Pews were roped off and tape placed on the floor to ensure physical distancing as the first public Mass in three months was held at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto on June 17. Mickey Conlon

Cardinal welcomes back parishioners to Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral

By 
  • June 17, 2020

“So good to see you.”

And with those words, Cardinal Thomas Collins launched into the first Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica June 17 where he had a live congregation since the COVID-19 pandemic closed churches in the Toronto archdiocese and nationwide in mid-March.

It was the first day public Mass was being celebrated throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto. The provincial government had given the go-ahead to begin holding Mass June 12, but the archdiocese took its time to make sure all the safety measures were in place before Masses could begin again. In the days previous, churches were sanitized and prepared to welcome back a congregation of up to 30 per cent of a church’s capacity. They had also been open for personal prayer June 14-16.

The cardinal has continued hosting daily Mass in the cathedral since March and live-streaming it to the faithful, but he couldn’t withhold his pleasure at seeing about 40 faces looking back at him from the pews as he declared, “This is beautiful.”

It was a different cathedral than what Collins would normally see for a Mass. The congregation was keen on keeping up distancing mandated by the province that allowed churches to open their doors. To comply with the six-feet distancing rules, only every third pew was open, the other two roped of to comply with regulations. Even the open pews had tape to indicate distances. At 30-per-cent capacity, this would mean about 400 people should be able to attend Mass in the 1,200-seat cathedral. These measures, however, will make that number hard to attain.

Most in the congregation were also wearing masks, and the aisles were marked with tape, much like people have become used to at supermarkets, hardware stores and elsewhere as efforts are made to contain the virus’ spread.

When it came time for communion, the cardinal explained the new procedures. He would sanitize his hands and don a mask before stepping to the bottom step of the altar, where he would meet the faithful to offer the Eucharist. It was offered only in the hand of the faithful — who were required to wear a mask for the sacrament — and they were instructed to move to a taped-off square where they could remove their mask and take the host in the mouth before making their way back to their seats.

Despite all the changes, Collins celebrated the Mass like he would any Mass. In his homily, he reminded the congregants that they should celebrate and live their faith likewise. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are all required in our faith, but not so that we will be praised by others. Rather it is to please God.

“Our life of faith needs to be secret and sublime,” said Collins, always “in touch with the almighty God.”

The guiding principle of the faith, he added, is to be in touch with the fire of God, quietly, discreetly, to be celebrated in secret. If we are to do this, then our reward will come from the Father.

“We do it for our own sake, not to be rewarded by others,” he said.

When the Mass concluded, Collins prayed the St. Michael prayer and the rosary before the tabernacle, something he has done each day during his live-streamed Mass. 

Collins has also said he will continue his live-streamed Mass for the foreseeable future as he realizes not everyone is comfortable coming to Mass just yet, and also for those who are unable to attend for health reasons.

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