As our parishes prepare again for the return to public worship, albeit in a limited format, we are thankful for this progress and the opportunity it affords us to gather as communities of faith. Truly we will celebrate that togetherness and rebuild, week by week, on the strong foundation that remains at the heart of parish and Church life.
It has truly been such a difficult time and, for some, an unbearable situation where attendance at public Mass was not an option. Thankfully, I was able to continue celebrating Mass in the parish and through livestreaming and Facebook, managed to maintain a good level of contact with people. That said, I know that many – even within the parish, could not access our online Masses due to poor internet connectivity or, for others, not being “internet people”. I was pleased to recently celebrate a Mass for a man who died in Hawaii, the Mass requested by his brother in Chicago who has tuned into our parish over the past twelve months because his grandfather came from Kilkelly. There seemed something reassuring in this, that across the ocean we were praying for the same person, brought together by faith, through history and geography. The world seemed small, though we were not meant to travel beyond 5km! Prayer does not have any limits.
As we prepare to return to shared and public worship, we will move slowly and carefully. The sacrifice that people made is commendable and the patience shown deserves great credit. I believe the core driving force of all that was done and continues to be done is in the name of saving life and is in that regard “pro-life” and should be cherished as such. Someone said to me that if one life was saved because of what has been done in our parishes, it was worth it. Surely that has been the case. It is certain that in that difficult place of being apart, we helped people to avoid contracting Covid-19 and to that end, saved some from serious illness or perhaps even death. This may sound dramatic, but I believe it to be true.
Family of families
There are lessons to be learned from our recent experience too. In the parish I am assigned to, there are four churches – each with its own community and story. We strive to be a parish – that “family of families” Pope Francis refers to. In pre-pandemic days, at the weekend I celebrated Mass in the four churches, two Vigil Masses and two on Sunday. During the week, I celebrate Mass between two of the four. During ‘lockdown’, all our Masses were celebrated in the parish church, with weekend Masses reduced to two (one on the Vigil and another on Sunday). Funeral Masses were celebrated in the church local to the deceased, likewise baptisms and, to a lesser extent, weddings. All four churches were open for private prayer and, it is clear, that all four were very much in use by the people of the parish – seldom did I visit any of the churches and not see signs of people having been there, not least in candles burning on our shrines. The role of the churches as centres of prayer never diminished. In a time when priests numbers continue to decrease, we might well need to look at this in terms of “where we go from here?”. Can we continue as before or has this time shown us that there are other options around celebrating Masses in our parishes? Would changing venues or even days for the celebration of Mass be a viable option? Could the location of the Mass be less significant than its celebration?
For now, like all people of faith, I am happy that we are moving in the direction of public worship and I look forward to hearing the voice of gathered people rather than imagining it.
The month of May
“Do you like May?” he asked the parish priest on the First Friday visit. The answer was definite. “I do,” Martin.
“It is my favourite month – Our Lady’s month, new life, growth, flowers, farmers in the fields, birds in the sky – everything about it. If Heaven were a month, Martin, it would be the month of May.” They parted company and the priest said, as he got into his car, “See you soon Martin, and enjoy the month of May”. Two weeks later, the priest recalled this conversation at Martin’s funeral Mass. He concluded his homily with words I will never forget… “We will meet again Martin and, enjoy the month of May”.