Pandemic Forces Changes to Sunday Mass and Beyond

by, Katherine Heneghan & Madalyn Johnson, Web Editors

Wednesday, Feb. 17 marked the start of the Lenten season in the Catholic Church and here at Manhattan College. Lent begins with the Ash Wednesday service, where churchgoers are typically marked with ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads. However, the pandemic has changed how Campus Ministry and the Archdiocese of New York practice during this Holy season.

When the pandemic began last March, churches globally were forced to shut down. Amid the shutdown, Father Thomas Franks, Campus Chaplain, tried to keep students connected to their faith.

“With Campus in full remote status for the remainder of the Spring ‘20 Semester, we offered some online liturgies and reflections from home,” Franks told The Quadrangle via email.

When the campus reopened, Franks and Campus Ministry worked with the One Manhattan team and the Archdiocese of New York, as well as New York State guidelines to reopen worship services to students.

“When Manhattan returned for this academic year, I presented the Archdiocesan guidelines to our One Manhattan office,” Franks said. “We have put in place both social distancing markers and sacramental worship practices to ensure that everyone is safe. We are also assisting with contact tracing by asking that everyone participating in liturgies have a Campus Green Pass for the day and sign-in at the entrance.”

Social distancing guidelines have significantly cut down the number of congregants that can gather in the chapel. As Franks notes, the chapel can seat 716 people, yet with the campus protocols it can safely seat 130 people. Campus ministry has made up for how many attendees are permitted in-person by live-streaming the service.

“Live streaming has presented challenges, as the Chapel is not equipped with the technology for streaming,” Franks said. “We have been investigating the possibility of installing permanent equipment but the cost is such that we need to limit large expenses for the time being in light of the current budget. We are especially grateful to Kieran Clifford, who has helped us in these past months to create a streaming option for the community liturgies, and to Andrew Bauer, the music ministers and Performing Arts for their assistance.”

The Lenten season is the holiest in the Catholic Church although COVID has limited the way Catholics can gather and celebrate in person. Father Tom and the rest of Campus Ministry have worked diligently to ensure COVID safety alongside their usual services, with remote options for those who cannot attend in person.

Franks added additional worship services during Ash Wednesday, providing ample opportunity for students to gather safely. As for the rest of the Lenten season, Father Tom plans to hold Adoration and Reconciliation as usual, with added precautions.

“We will absolutely be having time for Adoration and Reconciliation during the Lenten Season,” Franks said. “These are times and spaces that I especially look forward to providing for the community. There will be a Reconciliation Service at the beginning of Holy Week on Monday, March 29. That day will also be set aside for Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation throughout the day in the Chapel. As always, students and members of the community are also invited to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation either before the Sunday evening Mass or by making an appointment for a time that works best for them.”

The efforts of Father Thomas and the Campus Ministry to ensure students safely can attend mass haven’t gone unnoticed. Lauren Spagnuolo, a senior at Manhattan College who has served as a sacristan at the masses, said she feels appropriate precautions are followed during mass.

“I have gone to in-person masses since the semester started,” Spagnuolo said. “I’ve basically been working as a sacristan and attending as many masses as I can. I definitely think that the school has taken precautions during mass with the omission of distributing the wine along with the limitations of how many people can give out the hosts.”

Despite the number of positive cases rising in February, Spagnuolo explained she still felt comfortable going to mass in-person during Ash Wednesday. She was pleased to see the ashes this year sprinkled on top of churchgoers’ heads instead of them being distributed the traditional way.

“I did feel comfortable receiving ashes this year. It definitely was different than years in the past, but I think that it was appropriate that ashes were distributed the way they were due to safety guidelines.”

Junior Nicholas Balzano was another student who attended mass this Ash Wednesday and shared how this ceremony was the first in-person mass he’s attended in a long time.

“The first mass I went to in-person in 11 months was actually one of the services on Ash Wednesday. I didn’t previously go due to a concern about how well things were being handled with COVID and everything.”

Balzano, before Ash Wednesday decided to attend masses online but admits attending mass virtually doesn’t compare to the experience of being in an in-person ceremony.

“I miss being in the chapel itself, it really isn’t the same watching it on the computer,” Balzano said.

In the future, Balzano plans to continue going to mass in the Chapel if the COVID positivity rate on-campus stays small. He, like many of the student body, is trying to remain hopeful that cases can be maintained so Manhattan College can gradually get back to hosting weekly events without safety being a major concern.

“I absolutely plan to attend mass in-person going forwards, as long as the case count on campus remains low. I just hope we keep a handle on everything going on and can make it through the semester without any issues.”