Parishes across the Diocese of Nashville welcomed more people back to church on Palm Sunday, the first day that Bishop J. Mark Spalding restored the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days.
At parishes large and small, indoors and out, people gathered for Mass on March 28, eager to experience the first Holy Week liturgy together in person. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, all churches were closed during Holy Week; liturgies were livestreamed as priests celebrated them in private.
For Palm Sunday 2021, church communities were able to celebrate together again. Some added extra Masses for the day and planned for overflow seating.
About 600 people gathered at St. Henry Church in Nashville for the 11 a.m. outdoor Mass on Palm Sunday. After a long night of thunderstorms in the area, Sunday, March 28, dawned bright and windy. Parishioners popped their trunks, set up their folding chairs and blankets and took their seats for the Mass, celebrated by pastor Father Mark Beckman.
“This is truly a powerful and beautiful way to start off Holy Week,” Father Beckman said at the conclusion of Mass, noting that last year, he had to celebrate Holy Week liturgies with only a handful of people, livestreaming to parishioners because churches were shuttered.
Attendance at the outdoor Masses at St. Henry “have been building for a while but this was the biggest crowd I’ve seen in a while,” said Father Beckman.
“It’s so good to see so many of you here for Palm Sunday,” he added.
St. Henry is planning to host most of its Holy Week liturgies outdoors as weather allows and is asking people to make an online reservation for indoor services. For the first time this year, St. Henry will host a 6:30 a.m. sunrise service on Easter morning to accommodate more people returning to Mass.
With beautiful weather predicted for Easter, Father Beckman expects the attendance to be “record breaking” for the outdoor Masses.
St. Henry will continue to livestream Masses every Sunday and will continue to require face coverings and distancing for indoor Masses.
“The full transition back to ‘normal’ will take some time,” Father Beckman wrote in a letter to parishioners. Quoting Bishop Spalding, Father Beckman reminded that: “The law of the Church envisions situations where the obligation does not apply because of grave cause; any serious or ongoing risks and concerns you might have about coronavirus can certainly constitute a grave cause.”
At Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Springfield, the crowds for Sunday Masses had already been building before Bishop Spalding restored the obligation to attend Mass.
The approximately 150 people who attended the Palm Sunday 10:30 a.m. Mass in English was typical for that Mass, said Father Anthony Lopez, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. “It was maybe a little more because it was Palm Sunday,” he said.
“We’ve had people returning for a while now,” Father Lopez added.
“As more and more get vaccinated, more and more will feel safe to come,” Father Lopez said. “It gives them the assurance of safety.”
The church can hold about 300 people, Father Lopez said. “That’s packing them in, which during our Spanish Mass, we do.”
The Hispanic community at the parish has grown so much in recent years that the parish had added a second Spanish Mass before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Father Lopez said.
For Palm Sunday, the parish opened all the pews in the church, but continued to check people’s temperatures as they arrived. Masks were optional, but nearly everyone was wearing one, Father Lopez noted. Hand sanitizer also was available, and the parish will continue to livestream its Masses.
The same protocols will be in place for the Holy Week liturgies, Father Lopez said. “We want them to feel safe. We want them to feel secure. But they need the bread of life.”
Deacon Mike Morris expects the crowds to be bigger during Holy Week, particularly for the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday.
For Deacon Morris, Palm Sunday was the first time he had been at Mass since August. “I’ve been a diabetic for 50 years. My doctor didn’t think it would be a good idea” to be with the crowds at Mass, he said.
Now that he has been fully vaccinated, Deacon Morris felt safe to return.
“I’ve been truly anxious to get back. There’s nothing like it,” he said. “Today for me felt like a rebirth.”