During COVID-19, do we watch the Church, or be the Church?

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).

Sunday of the Word of God

While it is Australia Day here in this part of the world, universally today the Church celebrates its first ever Sunday of the Word of God.

Last September, Pope Francis decreed that “the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.” (Apostolic Letter Aperuit Illis, no. 3).  It fulfils a proposal that he made at the end of the Holy Year of Mercy.

This Sunday, then, encourages us all to reflect on, and celebrate the central role of the Scriptures within our faith.  It is through the Bible that we come to know God, and particularly through the Gospels, we come to know the person of Jesus.  In every liturgical celebration, God speaks to us through the Scriptures that are proclaimed, and Christ is made present among us.

It’s timing, early in the Sunday of Ordinary Time, is also beneficial for us to reflect on the role the Scriptures play in our personal prayer.  The Sundays will allow us to accompany Jesus through his life and ministry as documented in the Gospel of Matthew, so this Sunday is the perfect time to make a new resolution to pray with God’s word.  Do we spend time reflecting on the Sunday readings during the week before or after Mass?  Do we give ourselves time to read the Bible, or pray with the texts through prayer forms such as Morning and Evening Prayer or Lectio Divina (“divine reading”)?

The Carmelites publish Lectio Divina prayer resources on their website each month, and our Diocesan Institute for Mission has started publishing very accessible weekly reflections on the Sunday readings by Dr Laurie Woods.  You can find links to these below:

Lectio Divina from the Carmelites Australia and Timor-Leste

Dr Laurie Woods Scripture Reflections from the Institute for Mission

Our Marian Shrine

Carmel Bulletin, 21 July 2019

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  Under this title, the Carmelite family and our parish invoke the patronage and protection of Mary, our mother and sister in faith.

Continue reading “Our Marian Shrine”

The Advent Wreath

Carmel Bulletin, 16 December 2018

A short liturgical season such as Advent can be easily lost in Australia amidst the pre-Christmas hype and end-of-year rush to the summer holidays. As such, its symbols, prayers and music can help us to hold on to this time of joyful expectation.

Continue reading “The Advent Wreath”

None Equals Thee

OLMC Statue landscape 2Sometimes people of other faith traditions think that we worship Mary.  While they can clearly see that Mary holds a special place in our faith, all our worship is directed toward God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Collect Prayer for our celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel reminds us of this:

All gracious God,
may the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother and Queen of Carmel, protect us,
and bring us to your holy Mountain, Christ our Lord…

(Carmelite Lectionary)

Mary is certainly the most blessed of all women, and a person without equal.  As our mother and sister in faith, she intercedes for us, and leads us to the divine mystery in which we believe.  This echoes through a number of the prayer texts we use on our feast day today.

While we certainly honour Mary at different times throughout the liturgical year, the liturgy is still focused on giving thanks to God for the Paschal Mystery – the life, death and resurrection of Christ in which Mary played a crucial role.  It is why, for example, that prayers to Mary (such as the Hail Mary) don’t form part of the proper texts for Mass.  It is also why Marian devotions, such as the rosary, or private prayers at the Marian Shrine, have their own time and place.

So as we give thanks for Mary’s patronage and protection, let us remember her first and foremost as a woman with deep faith who embraced the will of God.  Let us pray that by her prayers and example, our faith and love will become like hers.