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Drive-in church

| Wednesday, April 8, 2020

It’s safe to assume that if you attend Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s or Holy Cross, you’re probably Catholic. If, like me, you were fortunate enough to grow up in a family where weekend mass was a thing (sarcasm), you know that COVID-19 has kinda taken that horse out of the race. But, as my dear hometown priest always said, “We are flexible and adaptable.” He is still celebrating mass, with a deacon and a few choir members, all appropriately separated, inside the building. It is both streamed on Facebook, and broadcast in the parking lot on 91.3 FM. And so, for the past three weeks, our family has hopped into the Family Truckster and headed off to what we now affectionately call Parking Lot Mass.

My two sisters and I (and my Dad, if I’m being perfectly honest) kind of rolled our eyes at Mom that first week when she suggested it. But, we bundled ourselves up in blankets and went to listen to Mass in the parking lot, on the radio. Five of our favorite church families were there, too. We parked next to each other (the requisite six feet apart, of course), rolled down the windows, and participated in Mass. It was so much fun. Yes, we were all pretty squirrelly at first, probably because we hadn’t seen anyone but each other for two weeks, and because we had just driven 20 minutes to go sit in a parking lot to watch Mass streamed and buffered through our phones. That just seemed kind of silly. Should we really sing? Did we really need to respond with an amen?

The priest had a solution to that. When responses were needed, he asked those in the parking lot to honk their amens, and that’s when it sank in. We were all in this together. By the end of the gospel, we had all settled in and quietly started to listen.  During the lord’s prayer, we stuck our hands out the window to “hold hands,” like we used to do inside. We flashed each other the sign of peace. One of the moms in our little gathering (and an ND grad) brought Ritz crackers to distribute through car windows with CDC-recommended gloved hands, just so we could all feel like we were really participating. I ate mine without waiting. Oops.

After Mass, Fr. Kevin and his deacon walked around the parking lot to wave to the parking lot crowd. He told us that when the first amens were honked, he got chills, wondering how many were gathered outside. Father Kevin is all about community; Parking Lot Mass just puts a new twist on that in these strange new days we’re living. It’s pretty cool that, in a non-cult-like way, with our windows open, we can hear all of our family friends joining in. One friend (fellow Belle Mollie Gniadek) and her parents even bring their little dog Ace who sits in his carseat sweetly gazing around at all of us. After we left that first week we honestly felt a little lighter. Our friends were still out there. We could maintain a little bit of normalcy. Parking Lot Mass has become a highly anticipated social occasion during these times of quarantine, and having our little church drive-in allows us to make light of the situation: giving air hugs, pretending to hold hands during the Our Father, poking heads out of windows and sunroofs, just enjoying each other’s company… still six feet apart of course.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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