As you all know, a little more than a year ago the pews were moved and replaced with chairs to maintain hygiene and safety. Furthermore, not too long ago the only option was to attend Mass virtually via live streamed services. We now have the pews back in place and the church looks like it used to, and has been open for communal worship over the past four weeks, so people can attend Mass in person. This is a cautious step to-wards normality, however, given the uncertainty of the current situation – it is difficult to define what normal is or will be. For example, we cannot join in the singing, there is no exchange of the sign of peace and Holy Communion is distributed at the end of the Mass: such a big difference to what most of us have been used to, before the COVID-19 pandemic took over. Another noticeable difference is that fewer people are able to attend each Mass; health and safety of parishioners is the first priority, which is why social distancing guidelines are still in effect. Yet, it is encouraging to see so many people, including families with young children, making an effort to get to Mass.
For many of us, things have changed over the last fourteen months or so, and it is not always easy to deal with change, which brings challenges and at times also convenience. When churches were closed to the public, one significant change was to grasp the concept of Spiritual Communion; how to reconcile this with receiving the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ – the living Christ, at Mass in the form of bread and wine. Another change was the convenience of simply walking into the living room and switching on the TV to participate in Mass that is streamed live from the church. This may not have been convenient for everybody but we had to get used to it.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales website (www.cbcew.org.uk) has a very short article about this summarising it as follows: ‘For those occasions when we can’t be in our churches, an act of Spiritual Communion can help us keep Christ at the centre of our lives as we worship and pray at home.’ It explains the relevance of Spiritual Communion when one cannot go to church, but the fact is that the Church has always taught that Christ has risen and is present in every Eucharistic celebration. There are also several articles about increased participation in online Masses, Exposition, Benediction, when compared to the pre-COVID-19 era; this is a positive sign that online services are making a difference, but is it the same as coming to church? Thus, the opening of the church to communal service is a positive and necessary step towards bringing the faithful closer to Christ. For some this is a very anticipated and welcome news, for others giving up the convenience of attending Mass virtually is going to be a big challenge. For others still attending virtually it is likely to be the only option, according to their circumstances: participating in the celebration of the Eucharist even spiritually brings comfort and strength.
Fr Steve and the other clergy have always encouraged people to attend Mass, preferably on a weekday if possible, so that those who cannot attend during the week can attend on a Sunday, this is because we are not obliged to attend Mass on Sundays or holy days at the moment. As there is dispensation of Sunday obligation. We would like as many people as possible to benefit from the reopening of the church and to be given an opportunity to participate in Mass and receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. However, it takes a lot of effort from the volunteers to help keep it running smoothly and safely for everybody attending. We are a blessed parish and have many volunteers, but we need more.
The challenges listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. Can you volunteer?
We need volunteers not just for the celebration of the Mass and other sacraments, but also for progressing other plans and programmes which have stalled due to the pandemic. There are numerous ways in which you could help achieve the Vision that the clergy team have put together for the parish; you can read the brief on the front page of the Newsletter of 4 April. As Fr Steve wrote, ‘What we are embarking on is the fresh and new way of living our faith’.
Perhaps this jolt by the pandemic is an opportunity to give ourselves a new start. This is an invitation for you to consider if there is something you can do for your parish.
Sandy will be ordained deacon on Saturday 19 June: more details to follow!