Grief, Gratitude, & Grace

Grief

If you have attended Mass at Ascension since our church reopened, you have likely noticed some changes. If you are a parent, you may find it difficult to explain these changes with your children while you are trying to come to terms with them yourself. If you are like many families, going to Mass may have been your first “outing” since the beginning of the quarantine. Church feels different — but everything feels different; people feel different; life feels different.

Perhaps you have experienced sorrow, disbelief, or even anger over the many, undesirable modifications. You may have expected to only feel joy upon returning to church, and perhaps you were surprised that your actual experience was more nuanced. Perhaps your personal reaction has been different from that of your spouse or children, and you are grappling with what is the “right” way to feel as you adjust to the new-normal. If any or all of this describes you or your family, you are likely experiencing grief.

Gratitude

Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, grief and gratitude are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the two realities are meant to work together. We are invited to hold our grief — our very real loss — in one hand, while holding our gratitude in the other hand. One experience does not diminish the other.

Grief over what we have lost, gives us an opportunity for gratitude. Perhaps we did not appreciate the smiling faces of fellow parishioners until they were covered in masks. Perhaps we did not enjoy singing until congregational praise was omitted. Grief sharpens our awareness, providing keen opportunity for gratitude for what once was (and eventually will be again!). Loss invites us to appreciate the gifts we possess. Perhaps Mass currently cannot be celebrated as we desire, but Mass IS celebrated; Jesus IS present; and we CAN receive Him. Grief reveals how much we have to be thankful for.

Grace

As we behold our own grief and gratitude, we are also called to have grace with others. Our highly politicized climate offers a variety of emotionally-charged opinions on the topic of reopening and public safety. Perhaps you disagree with friends, family members, or Facebook posts. Although we are not necessarily called to (nor is it possible to) agree with everyone on every topic, we are called to charity — to love all people at all times and to handle our differences with grace.

In the context of faith, we are also called to submit to authority with grace. Fr. Tom and Fr. Viet are called to submit to the direction of our Archbishop, who is called to submit to the direction of the Cardinals, Pope, and — ultimately — Jesus Christ. We exercise the virtue of obedience (one of the three evangelical counsels to which all Christians are called), when we graciously submit to the direction of our local priests. If you are a parent, you model the response that you want your children to have to your direction with your response to the direction given by our priests. Grace in obedience does not always mean agreeing, but it does mean following with grace.

Moving Forward

Look for Grief, Gratitude, & Grace articles (posted to Facebook, Mom Blog, and the Ascension bulletin) each week from the Ascension Family Life Ministry; we will explore some of the temporary changes in the Mass, in our community, and in our homes.


Other Articles from Grief, Gratitude, & Grace

Facemasks have become a symbol of the pandemic, and — unfortunately in some cases — a symbol of angst, anger, and division.  Even though mask-wearing is not technically a change to our liturgy, it is perhaps one of the most felt changes to our experience of Mass and community.
Perhaps your experience of separation from the Eucharist has renewed your devotion. Or, perhaps what you expected of yourself — how you thought you would feel and respond — has not occurred as you anticipated.  The logistical aspects of how we receive Holy Communion have changed. Perhaps those changes affect you more (and less!) than you think.
The transition between the two main parts of Mass — the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist — is typically marked by the offertory, which is currently omitted (at least at a surface glance) due to pandemic protocol. This temporarily omission offers an opportunity to take a closer look: what is in the offering?
Have you ever wondered why we share the sign of peace in the middle of the Liturgy of the Eucharist? What is the purpose of this gesture and what deeper reality does it signify?
Do you reflexively try to dip your fingers in the now-dry holy water fonts? Do you notice young children (perhaps your own, perhaps others) gaping at the empty Baptismal font? Perhaps in our holy water’s absence, we might take a closer look at its presence, and gain greater appreciation for it upon its return.
As Catholics, we are often playfully criticized for the “bells and smells” of Mass, but tactile expressions of faith proclaim an obvious truth that we sometimes forget: humans are embodied. Even though pandemic protocol has reduced our full expression, the Eucharistic Feast is intended to be a sensory experience.
It is often said that if the Church is not crying, it’s dying. Perhaps our pre-pandemic attitude toward children in our parish was not always appreciative; perhaps in the austerity of our post-pandemic Sunday Masses, we might reflect on the fullness of life that young children bring to our community.
Rewind your imagination to a pre-pandemic Sunday morning Mass at Ascension, then fast forward to the present. The behaviors that once marked our healthy and unified church community have almost disappeared.  Almost, but not entirely!

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