Faith and Reason Forge: Mass During the Pandemic

Jacob Galgano, a member of the liturgical council and work study participant under Matthew Verghese and Brother Michael Duffy, said, the Villanova masses are, “the most beautiful and best experiences I’ve had on campus.” As many occurrences during the pandemic, mass before and during this time looks and feels drastically different.  The beauty of the in-person masses were lost when masses were moved online.  

Villanova Campus Ministry took on the task of sorting out how Villanova would conduct in person masses.  The digital world that immersed the Catholic and other faith communities became a turning point that influenced the importance of holding in-person mass at Villanova.

Verghese, the campus minister for liturgy at Villanova, was burdened with figuring out how, and if, Villanova could hold in person masses.  The faithful, like myself and Jacob Galgano, were growing tired of the online masses.  Fortunately for me, living in a more rural area of Schuylkill County, PA, I was able to start attending Mass in June while Galgano, who lives a half hour outside of Chicago, still had online masses right up until we returned to campus.  

So how did Campus Ministry figure out how it would implement Masses with all the restrictions to keep everyone safe?

The first question that was asked throughout the community was, “How can we balance abiding by governmental rules for our safety and the common good with reverent prayer in communion with the church?”  

Verghese poured credit onto many of the organizations on campus, including Augustinians, Athletics, faculty, student life and UNIT  for their sharing of information to make this plan possible. 

I was also interested in other plans they may have implemented, as they knew they could not hold the max capacity.  Their other idea included having masses in a decentralized approach, like celebrating mass at Jake Nevin or Saint Mary’s.  Ultimately, Campus Ministry decided on a hybrid approach that included adding a Saturday night vigil at 7 p.m. outside and a 3 p.m. mass on Sunday, in addition to the normally held masses at five, seven, and nine o’clock.    

The mass, from an attendee’s perspective, has been much different.  We are all grateful to celebrate mass in person, but a tough concession is made with the virus restrictions.  The adage of singing being praying twice is nullified for now, as we are not allowed to sing due to this action being categorized as a primary spreader of the disease.  The spreading out of people during mass deepens my focus on the prayers; however, I lose the feel of community that brings the parishioners struggles and joys together when we can sit close together and sense that I can pray for this person.  The ordered filling out after mass hinders the ability for me to reconnect with others in the sacred space.  

Even though I highlighted all these negatives, the shining light is the Campus Ministry members who have put this together.  I feel a sense of positive inner reflection and tranquility when I step into mass knowing they ensured that the celebration is safe and well run.  The restrictions can be handled for now because I want everyone to be safe and healthy.  The additions of hand sanitizers throughout the Church, the spreading of the faithful out and the slow application of pastoral singers have brought the mass back to its somewhat normal form.  Verghese, Galgano and everyone else on the team have done a fabulous job in preparing for us to come back to campus and making sure the Catholic faith is active and alive. It’s clear that Campus Ministry has been creative and unwavering in its commitment to serve the students and the faithful.