For the first time in 14 weeks, New Yorkers were able to attend Sunday Mass in person at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on June 28 — and Cardinal Timothy Dolan couldn’t have been happier to see them.
“It’s so good to see all of you. Thanks be to God. We all missed you,” Dolan said in greeting a socially distanced crowd of about 150 people to the first public Mass at the cathedral since March 8.
Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in New York City, the leader of the Archdiocese of New York and his fellow clergy had been celebrating Masses to a virtual audience. Capacity limitations and the abundance of caution had forced St. Patrick’s Cathedral and other houses of worship to close their doors to stop the spread of the highly-contagious illness.
Holy Week and Easter celebrations coincided with the peak of the pandemic in New York City. With parishioners told to stay home, Cardinal Dolan celebrated Masses to an empty cathedral that was broadcast on television and live-streamed on YouTube.
Over the last two months, however, New York stopped the spread, and churches began reopening last month for prayers and small services. But during the first public Mass in 14 weeks, there were plenty of reminders that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.
To the entrance hymn “Joyful Joyful, We Adore Thee,” Dolan, fellow clergy and lay ministers proceeded to the altar, donning surgical masks. There were no missals or hymn books available to attendees; they were encouraged to download them digitally on their smartphone through a QR code.
The sign of peace shared usually through a handshake was made with a contact-free wave or nod. Those receiving Holy Communion took the wafer by hand from the priest or minister, then lowered their masks to consume it. The second species of Communion, in the form of wine, was not made available.
Despite the “new normal,” Dolan seemed grateful just to see people sitting in the massive cathedral’s pews again, praying and singing during the Mass.
“It’s just been so haunting, the last 14 Sundays, including Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday and Pentecost, to offer Mass in an empty church. And that’s why I’m so overjoyed to see all of you here this morning,” Dolan said at the conclusion of Mass. “The church is never empty. The church, of course, is full of the life of God and the communion of saints. Thank God we have a Lord who brings us together.”
The readings at Sunday’s Mass, ironically, focused on what Dolan called the “virtue of hospitality.” During his homily, he spoke about the importance of the church making the faithful feel welcome at Mass, in spite of circumstances — something which all can follow in their own lives.
“That’s why we try our best to have a sense of welcome, an embrace of welcome in our churches so that people feel at home,” Dolan told the attendees. “As families, as a church and as a nation, everybody, the United States of America has been praised for its sense of hospitality, historically. It’s good for us to remember that as we contemplate the Fourth of July this weekend.”
True to form, Dolan’s sermon was sprinkled with a little Catholic humor when referring to the last 14 Sundays at the cathedral.
“I’ve been told that since you’ve been gone 14 Sundays, there will be 14 second collections today,” he joked.
After the Mass, Dolan was all smiles as he spoke with the media.
“I’m happy at every Mass of course, and we know the Mass always works, the Mass is never empty, but there was just something missing that’s essential when the people aren’t here,” Dolan sighed. “It feels so good. I can’t complain about how haunting it feels because, it was difficult for them too (the congregation). Every place I’d go, people would ask ‘When could we get back to Mass? When could we receive holy communion? When could we unite with friends in worship?’ So thanks be to God it’s starting.”
Worshipers were equally elated to return to church, even with masks and social distancing.
“Cardinal Dolan is such a comforting presence. He gives us hope, and hope is an anchor for the soul,” said Gloria Avery, a resident of the East Side. “We just hope to get through this and it may be through 2021 that we are dealing with coronavirus. Yes, it’s an enclosed space and there’s really no ventilation, but I think still it will be okay – such a blessing.”
“We’ve been going mass on-line every Sunday,” said Joe Aquino, a resident of the West Side, who was attending with his wife Suzanne. “So it’s great to finally come back today. I was in church the other day, one of three people. First thing I did when I came back into church, tears came to my eyes. So we look forward to mass this morning.”
Louisa Lucena came from North Arlington New Jersey to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s.
“Jesus said when two or more people gather in my name, then I’ll be with you, so Jesus is here strongly,” Lucena said. “I’m not afraid to come here because I try to keep myself protected, I wear a mask and do the things they tell us to do. I also have faith.”
With reporting by Todd Maisel
Watch the entire Mass below.