MARIETTA — This time last year, Monsignor John Walsh was holding Easter Mass before an empty room, as the parishioners of St. Joseph Catholic Church watched live from their couches, easy chairs or breakfast tables.

Nothing has him more excited today than the prospect of preaching before real, live people again.

“It just brings joy to me to see a congregation,” Walsh said on Good Friday. “Last year, I celebrated in there on my own … I looked out and saw empty pews. And this Sunday—this Easter Sunday — I’ll be looking at faces.”

Walsh says he’s found his parishioners to be eager to return to services. St. Joseph is holding Mass at around one-third capacity, and reservations for Sunday are fully booked.

“It’s a great feeling … they’ve been away for so long,” Walsh said. The monsignor has a busy weekend ahead of him: on Sunday, the church will hold Mass at 7, 9, and 11 a.m., with two Spanish-language services at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

The marquee event, however, will be the Easter vigil on Saturday evening. That’s when Walsh will welcome around a dozen new members into the church through baptism.

Asked what his message will be to the congregation, Walsh said the holiday this year dovetails profoundly with the increasing vaccinations and gradual easing of pandemic-related restrictions.

“We’ve come through a period of darkness,” Walsh said on Good Friday. “It’s almost as if we have been in the tomb for the last months or so, and we’re gradually coming into the light.”

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