By Sister Regina Siegfried, ASC
Lent and Holy Week were opportunities for me to ponder rituals and how Covid has changed the patterns of worship we have taken for granted. We are now more than a year into the pandemic. Life has changed; the way we gather to worship has altered almost beyond recognition. Last year, the high holy days of this most sacred of weeks for Christians were virtual. Churches were empty, our worship spaces abandoned except for a few ministers staring at a camera. This year, the assembly is regrouping for shared worship.
I am neither a liturgist nor a ritualist, but I try to pay attention and notice things. My reference point is St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis, which is known for its outreach to those in need and for its liturgies and music. This year, ashes, palms, oils, and the worshipping community made a tentative comeback.
The congregation was even invited to sing along with the cantor. The choir both assembled and distanced in the front pews on Holy Saturday, singing all our familiar songs that accompany the vigil readings. However, the blessed Easter water and sprinkling rite were a memory of years past, as were the processions and waving streamers. The list of rituals either absent or changed is almost endless. Yet, God is bigger than any meaningful human ritual we devise to heighten our awareness of the invitation to join in the infinite love God offers us.
Gathering in a sacred space with a group of faith-filled believers is one of our most vibrant rituals. Even with pews roped off and hand sanitizers the new holy water font, our congregation is slowly reassembling. One advantage of worshipping and serving together in a small parish is that we know one another. Livestreaming services is a weak substitute for a live congregation, so it’s heartwarming to see a small gathering of people who have missed each other for more than a year of not sharing liturgy.
One of the most important things I have learned this year is that the assembly of believers is core and key to our worship together. Rituals can change; a wave of the hand can substitute for a hug or handshake at the sign of peace, but we need each other to be strength and nourishment in hard as well as easy days.