Carmen Dominguez understands the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, so she will not be attending Christmas Eve Mass this year.

But she couldn’t stay away entirely, so she attended a smaller midday Mass on Wednesday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.

“We wanted to see Jesus this week,” Dominguez said after the Mass.

Marisa Dominguez, left, and her parents, Bobby and Carmen Dominguez, leave the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland after daily Mass on Wednesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

She is in good company modifying her worship plans this season, as COVID-19 infections soar in Maine and across the country. Church leaders and parishioners in Maine said Christmas services that typically draw the biggest crowds of the year will look and feel different during the global pandemic. But while the annual tradition of gathering together to sing and celebrate the birth of Jesus is not possible, they are doing everything they can to stay connected with the devout.

Dominguez, who is from Texas but staying with family in Maine, was among about 50 people who attended the Mass on Wednesday. The daytime service did not require a reservation, but reservations are needed to attend the Christmas Eve Mass planned for Thursday that is limited to 50 people.

The archdiocese of Portland will offer drive-in services Thursday at locations in Gorham and Rockland, and the Holy Trinity Church also will limit its Christmas Eve Mass to 50 people for in-person services.

But much of the routine this year will be the same for Judith and John Goodrich, of Falmouth, who made reservations about two weeks ago to attend Christmas Eve Mass in Portland, as they usually do.

John Goodrich said he did not expect the gathering to pose a significant risk.

“We’ll be spread more than you and I, for example,” John Goodrich said, speaking to a reporter in the parking lot outside.

His wife said continuing to attend in-person church service has been a benefit to her.

“Our bishop encourages people to be safe, and has since the beginning,” Judith Goodrich said. Mass is available on television, but “the people who can’t get to Mass aren’t getting the contact and the fellowship.”

Indeed, this week Bishop Robert Deeley urged the faithful to try a “different Christmas,” and suggested putting up more lights outside the house, while bringing fewer people into the house.

He said he plans to stay home and celebrate live-streamed Masses on Christmas morning at midnight and 10 a.m. this year.

At the midday Mass on Wednesday, seats inside the cathedral were spaced out in wide rows, with X’s made of tape marking the place for each person. Upham wore a mask for much of the service, as did every person who attended.

When the congregation took communion, the wafers were dispensed by a lay person, and one by one, the faithful slipped the hosts under their masks.

Other churches that are usually overflowing with people will instead be empty on Christmas Eve and Christmas this year. Services will be broadcast or live-streamed to worshippers homes.

At Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, in a typical year the holiday means three services packed with 300 people each. But this year, the service was pre-taped on Dec. 12, and is available on the parish’s YouTube channel.

But the Rev. Alyssa Lodewick wasn’t even able to tape the service in her own church. The church was damaged by a catastrophic flood in October, meaning no one could use the sanctuary even if they had wanted to. It’s now a construction zone, and services have been held on Zoom since the fall.

The Biblical parallel of a flood and a plague was not lost on Lodewick.

“Now all we need is frogs,” she joked.

Lodewick has also had to grapple with the learning curve as a first-year minister at the parish. She started the assignment in late February, she said.

“Within three weeks, we’re dealing with things they don’t teach you in seminary,” she said.

Putting names to faces has been easier this year, she said, because Zoom labels every attendee when they pop up online. Another unintended benefit is that attendees can look at each other’s faces, as opposed to staring at the back of someone else’s head seated in row upon row of pews.

Now, with the storm on Christmas Day expected to bring intense wind and rain, Lodewick also may have to cancel a socially distanced meet-and-greet outside the church, where the bell choir was planning to perform.

Parishioners have told her they are experiencing a mixture of emotions because of the upheaval. Some feel lost without the common traditions of meeting in the decorated sanctuary. Others told Lodewick they feel an unexpected relief at the slower pace, and are embracing what may be a cozier advent. And when the holiday passes, she said many are looking forward to a new year.

“There are lessons we’ll learn from 2020 and keep with us, but there’s definitely a lot that people are ready to let go of,” she said.

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