In Mass en masse

Parishioners turn out in strong numbers to begin Lent

If Ash Wednesday is any indication, parishioners in the Diocese of Knoxville are welcoming the Lenten season and their walk of faith to Easter.

Parishes around the diocese reported strong, if not high, attendance at Masses on Feb. 17, the first day of Lent.

At the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which held Masses in the church and adjacent space, attendance at Ash Wednesday Masses was high, with standing room only inside the cathedral, as socially distanced lines of people took their turns receiving ashes, going to confession, and participating in adoration.

Parishes in Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities, and in-between also reported strong Mass attendance, a reflection that parishioners still are engaged in their faith and in their parishes as the Catholic Church in East Tennessee enters the holiest of seasons. Diocesan priests continue to navigate the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic as they carry out their priestly responsibilities.

Because of the pandemic last year, the public celebration of Easter Masses around the world was suspended, including in the Diocese of Knoxville.

“I was encouraged to learn about the turnout for Ash Wednesday Masses at our parishes. I am not sure if all of them showed increases in attendance, but I heard from a good many that did. I know people are ready to get back to Mass, and many of them have already done so. Ash Wednesday was a positive sign,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika.

“It shows that people are still craving for opportunities to worship in person, and that perhaps more of them have become confident in our safety protocols. I know at the Cathedral parish, there were three Masses going on at one time at 8 a.m. on Ash Wednesday. Three Masses at once! One Mass was celebrated inside the cathedral, one was celebrated in the parish hall, and a third was celebrated in the Sacred Heart Cathedral School gymnasium. I believe the cathedral celebrated eight Masses that day. I realize that all of our parishes aren’t staffed to do this, but it gives me hope that people haven’t forgotten about the Church,” Bishop Stika added.

Bishop Stika returned to the public celebration of Masses last year on the weekend of Pentecost with social- distancing protocols in place, including maintaining six feet of distance between everyone in church, keeping every other pew or row of chairs empty, and the use of hand sanitizer. Those guidelines have been updated.

Bishops and priests continue to pray for a return to normal as new COVID-19 vaccines are made public and the number of people contracting the virus goes down.

“I am not sure when we can return to a ‘real’ normal. I think a lot of it has to do with the availability of the vaccine and the numbers reported by the health departments. We don’t want to let our guard down, but we are giving serious thought and discussion as to when and how we can return to some form of normal, post-pandemic worship in our parish communities,” Bishop Stika said.

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