The Beauty Within Virtual Mass

Image by Kendra Tierney

The image depicts a Catholic priest from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, and it is representative of a time resembling “normal” life void of a global pandemic affecting routines. The priest is seen dressed in his customary robes worn during mass which is a ritual for him as well as the Catholic church. It is a ritual that is upheld even during the most tumultous of times in current human history. The light shines upon Jesus on the cross as if casting a spotlight on his suffering and sacrifice for humankind. It embodies the current struggle many global citizens are facing personally as many suffer brutal blows to their mental healths, but in addition, the death toll rising is a gauge of how much resilience one is left after the universe has terrorized an entire population. The figures of the Virgin Mary and Joseph reside on either side of their son, guarding him as if saying that their purpose was to raise a person that could one day handle the sin and nuances of being a human such as grief and horror. The symbolism of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a token meant to illustrate that all praying and ambition is not ill-spent. It is an olive branch to those lost in their suffering that there is a greater plan that cannot be imagined, but suffering is not permanent. Jesus’ resurrection allowed for human salvation and redemption, and it will be delivered if trust is maintained. Accordingly, the symbol is unveiled since one the presence is felt and it is not meant to be quickly passed by. A person needs to dwell and be enveloped by each person’s individual interpretation of what a person hopes to receive.

While very recognizable figures stand present within the mass, the priest is delivering his sermon to thousands of people streaming the Sunday mass through his camera. He characterizes Gadamer’s definition of play with his arms reaching out towards his audience. His movements are very intentional due to the power his words hold which are magnified by his hand movements. The magnification of his words are meant to comfort the hopeful Catholics; thus, each motion is meant to hold them closer to his soothing and hopeful words that give peace during uncertain times. Consequently, the priest becomes part of the art as a performer whose purpose is to alleviate those human ailments that plague us such as shock and desperation.

Due to the nature of mass, it is a sequential occurrence. However, mass is not an occurrence that is restricted to a time since it is a time meant for the gathering and honoring of the seventh day of creation. It is a time for the community to gather and be uplifted by one another such as a festival as described by Gadamer. The pandemic has dissolved the physical presence of community, but the soft glow of the ambient lighting along with the lit candles draw the nature of community to be even more tight-knit than before. The image of the mass serves as a snapshot into the contemplation of a Catholic community but also the presence of Jesus and God leads them to uphold the values taught to them by the Church. Pieper’s rendering of the festival is the ritual praise in which man meditates on life and takes in what is meant to be freeing from ordinary life without being escapism. Mass during difficult times acts as break from a work day in which one reflects on life, and it allows for physical mindfulness to come forth. One lives in the moment with God, and one thinks about why mass is happening by understanding the reasoning behind each message.