Despite pandemic, some join Christmas Day Mass for in-person blessings

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — While a majority streamed into church Friday morning, some Metro Detroiters say Christmas Day Mass is a tradition worth celebrating in person despite the potential risks.

At Old St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greektown, dozens of parishioners gathered early in their finest holiday attire and masks, layered with heavy coats to receive their blessings. The church was decorated with bushes of red poinsettias, large golden trees and wreaths on every pillar covered in sparkling lights.

Joann Ministrelli from Farmington Hills braved the heavy snow with her niece and nephew, Elizabeth and John Carlson, to join the morning Mass.

"Our great uncle passed away from COVID recently, but we still come to Mass because we believe it's important to receive the body of Christ and the communion," said Elizabeth Carlson, 25. 

Every year, the family makes more than 700 ravioli stuffed with meat for the holiday but won't dive in until after receiving their blessings.

John Carlson, Elizabeth Carlson and Joann Ministrelli of Farmington Hills take a moment at the nativity scene after Christmas in-person mass at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church in Detroit, Michigan  on December 25, 2020.

"It just seemed really impersonal to watch it online," said John Carlson, 16. "It's hard for me to pay attention while being at church, there's hardly anyone here, so I can actually be with Jesus."

During the pandemic, Michael and Judy Campeau spent Easter watching service on television but have returned to services every Sunday since the church reopened. The couple married at Old St. Mary's 27 years ago.

"It's absolutely a tradition to come on Christmas Day. I even used to spend time decorating the church since I retired," said Michael Campeau from Livonia. "It's important to me because I was miraculously healed here from an enlarged heart condition. I was bedridden for two months, but this is a very special place.

"I wouldn't have missed Christmas no matter what. It's a safe feeling," he said.

Vincent Potts, Randy Bowers and Father LeRoy Moreeuw during the entrance percussion at a Christmas in-person mass at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church in Detroit, Michigan  on December 25, 2020.

Father LeRoy Moreeuw said while the chapel is typically filled with 90 to 100 people on Sundays, he thanked the two dozen parishioners joining them in-person Friday saying they "share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said in a midnight mass that now is the time to spread love, especially to those in nearby communities.

"In a year that has brought health and economic crises to our doorsteps, it is more important than ever that we reach out however we can to those in need, those who are lonely, suffering, sick, or who are mourning the loss of loved ones," he said. "Above all, we pray for the souls of those lost to illness and the heroes in health care who serve on the front lines each day."

A pandemic Christmas: Churches shut, borders complicated

Kristin and Kyle Kopy from Ferndale brought their two sons, Liam, 6, and Dylan, 4, out for Christmas Day because they figured the church wouldn't be too crowded, they said.

"It was never even a question to us to think about staying home as soon as we were able to come back to in-person Mass," said Kristin Kopy, who is expecting their third child. "We've been so fortunate and we've had the opportunity to be at home with our families. We've been blessed with good health."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said a "pause" on indoor dining at bars, restaurants and at other places people gather is working. However, she cautioned that events and gatherings connected to the Christmas and New Year's holidays could spread the virus if people drop their guards.

She said she's "hopeful" that her administration can take "more aggressive steps" to lift restrictions on some Michigan businesses after Jan. 1 as the state's COVID-19 metrics continue to trend in a positive direction.

The state has recorded four recent outbreaks tied to religious services last week, 10 this month. 

Nicolette Bryant from Detroit said although St. Mary's is not her usual parish, she felt more comfortable because the pastors wear masks during communion.

"Just yesterday, my cousin who stays at Notting Hill in West Bloomfield tested positive for COVID and they moved her to a facility in Detroit and I thought she'd be safer than anyone because she never goes out," said Bryant, 70.

"To receive communion, to sacramentally receive it... there's nothing like it. It's Christmask," she said with a laugh. 

Nicholette Bryant of Detroit listens during the Christmas in-person mass at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church in Detroit, Michigan  on December 25, 2020.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_