Archbishop Samuel Joseph Aquila passed rows of pews as he proceeded down the aisle to begin Easter mass. It was the first time he’d ever seen the place empty during the holiday.
“It’s very, very strange,” he’d later say. “My heart aches that the people aren’t here and there’s suffering.”
Mass went on as normal, save the crowd. The organ played, songs were sung and prayers echoed through the cavernous space. The only thing absent were responses that should have followed Aquila’s lead during the sermon.
It would normally be packed here on Easter Sunday. Instead, as people shelter in place to avoid spreading COVID-19, they watched the rites online.
This is not the first time humanity has been gripped by pandemic, Aquila said, but it is the first time we’ve been able to communicate in so many ways. He was happy tradition could continue.
“This is, by far, the most unique Easter that any of us have ever celebrated during our lifetime,” Aquila said from the pulpit. “I want you to know that I carry you in my heart every day. I keep all of you in my prayers, and especially those who are suffering from the virus and those who are taking care of the medical professionals, the families and all of those involved in the care of the sick.”
But Aquila said there were blessings to be found in this odd time. Parents, he said, have told him they’ve spent more time than ever with their children.
“It’s been an amazing, wonderful discovery for them,” he said. “Hopefully that will carry on even after the pandemic, that people will really see what is important in life. It’s not all the material things we have or our jobs, but it is really the gift of faith and the gift of family.”
As they prayed, he and his colleagues asked God to watch over those serving the sick, those infected and the dead.
Aquila’s voice boomed through the empty church as each was invoked: “Lord, hear our prayer.”