A Different Kind of Holy Week

Last time I attended Mass in person, nearly a month ago, my hand froze over the empty holy water font. It took a moment to realize it had been drained to prevent the spread of a virus that was just starting to hit the area. But I crossed myself with dry fingers and went to my usual pew, as if everything were normal.

That empty font was as unsettling as it is on Good Friday, when no one quite knows what to do without it. As a result, these last few weeks have felt like one long fast. Now that Good Friday is actually upon us, there’s an odd sense of relief. Tomorrow, we’ll still be Livestreaming Mass. We’ll still be wearing masks and gloves, six feet away from our neighbors. But Jesus will be alive.

During one virtual visio divina, we learned the etymology of the word quarantine: it derives from the Latin quadraginta, which means “forty.” In fact, its first dictionary definition is “a period of 40 days.” We have truly mimicked Jesus’s retreat into the desert. It’s not quite the same—with all the comforts of modern living, and food in the fridge—but the emotional and mental strain has been a challenge unto itself.

This Holy Week isn’t what I had planned. I’d taken vacation time this week, scheduling a two-day silent retreat to start it off. I’d planned a day of hiking (weather permitting), and perhaps a visit to the spa (a little self-indulgence). I was to clear my mind of the world’s worries and refocus on Jesus. Bonus that this week is also my two-year Catholic anniversary!

None of that happened. I even ended up working through Thursday, since I’d be be home anyway. But despite our isolation, we’ve done more to connect with one another—there are Livestreams and virtual prayer; religious companies are offering free materials; homes have branches in their windows rather than the customary palms. We’re feeling the absence of a church community, and definitely the absence of the Eucharist. But as the Spiritual Communion prayer states, “Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.” There’s certainly no shortage of heart right now.

I’ll be sad to miss the glory of the Easter Vigil (again—let’s not forget what happened last year). I’ll be virtually seeing my family rather than crowding us all into one house. But it’s still a celebration, because it’s still Easter. And like Jesus’s temptation in the desert, this quarantine, too, will one day be over.