Understanding the context
On the weekend of Feb. 15-16, I was in New York City at a conference with thousands of attendees from all over the country and a considerable number of visitors from Lombardy, Italy. I directed a choir at a packed Mass with Archbishop Christophe Pierre (Papal Nuncio to the USA), shared meals, handshakes, and alike. I had never heard the word “coronavirus”, although I could probably have recalled some news from a distant place in China about an outbreak. Five days later, on Friday, Feb. 21, an infectious disease specialist at the Sacco Hospital in Milan and consultant to the WHO, turned on his phone and found countless text messages from his colleagues expressing concern or asking questions, such as “What is happening?”, “What do we do?” … he realized an epidemic had started in his country. Soon after, Italy would go into lockdown. Two and a half weeks later, we had our first Easter Choir rehearsal at St. John’s with over 40 people. It was fun and beautiful, and I could not understand what all that hysteria about a new virus was about. As we would always do, we followed local government guidelines, that at the time didn’t recommend stopping any gathering. Two days later, the governor asked to limit gatherings to 250. On Monday, that number went down to 50, and on Wednesday Bishop Quinn made what he called “the most difficult decision” of his ministry; the suspension of all public Masses. The fact that our country went from one reported death on February 29, to 140,000 in less than five months, shows clearly that this was not a “hysteria”.
In a matter of days, our church community (as everyone else) was placed in front of an unprecedented challenge. Very little was known, besides maybe the devastating Italian developments that were in front of everyone’s eyes, as a dramatic warning of what could come next. In our staff, we began a serious work to understand what was going on, what were the risks, and how to proceed.
Why did we close?
This was a question I was often asked during those first weeks (while we never literally “closed” the church, we did suspend all public Masses). In order to answer this question, we need to understand how we get infected with COVID-19. You get infected when you get exposed to an infectious dose of the virus; based on the stunning rate of infection that we are seeing around us, as well as studies done with other coronaviruses, it appears that only small doses may be needed for an infection to occur. Many experts believe that as few as 1,000 infectious viral particles could get you infected. This means that you’re not going to contract the disease because of a single particle of SARS-Cov-2 (what is the virus that causes COVID-19). You need what is called a “viral load”.
Now, let’s do a very simplified math with some numbers from other coronaviruses, just to help us understand the situation. With general breathing, you expel about 20 viral particles per minute into the environment. If you are infected, a person breathing in those particles would need about an hour with you in order to get infected. But if you are speaking, then you release 200 particles per minute, reducing the time to about 5 minutes. As we can see, an infection is a combination of EXPOSURE + TIME. That’s why walking by an infected individual at the grocery store or being passed by a jogger in the street are not considered serious risks. However, remaining in a common space with an infected person for a prolonged amount of time (as it happens in the Celebration of the Eucharist), presents a much greater danger. And this should help us understand why government officials worldwide made those drastic decisions that, despite our dislike, saved an enormous amount of lives (and kept our hospitals below capacity).
So, what measures have we taken to resume our liturgical celebrations, although in a limited way? We’ll talk about that in the next issue… stay tuned!
If you’ve got a question regarding our protocols, write me at email@example.com.*
Writings by Michael Skinner, Erin Bromage, Willem van Schaik and the CDC have been consulted to write this article.
Music & Liturgy
Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love, to conform ourselves to the will of the Father and to do what Jesus tells us. For he took upon himself our suffering, and burdened himself with our sorrows to bring us, through the cross, to the joy of the Resurrection. Amen.Pope Francis
We fly to your protection, O Holy Mother of God; Do not despise our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from every danger, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.
The Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is a special place; a place of reflection, comfort, inspiration and community. I have found St. John’s to be always welcoming, no matter where we are on our journey. There are so many elements to the experience of being at St. John’s that help connect us with God– words, music, physical space, companionship, ritual, and participation, to name a few. I would like to reflect on some of these elements, and share what it means to me to participate in the music ministry at St. John’s.
As you may know, I serve as one of the cantors and singers with the choir, most often at the 9:30 Mass on Sundays. What a blessing it is to be a part of such a hardworking and sincere group led by the incredibly talented Sebastian Modarelli, who has an inspired vision for our ministry here at St. John’s where dozens of musicians give of their time and talent on a regular basis for the glory of God. It is a joy and inspiration to work with each and every one of them.
By participating in the music ministry at St. John’s, I have developed a deep appreciation for the Mass, the sacrament of Holy Communion, and God’s purpose of a regular communal worship. While there are numerous ways that we can find God in our lives, whether by readings, inspirational recordings or meditation, nothing takes the place of a gathering of people where our collective spirit is offered up to God. And music, I believe, helps that spirit take wing.
God has given me a gift that I am very fortunate to share. Whether as a solo, part of the choir, or out in the congregation, singing for me is a form of prayer. To be able to pray in this way together at Mass, a funeral, a wedding, or another service, we all are enveloped by God’s beautiful creation of music, inspiring, comforting, and working through us. While many of you have mentioned over the years how much the music at Mass enhances your worship experience, I am equally touched, often amazed, and extremely grateful for the privilege to participate in and contribute to that enhancement for so many others. If, in some way, I am a conduit for God’s Word to touch your life, then there is no greater blessing in the world!
I know that my contribution to our parish may be more visible than what others provide, but it is no more important or impactful. God has given us all roles to play and talents to successfully fulfill those roles. I believe that it is through thesharing of these talents and gifts that life develops greater meaning and satisfaction. The author Tom Patterson, cited in the book More or Less, summarizes it well: “When you discover and use your gifts for the good of those you love and have chosen to serve, your life takes on beauty. It inspires others. It points toward the Creator.”
Thank you for allowing me the privilege to participate with you and serve as a cantor here at St. John’s. My life is beautified immeasurably by it. I wish you all a meaningful and musical Advent and Christmas Season!
Dear Friends in Christ:
“I don’t understand why everyone isn’t clamoring to be in the choir!” Peg asks this question as she realizes how much the choir has meant for her life, Sunday mornings and beyond. I don’t blame her, as she counts how many rewards have come since her longtime belonging to this community (in this case in the form of the 9:30 choir). And she tells us some: “For me, singing in the choir at St. John’s is a perfect way to deepen belonging. It broadens friendship in a way that is different from any other and is a privilege. It invites us to work hard, sing together, and learn new things; to create beauty that enhances worship and liturgy. It truly is a way to know Christ through the gift of song.”
Sean echoes the same sentiments, expressing how much he enjoys singing in the choir: “It has been a great way for me to stay engaged in my faith and I have made many new friends.
“Friendship seems to be one of the most authentic surprises of participating in the music ministry. There’s no day in which I don’t meet friends, true friends. People that care for each other, all the way to the level of faith and the awareness of our common destiny; the life with the Father, through Christ his son, and with the Church that is the continuation of Christ’s presence. I can’t write these words without some trembling in my hands… Christ present here and now.
“Being a part of the St. John’s Choir has truly become an important part of my life,” Edi says. It may take a little effort to be on time Sunday morning, but she explains that “when Sebastian gets us warmed up, and the organ plays, and our voices are raised in praise, all of that melts away, and I feel so grateful to be a part of this liturgy. I always leave church uplifted, and ready for a new week.” Edi makes us pay attention to this truth. Why do we desire to praise God? Because we feel so grateful! If today we came here without gratefulness, we would praise God only out of fear, or from a pure formalistic way. True praise is the one that comes from a grateful heart, as Saint Paul reminds us. As Ginny, another choir member, tells us, “the choir has totally opened my life up.”
Can YOU be part of it? Take a few seconds to answer…
One of our newest members, Jeremy, offers us the response to an objection that maybe came to your mind as you were answering my question above: “I sat in the pews for a couple years before joining the choir, with a mild case of guilt that I would be leaving my wife alone with our two not-always-well behaved children during mass. When Fr. Mahon would preach on participation in the community, I knew where I belonged. So a year ago I joined the group, and I love it. I love the talent of the choristers in the group, I love Sebastian’s musical virtuosity and great sense of humor [only the latter is true], and that for such a small commitment to practice and sing, we provide such a wonderful liturgy to the community.”
If you got to the end of this article, then I hope you will join us!
The Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist welcomes internationally acclaimed contemporary artist Simon Toparovsky to Rochester to celebrate the installation of his latest sculptures here at the Co-Cathedral. We share excerpts from the news release offered to media by his publicist, Beth Laski, prior to his visit.
“Using his narrative skills as a visual poet, Mr. Toparovsky’s sculptures depict John the Apostle and Evangelist, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, together after the Resurrection, with a focus on the closeness of their relationship as they lived together, taking care of one another as Christ had called for them to do from the Cross. The elements of Mr. Toparovsky’s work in the newly constructed shrine include free-standing sculpture, architectural components of native stone, digital imagery, wall art and theater lighting. A ceiling oculus represents the portal to heaven, a path from the Source that illuminates John and Mary.
The idea for Mr. Toparovsky to create a mixed-media commission was initially conceived over ten years ago when the Reverend Monsignor Gerald Mahon and Parish Administrator Margaret Kelsey of the Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Rochester, Minnesota, were in Los Angeles and witnessed Mr. Toparovsky’s life-size bronze Main Altar Crucifix at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Mr. Toparovsky had been selected from a worldwide search to design and create the Crucifix for what was then the new Cathedral in Los Angeles. The Crucifix, Mr. Toparovsky’s first liturgical commission, has become a beloved icon, celebrated for its artistry and evocation of compassion in the devotional practice of the Cathedral’s hundreds of thousands of annual visitors and parishioners.
Msgr. Mahon kept Mr. Toparovsky’s contact information close, knowing at some point he would reach out to him to commission a work of art. That time came in May 2016 when Msgr. Mahon and Ms. Kelsey knew that Mr. Toparovsky’s sensitivity to spiritual aspects as well as his artistic recognition made him the perfect artist to create John and Mary for the Church and its parishioners who hail from Rochester and surrounding communities, as well as visitors to and employees of the neighboring, top-ranked Mayo Clinic.
‘John and Mary are a model for all of us on the journey,’ explains Msgr. Mahon. ‘We do not become a Light in isolation, but through a relational order of trust, love, peace and the depth of our humanity alive in an experience of being surprised in front of the Mystery, in front of reality. We are always searching on the path; otherwise, Christ is no longer interesting and dynamic. John and Mary show us how to be available in their way to yearn for companionship and they invite and embrace others to join them in community. The powerful gift of this work will be a call to be vulnerable and know our limitations, our fragility—to stand in front of these companions who call us to a new life of resting in His presence with enormous expectation,’ said Msgr. Mahon.
Added Mr. Toparovsky: ‘It is a privilege and joy to create a new liturgical work, to portray a compelling story in the Christian tradition that bears witness to courage and vulnerability, and whose mandate is demonstrating love. For Mary, the mother of God and John, the beloved apostle, “the preferred of Christ,” carrying the weight of the world, sharing the ecstasy of the Presence of the Light, reflecting the Light for the world—this shared Love is the answer.’
During nearly four decades as a sculptor and visual poet, Mr. Toparovsky has been praised as ‘an individual voice’ and an ‘adventurer’; his work described as ‘eloquent and noble,’ noteworthy ‘for its powerful evocation of spirituality, joy and the hope it bears.’ Mr. Toparovsky’s diverse practice of sculpture, photography and digital imaging explores ephemeral narratives of the human condition.”