In many parts of the world now, including our own Diocese, the global COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it something that we have never experienced before in our lives – the complete suspension of liturgical celebrations in our church buildings, including the Eucharist.
The digital world that we live in has made it much easier than in the past for our parish organisations to support communities through this isolation. Websites and social media platforms now abound with prayers, material about making a spiritual communion, and live-streamed Masses, all in a very genuine and noble endeavour to meet the spiritual needs of Catholics.
There is no doubt that viewing Mass in these times, when going to Mass is impossible, can be a good thing. If not, Pope Francis wouldn’t be broadcasting the Masses he’s celebrating around the world. Yet if that is all we do, are we doing all we can to fulfil our responsibility as Catholics?
The Second Vatican Council taught clearly that the participation of all in liturgical celebrations was essential:
Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit…Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 14 (emphasis added)
We are called, through baptism, to be more than observers of liturgical celebrations led by the priest, whether they are on a screen, or whether we’re sitting in the pews. We are called to be full and active participants in liturgy that we celebrate together, in union with Christ:
Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.
From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 7 (emphasis added)
So how do we continue to celebrate and honour Sunday, the Lord’s Day, in our homes while we cannot participate in our parish Eucharistic celebrations? The answer lies in remembering that we are nourished by Christ’s presence in the proclamation of God’s word in the liturgy.
As a parish, we are producing and sharing a resource to enable families to participate in a Sunday Celebration of the Word of God in their homes. Similar to celebrations that may occur in parishes without a priest, the proclamation and reflection on the Sunday biblical readings is central to the ritual. To help break open the word, these celebrations now include a video recorded homily from one of our priests.
Our Carmelite province of Australia and Timor Leste also has a resource page with a Celebration of the Word and resources to meditate on the scriptures through the ancient prayer practice of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading).
Another way we can celebrate Sunday, and in fact the sanctity of every day, is by praying Morning and Evening Prayer of the Church. These are the key celebrations within the daily liturgical prayer called the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office. While well-known and prayed by priests and religious brothers and sisters, it is a form of prayer, grounded firmly in the scriptures (particularly the psalms) that we are all called to participate in. Our resource page has a link to a Liturgy of the Hours resource for these times of isolation from Diana Macalintal at Liturgy.life, as well as the texts for the Divine Office from the website Universalis.
Again, it’s not a bad thing to watch Mass when you cannot go to Mass. It’s fair to say, though, that it never feels quite the same as being there. Lately, we’ve seen sporting events without crowds and television shows without their usual studio audiences, and it feels weird. The lack of ‘participants’ is discomforting.
So please, take advantage of the ways the internet can keep us connected with our parish communities and the wider Church (there are live stream links on our resource page as well). But don’t forget that that Church is, in fact, every single one of us. And while we can’t share the same church building right now, we’re still called to, and can, make Christ present amongst us through prayer and the proclamation of God’s word. For as Christ himself reminded us, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).