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

14/10/12 – Fifty Years Since Vatican II – Noble Simplicity and Scripture

On Thursday, the Church marked the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  During this Year of Grace, we have been invited to revisit the constitutions of Vatican II.  The first of these constitutions was on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

After addressing general principles that were to underpin the constitution’s understanding of the liturgy, it began to articulate some general norms that were to be observed when implementing the liturgical reforms the constitution would subsequently propose.

The first was that the liturgical rites were to be marked by a “noble simplicity”, that they be clear and generally comprehensible.  It should not, for example, be necessary for there to regularly be lengthy explanations needed during a liturgical celebration for people to understand that is taking place.

Gospel According to MarkAnother general principle was that of the importance of sacred scripture in liturgical celebrations.  Sacrosanctum Concilium called for an increased use of a wider range of scripture texts.  It emphasised the importance of good preaching, helping people to come to a better understanding of the scriptures and the liturgical rites.  Finally, the constitution also encouraged an more frequent use of what it called “Bible services”, especially on more important occasions during the liturgical year, and in places and on occasions when a priest is not available.

5/2/12 – The Ambo

The Church is nourished spiritually at the table of God’s word and at the table of the eucharist: from the one it grows in wisdom and from the other in holiness. In the word of God the divine covenant is announced; in the eucharist the new and everlasting covenant is renewed. The spoken word of God brings to mind the history of salvation; the eucharist embodies it in the sacramental signs of the liturgy.

(Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, article 10)

The amboRecently we looked at the increased use of scripture in liturgical celebrations since the Second Vatican Council.  The ambo, then, as the place where the scriptures are proclaimed, needs to be a permanent, prominent place suitable for its liturgical function.  Its use is reserved to the proclamation of the readings, the responsorial psalm and the Easter proclmation.  It may also be used for the homily and the prayer of the faithful.

There must be a place in the church that is somewhat elevated, fixed, and of a suitable design and nobility. It should reflect the dignity of God’s word and be a clear reminder to the people that in the Mass the table of God’s word and of Christ’s body is placed before them. The place for the readings must also truly help the people’s listening and attention during the liturgy of the word. Great pains must therefore be taken, in keeping with the design of each church, over the harmonious and close relationship of the lectern with the altar.

(Introduction, article 32)

22/1/12 – The Year of Mark

Gospel according to MarkDuring much of Ordinary Time this year, we will listen to readings from the gospel according to Mark.  For Sundays we have three years worth of readings.  Year A is comprised mostly of Matthew; Year B, Mark; and Year C; Luke.  Parts of John are proclaimed during the Easter Season, and on other feast days and occasions across the three-year cycle.

It has not always been this way, however.  For a long time the same readings were proclaimed every year.  In the first half of the 20th century, biblical scholarship began to develop once again in the Church.  This was reflected in the proceedings at the Second Vatican Council, which began fifty years ago this October.  The Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy spoke of the importance of scripture in liturgical celebrations, and called for the larger, more extensive collection of readings we use today.

Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony… In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from holy scripture, and it is to be more varied and suitable.  (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 24, 35)