ONE of the most devastating privations since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has been the closure of churches and the suspension of public liturgies.
Easter Sunday is particularly characterised by the new reality of Christians everywhere being prevented from gathering together for the worship of God, where we can raise our hearts and minds to Him, and in the hope that this virus will come to an end. Friends have asked why this matters so much, suggesting we can surely praise God individually and from our own homes. But I gently remind them of Christ’s words in the gospel: ‘Wherever there are two or three gathered in my name, there I am with them.’ (Matthew 18:20)
Christians have endured the coronavirus during the penitential season of Lent – 40 days of prayer, fast and almsgiving that mirror Christ’s isolation in the desert. This Lenten fast usually means abstinence from alcohol or cigarettes; or chocolate and crisps. But this year, Christians have fasted from something much more profound: physical access to the Mass and Holy Communion.
The Lord’s flock are isolated and separate. This desolation and wilderness is even more dramatic as it reaches into the triumphant joy of Eastertide. This is an understandable source of intense pain for priest and layman alike. Many Christians will never have had an Easter Day like it.
The current crisis has been starving Christians of their physical contact with consecrated buildings and the wonderful services that take place within them. This naturally causes our souls to be sad. These regrettable feelings are incompatible with the jubilation the Christian should feel on Easter morn: when Christ conquered sin and death after suffering his bitter Passion for the redemption of the world, and rose from the dead.
Nobody would have expected to commemorate these days alone and at home. But thanks to modern technology, an overwhelming number of live streamed Masses and church services have appeared online. It is reassuring to know that the Mass continues.
Many of us might be asking who has sinned, and why has this come upon us. There are those with no faith who rely entirely on natural explanations – the eating of strange animals, and the science of how epidemics can spread. These reasons are no doubt true, but they leave God out of the picture. Others will seek an explanation from Divine Justice. We might have done something very wrong to deserve such a punishment.
Indeed, there are times when God punishes our sins, but explanations that solely rely on Divine Justice forget about mercy. We must not leave God or mercy out of the equation when we seek to know and understand why these things are happening.
Commentators have noted that church attendance has been in steady decline for decades. What they have not reported is the religious revival among young people. In the advent of smartphones and social media, increasing numbers of the Christian Faithful have been authentically discovering what Pope Benedict called ‘what earlier generations held as sacred’. Young people ardently desire doctrinal orthodoxy and liturgical reverence instead of trendy heresy and infantile worship.
This has been articulated in their attachment to the older Tridentine or Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the traditional mode of Catholic worship before the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae (New Order of Mass) in 1969.
Young people have found their ultimate search for transcendence and awe fulfilled in the Extraordinary Form. In this expression of the Christian faith, significant emphasis is placed on beautiful vestments and a splendid repertoire of sacred music, used for not only reflecting the glory that is due to Almighty God, but also in contributing to the dignity and nobility of the Sacred Liturgy. Because of our interaction with the world through our senses, we should not become distracted by created goods, such art and architecture, (which have a positive or negative effect on their audience) and instead we should use them to find God.
Our inability to participate in the Mass – the highest form of Christian prayer: the source and summit of the Christian life – should cause us to value and treasure the Sacred Mysteries more profoundly when our access is restored. In doing so, there is hope that many will reject an absence of beauty in the post-modern wasteland, and return to an experience of the sacred rather than one of the profane. We should all be able to feast on liturgical and doctrinal treats after our long fast is over.
For now, as the coronavirus continues to disrupt many of our lives, let our homes become the Domestic Church and with the church militant on earth joyfully exclaim with one voice: Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia!