LEWISTON/AUBURN---“This is the first time I’ve preached to cars. It’s rather odd I have to say.”
The words at the start of Fr. Seamus Griesbach’s homily fell upon a parking lot full of parishioners intently listening to the Mass, celebrated before them on staging outside of their cars and trucks at Saint Dominic Academy’s Auburn campus on Sunday, May 3 (additional pictures from both Auburn and Lewiston parking lot Masses below).
“Do you beep when you appreciate something?” Fr. Griesbach jokingly asked his unique assembly before a series of loud car horn sounds rang out from the parking lot.
“Okay, let’s not get carried away,” he warmly responded.
May 3 marked the first day of these Masses following Governor Mills’ announcement allowing the celebration of public Masses in Maine parking lots. A series of protocols was issued by the Diocese of Portland last week to ensure the safety of parishioners and celebrants alike.
On Sunday, parking lot Masses were held at 10 a.m. at Saint Dominic Academy and two morning Masses (8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.) were celebrated by Fr. Daniel Greenleaf, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Lewiston, in the parking lot of Geiger on Mount Hope Avenue.
At both venues, volunteers directed cars into even rows, allowing for space between vehicles, the doors of which, at all times, had to remain closed. Participants could tune into the Masses on their radios thanks to low power FM transmitters providing the sound. Both Fr. Griesbach and Fr. Greenleaf celebrated the Masses from constructed risers that held up altars, candles, and ambos.
Before the Masses began, the scene and process seemed peculiar, but there was an undeniable sense of community for many people excited to be out of their homes, and once the familiar Sunday liturgy started, there was a recognition that, despite the environment, all were in God’s midst, especially during the pandemic that served as the impetus of the full parking lots.
“This pandemic has struck at the very heart of who we are as Catholics,” Fr. Griesbach told the participants in Auburn. “In this world, life sometimes involves journeys through dark valleys. We don’t have a weak, fair-weather shepherd who only knows of green pastures. He is not just on a sunny hillside whistling a sunny tune in some Instagram ready scene. Jesus has walked the dark valley and he knows the way.”
And leadership was a central theme at all Masses this weekend for Good Shepherd Sunday, which highlights the pastoral aspect of the ministry of Jesus, who speaks of himself as the one to whom the sheep listen, one who would never abandon his flock.
“It is the teaching that Jesus is the great Shepherd and those who follow him are the sheep. They hear his voice and recognize it as coming from their shepherd,” said Fr. Greenleaf during his homily. “Jesus is the great leader who cares for his followers. During the difficult times, which invites all kinds of questions and uncertainty, Jesus remains steadfast. Jesus remained faithful to the end. Jesus the Good Shepherd brings us to a greater place than where we are; he knows who he is and his unwavering values through struggles and crises.”
And Jesus’ leadership during a crisis offers much to reflect on and follow during the pandemic.
“Jesus is, in fact, the gate that leads us to freedom in the midst of the valley of tears,” said Fr. Griesbach. “Though we may be scattered, we must listen to him so that we can find our way through this together. I urge you to listen to his voice and follow him. We may not all be shepherds, but we can all hear the voice of Jesus Christ and walk through his gate of loving service to God and neighbor.”
“It’s so important to pray for our leaders and for ourselves as leaders, and we pray the God will raise up good leaders after his Son, the Good Shepherd, and that he will provide for all those who follow Christ,” said Fr. Greenleaf.
Holy Communion was not distributed at the parking lot Masses as those in cars made an Act of Spiritual Communion during the Masses. Catholics in Maine continue to be dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and live-streamed daily and Sunday Masses across the state continue to draw large participation rates. Offertory collections are also not held at parking lot Masses as parishioners are instead encouraged to donate to their parish online through WeShare (www.portlanddiocese.org/OnlineGiving) or by mailing in donations to the parish office.
The Masses at Saint Dominic Academy and Geiger will be held again next weekend, joined by new parking lot Masses at St. Anne Church in Gorham (Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m.), Holy Family Church in Greenville (Saturdays at 4 p.m.), and St. Faustina Church in Jackman (Sundays at 11 a.m.). Prince of Peace Parish will be offering parking lot Masses Mondays through Fridays at the Holy Family rectory (Sabattus Street in Lewiston) at 8 a.m. Any additional parking lot Masses across the state will be added to www.portlanddiocese.org/ParkingLotMasses.
As each parking lot Mass ended on Sunday, car horns blared in gratitude for the clergy and parish staff that had made them possible. In a sign of the times, following Mass, Fr. Greenleaf strapped on a face mask and waved goodbye to parishioners as they exited.
Parishes will continue to offer drive-thru confessions, drive-in adoration, as well as using social media platforms to offer an assortment of other opportunities for prayer and educational program presentations. These and other opportunities can be found at the Diocese of Portland’s Coronavirus Response page (www.portlanddiocese.org/response-coronavirus), which is updated several times daily.