A pedestrian stops to take a photo by the partially frozen Chicago River as bitter cold gripped much of the central and eastern United States this past week. (CNS photo/Pinar Istek, Reuters)
A pedestrian stops to take a photo by the partially frozen Chicago River as bitter cold gripped much of the central and eastern United States this past week. (CNS photo/Pinar Istek, Reuters)

It’s not often that the Bishop of a diocese cancels Sunday Masses. Well, as you know, Bishop Scharfenberger did exactly that a few weeks ago when almost two feet of snow dropped on the region on Jan. 20. As I remember, the last time that happened was about 30 years ago. I was a young deacon then when Bishop Hubbard did the same thing as a big Nor’easter paralyzed our area one cold winter day and night. 

My friend, Father Larry, was scheduled to do all the Masses in our parish that weekend, having arrived from Westchester County before the blizzard began on the 19. He planned to celebrate the Masses for me that weekend since I would be away, traveling to Washington, D.C. for a visit to the Basilica and a week off.

Since he was already here, in residence in the Rectory, I didn’t cancel our Masses and told him to go ahead with the schedule, knowing only a few might show up. We had a packed church for the Saturday Vigil Mass before the storm began but, on that Sunday, with blustering winds and snow outside, about 20 people came to church for each of our three Sunday Masses.

Those parishioners lived nearby and some walked to church. Others, like me, aren’t afraid to drive in the snow. They arrived here, undaunted. 

Like the Bishop, I would never advise anyone to take unnecessary risks to get to Sunday Mass, nor should there be any guilt in the hearts of those who stayed home that day. Have no fear: your staying away from Mass that weekend is not a sin. We have that on the Bishop’s authority. 

As your pastor, I am always impressed with the great number of people who come here each and every weekend for Mass as, of course, they should. It is our obligation but, I can see that for most, it is much more than an obligation. It is a time of deep connection to God, true spiritual nourishment, an infusion of grace so that we can live in the light in the midst of the darkness of the world. A few days ago, speaking about that Sunday, a parishioner said to me: “Oh Father, it was good to get a Sunday off … however, I really missed being at Mass. Something was missing.”
That really sums it up and speaks to the truth of the matter. 

Surely Mass is an obligation but, for most, it is more, and something isn’t quite right without it. No Jesus. No community. No light from the preached Word. No Eucharist.

So not going to Mass, even when excused, naturally leads us to “the land of something missing.”

It also ought to lead us to “the land of gratitude” for the remarkable mystery we call holy Mass. That gratitude, and knowing what it feels like without it, keeps us coming back.

Father Thomas Morrette is a pastor at St. Mary’s church in Glens Falls.