One of the most edifying things about Church history is that in every generation the Christian community rises to the challenge and response to crises as they occur. And the Faith emerges stronger and the faithful discover God in a new way.
Covid-19 is far from the greatest test that the Church has ever faced. The last 2,000 years have often seemed like one crisis after another, but the response has also often shown people at their greatest.
Returning to Mass
I was thinking about this during the week when I returned to Mass for the first time in weeks as coronavirus restrictions were lifted. In my local parish in Dundrum there was a lively team of volunteers ensuring that everyone was safe and that physical distancing and sanitising protocols were adhered to. They were, as parish priest Fr John Bracken noted, more than stewards – they were exercising a ministry of welcome.
Maybe when Covid-19 restrictions lift and parishes get back to a more normal routine, we might consider whether a ministry of welcome as a permanent feature in a parish would be a good thing.
Such ‘greeters’ are commonplace in American parishes and Irish people who attend Mass while in the US often comment on how welcome they feel.
Christmas is going to be a particular challenge for parishes. In Dundrum, for example, usually around 3,000 would attend Mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This year, it will be possible only to accommodate around 300. Many parishes will be the same and so many people may be unable to go to Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day itself. Parishes will encourage people to participate in the Eucharist over a more extended period – say, for example, the twelve days of Christmas. Those of us who can, should do this.
Covid-19 is far from the greatest test that the Church has ever faced”
We will need to show great patience and kindness this Advent and Christmas – to one another and to our priests and parish volunteers. It’s a bit of a cliché to say that this will be a Christmas like no other, but it will – and we need to be realistic about expectations. Many parishes will lay on extra Masses this festive season, but priests will not be able to say Masses back-to-back on Christmas Day to facilitate everyone who wants to attend. We must be understanding about this and accept the limitations the pandemic imposes upon us. Rather than complaining, a gentle smile of understanding would go a long way.