Our Daily Bread: Mass During a Pandemic

Photo Courtesy of The Catholic University of America

By Javi Mazariegos

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed campus; in a very real way, this semester has been one of firsts. While tents, masks, and distancing are radical novelties, some elements of life on campus have remained the same. Perhaps the most vital of these is daily mass. 

Logging on to the Nest is as ordinary as Pryz chicken nuggets on Thursday, but seeing “Daily Mass” fill the events section of the Nest is quite extraordinary. While a number of events continue to be held online, mass returned to its in-person status as soon as the soft quarantine ended on Friday, September 4. 

For the first time ever, anyone wishing to attend daily mass must RSVP through the Nest. In order to provide a safe environment for those attending, Campus Ministry has had to limit the number of students who can fit in the chapels while observing social distancing. When a student clicks on “Daily Mass Monday 10 p.m.,” for example, the event will display how many spots are available. 

In the past, students had the freedom to walk to the mass of their choice during the week. The phenomenon of crowded chapels was quite common. In the past two semesters, both the 12:35 p.m. mass in Maloney Hall and the 5:10 p.m. mass in Caldwell Hall were packed to standing room only. 

Obviously, things are different this year: the Nest boasts many available spots for mass. 

On the one hand, masses on campus in the past weeks have been strikingly empty compared to last year’s crowds. On the other hand, they continue to be run like a normal daily mass with the Franciscan priests who take care of CUA’s ministry. 

Last week, mass was celebrated at 8:30 a.m. in the St. Michael’s Chapel in Maloney Hall. When one arrives, there is a spot on the pew clearly marked with a “reserved” sign, so that everyone who RSVP’d on the Nest could have a spot, a fine distance away from the others. 

Fr. Louis Maximilian celebrated mass, dressed in red for the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The lectern has a piece of protective glass so the reader can take off his/her mask. From there, Maximilian gave a homily. Like the rest of the crowd, he put on a mask when it was time for communion. 

A large number of upperclassmen attended mass. In fact, the majority were those upperclassmen living right off campus, looking at the dome of the Basilica out of the window of their homes in Cornerstone or nearby. The faces—albeit behind masks—were very familiar. 

At the same time, the newest members of the CUA family have taken advantage of mass offered at their new Washington home. Fr. Andrzej Brzezinski celebrated mass at 5:10 p.m. in Caldwell Hall, the iconic spot of both solemn and praise-worship adoration. Same reserved spots. Everyone with masks. Social distancing to receive communion. Again, a number of upperclassmen. 

Lucy Dunne, a freshman piano and psychology double major in the honors program walked out of the chapel with a cheerful look. 

“I’m just happy they are having mass,” she said. 

Dunne also commented it felt rather odd to RSVP for mass on the Nest, something she has never had to do. 

“It was definitely weird, and so are the masks, but I’m glad to be here,” she said. 

She reported that one can’t miss seeing mass on the Nest, and that residential students “get a ton of emails” letting them know that it is available. 

Dunne, a native of Minnesota, mentioned that this semester has been her only college experience, and it has been a fantastic one. 

“I love it here,” she said without a moment of hesitation, and reiterated, “I’m just thankful we are having mass.” 

Surely, some students are not taking anything for granted; Dunne walked away with a remarkable air of cheerfulness, a staple characteristic of campus. She joined the ranks of students at mass who seem tremendously happy, even behind their masks. 

In a certain sense, mass on campus has captured the phenomenon of the new and the familiar, the friendly and the challenging. Definitely a unique opportunity. It takes about two clicks on the Nest to reserve a spot; it is open to everyone. 

Daily mass has highlighted the importance of mass as something beyond a community-building moment. While there is a tremendous community that arises from the times of prayer on campus, the COVID-19 editions of daily mass seem to add a sense of intimacy. One gets the sense that this mass would be happening, even if one were the only person there. To borrow words from actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, it seems to unveil “a grace too powerful to name.” A grace available four times every day, not including the two masses at the basilica. 

Perhaps for anyone who has read this article up to this point and is considering attending one of these special pandemic masses, which have plenty of open spots, here are some friendly words of a 20th century saint depicted in Maloney Hall’s stained glass: “If you want to be happy, be holy; and if you want to be very happy, be very holy.” 

The times for mass are on campus and at the Basilica are as follows: 

8:00 a.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

8:30 a.m. in St. Michael’s Chapel in Maloney Hall 

12:10 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

12:40 p.m. at St. Vincent’s Chapel

5:10 p.m. at Caldwell Hall

10:00 p.m. at St. Vincent’s Chapel

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