As dark as the pandemic has been, Anne Pautler reminds us that there were also moments of grace.
On June 20 our parish church re-opened for Sunday Mass. No, the church building hadn’t been closed for the entire 15 months of the pandemic. There had been brief re-openings along the way, until another surge in cases or deaths closed the doors again. But I never felt there was enough time to get comfortable in the space. Taped-off pews, one-way traffic and aisle markers were a constant reminder not to relax our vigilance.
This time felt different. With most adults vaccinated and the spread of COVID-19 stalled in our county, all the pews were open again. The church was full of light and full of people. We sang from song sheets again, we hugged and we applauded. But even amid the rejoicing, I felt a sliver of regret - not for the days of isolation and online streaming, but for Mass in the garden.
Our parish school is built around a small courtyard garden, with covered arcades on three sides and a balcony on the fourth. During the worst of the pandemic that garden become the site of daily and Sunday Masses. The turf is artificial - and a good thing, too, because natural grass would never have survived the constant re-arranging of chairs or the people processing to and from Communion. But if the grass is synthetic, the trees, greenery, flowers and sunlight are real.
I remember windy days when the microphones made strange whistling noises, and bungee cords anchored the altar cloths. I remember an early morning Mass when a squirrel chased across the courtyard and up to the roof of the school.
There were beautiful banners in liturgical colors hanging from balconies. The two white-painted statues of Mary and Joseph often wore wreaths. Yes, Joseph wore a wreath as well as Mary - it’s his year, after all. The two saints stand in the flower beds, on the same level as members of the assembly.
On Sundays, there was a cantor and pianist. On weekdays, small birds chirped and flitted from tree to tree. It was reassuring to see other people at Mass, wearing masks and social distancing, but present.
My favorite memory is the hummingbirds. They’d dive in and out of the flower beds, even on Sundays. More than once a pair of them circled the priest giving his homily.
Homilies with hummingbirds. The pandemic has been a dark and fearsome presence in our lives. But there have been moments of joy, moments I do not want to forget. This summer there will still be some opportunities for Mass in the garden. Sometimes I will choose the garden over the church.
Anne Pautler discovered St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Community in Los Angeles as a UCLA graduate student. Over the years she has been nourished by the parish in many ways: liturgies, music, ministries, Bible study, outreach, and faith sharing. She has been a member of the RCIA team since 2010.