Like many people, I am acutely feeling the absence of Sunday Mass. Parishes are doing their best, and there is a wealth of creativity in many of the Masses that are being streamed online. But it isn’t the same – not really.
I am blessed where I live that churches remain open as places of prayer and solace. In the stillness and beauty of my local church I am able to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
Others are not so lucky. Many churches in various parts of the country remain locked much to the dismay of parishioners even if they do understand the genuine concern for public safety that motivates the closures.
It is welcome news this week that some diocese have begun the process of re-opening churches – at least for private prayer. In the North, the civil authorities have indicated that opening churches will be part of phase one of the relaxation of restrictions there. Though oddly there is no timeframe.
Jesus calls us all as individuals, but he calls us to communion and community. No man is an island and the faith is not meant to be lived in isolation. A hundred people in 100 houses with 100 iPads does not constitute the Church. Not really.
Returning to public worship – even with small physically-distanced congregations – must be our priority. No one is suggesting for one minute that the public health concerns should be taken lightly. But the goal must be to ensure that the churches can be as safe as they can possibly and reasonably be.
It will take a Herculean effort. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown up some of the challenges we face as a Church. Take for example the priests over 70 who are in active ministry and are now cocooned. In five years’ time, they will mostly have retired.
We have also become reliant on a small and dedicated group of volunteers who are the backbone of every parish in the country. A friend who in the distant days of normality was a weekly Massgoer told me of his disappointment that his own local parish church is not open for private prayer. When he enquired, he was told that all of the parish volunteers are over 70. But, while expressing regret, it hadn’t occurred to him until I suggested it that the only way to fix this was for him to become a parish volunteer.
Our response to the pandemic can be one that impels us forward to greater responsibility for the life of our parish”
Those of us who are younger and Massgoing will have to step up. It is not enough to marvel at John and Mary who have been working in the parish for 60 or 70 years and congratulate them on their commitment. We need a new generation of younger people to emerge and take on co-responsibility for the various tasks that are required for the life of a busy parish. It’s not about pensioning off those who are older, their wisdom is immense. But we do need to lighten their load and understand that being an intentional disciple means more than 45 minutes of a Sunday morning.
A return to public Masses will require a lot of thought, energy and work in terms of distancing, sanitising and operating one-way systems in churches to name just three things.
A time of crisis is always also a time of opportunity. God has not visited coronavirus on us to teach us a lesson or to bring about some positive end. But our response to it can be one that impels us forward to greater responsibility for the life of our parish. We can’t leave it to the same few people who do everything. If our parishes are to have a future, we must be that future.