By Tony DeGol
The Very Reverend Frank Scornaienchi, TOR, began Mass with a sentiment everyone else in the church was surely feeling.
“It’s good to see you all again,” said the Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Altoona.
“Except I can’t see all of you,” he added with a wide smile, referencing the face coverings everyone in the pews was sporting.
Such is the temporary normal at parishes throughout Altoona-Johnstown as public Masses resume.
Regardless of the masks and other safety precautions, parishioners are thrilled to be back.
“It was nice to go to Mass – we missed going,” stated Michelle Strawmier while exiting Our Lady of Mount Carmel after the 4:00 p.m. liturgy on June 13.
“I think sometimes we take this for granted,” added her husband, Chris. “You just do it and do it, and then when you can’t have it, there’s a part of you missing.”
At that Mass, Chris ministered as an usher. Their son, Christian, is an altar server.
“Our Catholic faith is very important,” Michelle insisted. “We’re all involved in various ministries. It’s very important that your family belong to a Catholic Church.”
In recent months, fellow parishioner Richard Peo watched Mass on TV or the internet, but longed to return in person.
“I’m very happy to be back and be able to worship again,” he noted.
“It just feels spiritual for me,” parishioner Diana Brennan mentioned. “I’m happy I’m able to come and see people and be able to pray in our church and see Father Frank. I’m just very overjoyed that we’re able to come back and hopefully things can get back to normal.”
The return to public Masses appropriately fell on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi – the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
“What a great time to be able to come back once again here in this church,” noted Father Frank in his homily.
“The Eucharist is so much more than food for the journey,” he continued. “Jesus tells us in the Gospel that if we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, we will remain in Him, and He in us, and He will lead us to eternal life. The Eucharist we receive carries us throughout the whole week. This Eucharist becomes part of who we are.”
At the inaugural outdoor Mass of the season at the Our Lady of the Alleghenies Shrine in Loretto on June 14, the Very Reverend John Byrnes, JCL, JV, reminded that the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a time to rejoice in the Lord’s real presence.
“Perhaps we’re more aware of that than ever now as we return to public Mass,” suggested Father Byrnes, Rector of the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel and Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. “We become what we eat. We become more like Him. The effect of the Eucharist on us is profound. It leads to greater contemplation and a deeper prayer life, and it leads us to greater charity towards our brothers and sisters.”
Added Father Byrnes: “I’m so happy this weekend that all throughout our diocese, our churches are open and people are free to come and receive the Blessed Sacrament at Mass to strengthen themselves again for this life of contemplative prayer and for this life of service to others.”
Wally Zapotoczny, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Altoona, was among the hundreds of faithful from throughout the diocese on hand for the outdoor liturgy.
He said not having Mass for the past few months was like a spiritual drought for him.
“As we move back into public Masses, one of the things I’m doing to help be closer to Christ is to simply cultivate more of a grateful heart,” he said. “To have the privilege and honor to be able to celebrate Mass again in a world that was with that for so long, for me, it’s gratitude and extreme love of our God and His Eucharistic presence.”
[Photos: (Top) A couple prays the Lord’s Prayer during Mass at the Our Lady of the Alleghenies Shrine in Loretto. (Inset) The Strawmier family returns to Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Altoona.]