Deacon Peter Tonon distributes holy Communion in the parking lot of St. Ann Catholic Church in Charlotte, N.C., March 22, 2020. (CNS photo/SueAnn Howell, Catholic News Herald)

Mass and Our Mental Health

We need to work hard to make the Eucharist available to as many as possible

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Despite all the many COVID-19 challenges that continue to face the Church, it should be an encouragement to those of us in ministry that faith and, more specifically, Mass and Eucharist still matter to Catholics. Many feared not enough of the faithful would return to the pews once parishes were able to open their doors; that most would prefer to simply stay in the comfort of their homes and view Mass online or not partake in Mass or spiritual communion in any way.

That is not to say the numbers are not a concern, but there are some incredibly positive signs. New research connecting faith during COVID-19 with the psychological well-being of Americans, combined with the day-to-day experiences of deacons and others serving in the Church, are part of a positive developing story.

At first glance, a Gallup study released in December of last year might seem a little depressing — that is, one more reason to disparage the fallout from COVID-19. The study pointed out: “Americans’ latest assessment of their mental health is worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades. Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults rate their mental health positively, representing a nine-point decline from 2019.”

A nine-point decline in the mental health assessment is hardly good news. But look a little closer and the light of faith shines forth showing a positive connection between better mental health during COVID-19 for those attending religious services regularly. Although Gallup did not specify religious affiliations, the survey did find that regular churchgoers were indeed the only group to show better mental health during the coronavirus crisis. According to Gallup, they were the only group to report an increase in mental health well-being, at 4%, as opposed to every other group polled, which experienced a decrease.

While there have been plenty of studies done on the powerful impact faith has on our mental and physical health, the Gallup survey was unique because it was taken during the pandemic.

Then there are those unique moments in parish life that also speak volumes. Shortly after our parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit opened their doors, I began noticing my husband walking outside after Mass carrying the Eucharist in a ciborium. That’s when I realized that some of our parishioners, even those who for a variety of reasons were not attending Mass in person, were so hungry for Jesus that sitting in a car by themselves, away from fellow parishioners, was a small price to pay. They drove to our parish parking lot, watched the Mass on their phones and patiently waited for the deacon to come out and distribute Communion. This is now a regular occurrence and a reminder again of the importance of the Mass and the Eucharist. Just recently my husband shared the story of how one woman who is there every week is so excited to receive Jesus that not only does she grin from ear to ear, but she is so appreciative that she bursts into applause when she sees my husband approaching.

Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Despite our ongoing COVID situation, we need to work hard to make Our Lord in the Eucharist available to as many as possible. I think Our Lord would agree that those, through the Church, who are working hard to do so, deserve plenty of smiles and applause for making a difference in helping to provide the Bread of Life.

TERESA TOMEO is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95). She is married to Deacon Dom Pastore, an ordained deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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