we are not using missalettes or hymnals. Most people are able to get through one stanza of a well-known hymn. The service music (Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc.) is a well-known setting we have been using for a number of years. And, every once in a while, there is a Communion Refrain that is well-known and well-loved and brings forth a wonderful and blessed response from the congregation. The singing of Be Not Afraid, On Eagle’s Wings, and Gift of Finest Wheat has been a joy and blessing to hear.
We have had a few groups here for days of recollection. The ACTS (Adoration, Community, Theology, Service) men’s group from Sandusky had a mini-retreat on a recent Saturday. Polish groups from Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Michigan came together and enjoyed a Sunday afternoon Mass, picnic, Way of the Cross and blessing with the relic of the True Cross.
A new feature of the shrine that is proving very popular for reading, reflection and visiting is the pergola between the indoor and outdoor chapels. The furniture, purchased from an Amish outlet, has proven to be comfortable and inviting. We may even eventually use it for an outdoor confessional.