September 14, 2020
CARBONDALE – Eucharistic exuberance filled the hearts of the faithful when diocesan parishes opened their doors for a return to the sacraments for their flocks. In the months that followed, priests have celebrated Masses in small indoor gatherings and larger outdoor venues.
As the public continues to be welcome to enter their houses of worship for liturgical celebrations, a trend began in which Holy Masses left the churches – especially in rural parish settings – and the Eucharist came to the people who would gather outdoors to be spiritually nourished.
The open air liturgies and sacramental celebrations that continue to be offered have certainly been blessed by Divine Providence, with very little rain taking place during the weekend celebrations of Mass.
“We were blessed with a beautiful morning and naturally beautiful setting at Takach Grove,” Father Jeff Walsh, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Rose of Lima in Carbondale, said of the parishes’ first outdoor Mass celebrated on the last Sunday of August at the Greenfield Township social pavilion.
According to the recently appointed pastor of the Carbondale faith communities, approximately 130 faithful gathered for the outside liturgy, abiding by the social distancing and mask regulations set forth by the Diocese of Scranton and Centers for Disease Control during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As principal celebrant, Father Walsh remarked that the outdoor celebration was the first in-person Mass for many of his parishioners since March.
He was joined by concelebrant and assistant pastor, newly ordained Father Kevin Miller, Deacon Pat Massino and Diocesan seminarian Michael Boris, who has been assigned to serve his pastoral year at the Carbondale parishes, welcomed the outside congregation to the celebration of Mass.
“Surrounded by green field with wandering wild turkeys, next to a pond with lily pads, the Mass was very well received and appreciated,” Father Walsh said. “Thanks be to God!”
In the Poconos, an outdoor Mass is celebrated every Sunday at noon in the grassy area off the upper parking lot of Our Lady of Victory Church, Tannersville, where Father Richard Czachor is the longtime pastor.
“This came about after a few weeks of celebrating Mass only in our church, following proper distancing and wearing of masks,” Father Czachor explained. “Some people shared that they were afraid to come into church. Others said it’s difficult to wear a mask for so long. But they all still wanted so very much to receive the Eucharist.”
The pastor noted members of the Knights of Columbus organize the parking details and give instructions to the gathering congregation. Some remain in their cars, he said, while others bring chairs or sit on the lawn near the covered altar.
“The Contemporary Choir provides the music, making for a beautiful celebration,” noted Father, who indicated between 30 or 40 cars arrive for Mass each week, with upwards of 70 faithful in attendance. “So many people come forward and express their thanks for the opportunity to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist.”
The outdoor Masses have brought Donna and Fred Talcove of Jackson Township back to the liturgies at Our Lady of Victory, after the 18-year parishioners had been viewing the church celebrations online since mid-March.
“I think it’s great because I have underlying issues,” said Donna, who suffers from COPD and would rather attend Mass outside. “I missed receiving Holy Communion.”
Referring to an imminent change in the weather that will not be as conducive to outdoor liturgies, Fred remarked, “I don’t know how long we can go like this. We will take it week by week.”
Stephen and Laura Brady of Reeders, OLV parishioners for 25 years, have attended the outdoor Mass since it was first offered. “It’s good to get back,” said Stephen. “This is fine. We could do this every Sunday.”
A former Catholic school student who became accustomed to attending informal Masses in the gymnasium, Laura said, “You have options,” noting there is no need to register for the outside liturgies.
“You can stay in your car and have Communion brought to you, if you need to,” she remarked.
Echoing the Bradys’ sentiments was John DeRobertis of Stroud Township, a member of the Tannersville parish since 1986.
“When I was in the Boy Scouts, we had outdoor Masses and I loved it,” he said. “It’s just so nice to be outside, in nature, with beautiful scenery around and enjoying the Mass.”
DeRobertis further noted that the open-air liturgies lessen the chances of contracting the COVID virus and offered, “It’s so good to receive the Lord. That’s what we are here for, to receive Jesus.”
At Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Brodheadsville, weekday Masses are celebrated in the outdoor Pavilion on the church grounds on Monday at 12:10 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday at 8 a.m., with a Spanish Mass offered outside on Sundays at 5 p.m.
The Pavilion area has also provided the ideal setting for weekly sacramental confessions at the parish, which is also currently celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism outdoors.
Pastor Father Mike Quinnan sees the outdoor liturgical celebrations as a blessing in disguise in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.
“We are having a beautiful summer,” Father Quinnan said. “It is so peaceful and pleasant to look out over nature and the beauty of the Poconos while celebrating Mass every morning.”
He continued, “I will miss not having Mass out in the Pavilion when the weather turns colder. However, the prayer and faith of the parish is strong and together we will meet the challenges and go where God wants us.”
Queen of Peace parishioner Diane Hicks said of participating in the outdoor liturgies, “It gives me a serenity and a deep connection with God and nature.”
Fellow Mass-goer Joseph Kenas feels the outdoor Pavilion at the parish is a “true blessing,” given the mandated social distancing and other health guidelines brought about by the pandemic.
“Thankfully, through the massive efforts of so many of our church volunteers, we were able to have an outside Pavilion built,” he remarked, “and what better way to celebrate and show our thanks than to celebrate Mass here daily. It’s truly a joy to be able to share this experience with others every day. Sure, it’s not quite the same as celebrating Mass in the church proper, but it’s a very, very close second!”
Father Christopher Sahd, senior priest at Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Honesdale, has been celebrating the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass on a picturesque hill located behind Saint John Church.
Explaining that the novel outdoor Mass is offered on the site of the original parish church and cemetery, Father Sahd noted, “While there are no grave markers, there is a beautiful golden statue of the Child Jesus being held by the Mother of God, which beckons prayer for the faithful buried there,” adding the statue presides over the spot where the open-air Mass is offered.
Father estimated that between 50 and nearly 90 parishioners — with children, chairs and blankets in tow — arrive each week and assemble before the outdoor altar for the Sunday celebration.
“Through sacred art and the chanting of the Propers of the Mass, the use of incense and frequent silent contemplation,” he continued, “we have tried to arrange for the Mass to be a solemn as possible, so as to lift our demeanor from the casual to the reverent.”
The Honesdale senior priest said he is always uplifted by the presence of young children at the liturgies, who join their elders in kneeling or standing in adoration on the hillside.
“To me, there is something beautiful about the outdoor Mass,” Father Sahd concluded. “Passersby catch a glimpse of the Sacred Host and chalice lifted high above the altar. We thank God for giving us this opportunity to keep His Day holy and giving Him worship.”
Masses in Muncy
The current health crisis has also brought about changes in parishes’ overall Mass schedules — most notably, the popular choice of pastors to move their traditional weekday morning liturgies to later in the day to accommodate the faithful.
At Resurrection Parish in Muncy, their pastor Father Glenn McCreary decided to celebrate three daily Masses in the evening hours to provide more opportunity for Mass attendance during the week, especially given the lifting of the Sunday obligation.
As Father McCreary explained, since the parish enjoyed a good experience with their regularly scheduled Wednesday evening Mass, daily liturgies on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday are now offered at 7 p.m. in the Church of the Resurrection. The 9 a.m. Mass on Thursday still continues to allow time for Confessions and adoration later in the evening.
“We’re getting more people at weekday Mass in the evenings than we did in the mornings,” the Muncy pastor said.
“Some of those parishioners had never attended weekday Mass,” he continued. “I believe people appreciated the ability of the parish to adapt to new realities and to shape a schedule that better fit their lives.”