BY RORY COONEY DIRECTOR, LITURGY AND MUSIC
Has this been a weird year, or what?I’m pretty sure that, while the details of our days may vary, I can say without fear of contradiction that we’ve all hada strange journey in 2020. Even before 2020 began, we heard whispers in the media about a virus that held cities andpopulations half a world away by the throat, with rumors about a super spreader that could turn out to be apandemic. And it wasn’t long after the new year that the world we have made smaller by global economy andtravel came to roost on our doorstep, and starting on the coasts, our own nation, our own families, we, ourselves,started to feel the threat of the coronavirus.
Then came the Third Sunday in Lent, the first weekend that Saint Anne did not have worship services in the overtwenty-six years I have been here; it may have been the first in its history, I don’t know. With Father Bernie’sleadership we pivoted, and listening to the wisdom of the archdiocesan experts and our own personnel resources, wedid something new together: online mass. Now we’re back doing something more like we are accustomed to, butsomething still strange and causing me no little cognitive dissonance. But for all the sterility, the distancing, thepared-down music, the ghost town the parish is during the week, I’ve learned something by living in Pope Francis’schurch as “field hospital.” Sometimes, we actually have to wear masks. This son of the church, who has spent 40years of his life leading, teaching, and praying the liturgy, has learned something important about the liturgy: itserves human beings, and not the other way around. The liturgy is for the health (salus, or “salvation”) of the wholeperson, and is not more important than the actual physical health of the church. God doesn’t need our praise; butGod does want us to take care of each other, and not unnecessarily threaten the physical vulnerability of others. Themedical community has a motto “Primum non nocere,” -first do no harm-and the practice of the Lord’s fieldhospital has changed to take into account the condition of the world. And yet, here we are, coming back together,more carefully than before, celebrating more simply all our most sacred moments from baptisms to weddings tofunerals.
But the pandemic, especially the long “shelter in place” order that had us ordering groceries for delivery and notgetting haircuts and visiting friends, had another effect on me because I couldn’t run away and hide in my work froma lot that was going on around me. The Black Lives Matter movement that exploded into the streets after the killingsof Breonna Taylor and George Floyd made me take a look at a lifetime of denial about racism in my life that I wouldnever, ever have imagined existed, thanks to Ibram X. Kendi’s wonderful Stamped from the Beginning, RobinDiAngelo’s White Fragility, and many other contributions to the field. Nor could I escape my own complicity in thesystemic evil of sexual violence and misogyny when a well-known colleague of mine in the liturgical music field, afriend, I must say, was accused by dozens of women of various forms of sexual predation over a period spanningfour decades. Here again, unable to flee into work or other distracting activities, I was forced to look long and hardat myself and my colleagues and, in a kind of reparation to my women colleagues in ministry, try to find ways ofraising the awareness of fellow composers to women’s experience as well as to the experience of people of color,lifetimes of fear, devaluation, victimization and aggression. I guess it’s never too late to learn.
Finally, I’m really proud of what I’ve learned working with our priests and other parishioners reopening the parishlittle by little. Zoom is my friend. I actually look forward to staff meetings now because otherwise I’d almost neversee these people who are my colleagues and who work so hard for all of us. I guess what I want to say, withoutdownplaying at all the sickness and death that coronavirus has caused, the strain on everyone especially health careworkers and first responders and all the “essential” workers who never got a break, is that the silver lining may bethe time that we have had to listen. Time to look at life to find out what is really important. Don’t suppress thevoices calling out to you. Listen. If you have time, now that you have time, listen.