Raleigh Catholics gather outside cathedral for Mass as churches begin to reopen

Catholics receive communion outside the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh on May 24, 2020. Photo by David Larson, North State Journal

RALEIGH — After months of online-only services, the faithful are beginning to gather again in indoor and outdoor services across North Carolina. This comes after the loosening of restrictions on churches in the state, both because of the governor’s phased reopening and a federal court’s order to treat religious services more in line with other gatherings.

The Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, the spiritual center of the Raleigh Catholic Diocese — which runs from the coast to the middle of the state, with the Charlotte Diocese covering the western half of the state — held an indoor/outdoor service for the Feast of the Ascension over the Memorial Day weekend. The readings, sermon and the sacrifice of the Mass all took place inside the 43,000-square-foot sanctuary, while those gathered outside in the piazza listened on speakers with some watching the activity inside by viewing the livestream on their phones.

“In this Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we give thanks for the gift of our life,” Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama, a Colombian native who leads the diocese, said to open the service. “And we take the opportunity at this Mass to thank all the veterans — the ones who have been able to help us protect the freedom of this country, and we pray for all of them who have died.”

Birds chirping at times overpowered the speakers and the hot sun forced most people to put their lawn chairs under the shade of the trees, but it was the first in-person Mass in a long time for most of those gathered.

“It’s good to be back,” Alex, a young adult who attended the service, told NSJ. “Especially for Catholics, going to Mass and receiving Communion is a lot more important than people make it out to be.”

Alex said his Catholic friends were frustrated with the online streaming Masses and were ready for things to open back up, adding he’s only had online services available since February.

“Mass online, while it still counts [to meet Catholics’ Sunday obligation], it’s lacking in being able to have community and being able to receive Communion in person,” Alex said. “You can’t really make up for that. The online version is not the same.”

“It feels really good to be out with other Catholics back at Mass and with some sense of normalcy,” said Kaelyn, another young adult who was with Alex. “It’s exciting.”

The diocese announced at the end of the Mass that they are planning to open up more services, including daily Mass at their former cathedral downtown, also to be held outdoors for now.