Coronavirus: a challenge and an opportunity?
Father Andrew Cole is Parish Priest of the Most Holy & Undivided Trinity, the Catholic Church in Grimsby, Cleethorpes & Immingham.
The coronavirus pandemic has provided many challenges, not just in terms of our physical health and need to care for ourselves, those whom we love and the most vulnerable members of our local communities, but for Christians it has led to sincere reflection on the importance of our faith and, in a time when we cannot gather in our churches, how we worship.
For Catholics, Sunday Mass is at the heart of the practice of our faith, and for us to be unable to gather as ‘one body, one spirit in Christ’ in our churches has been a real challenge; as the final document of the Amazon Synod puts it:
'The community has a right to the celebration of the Eucharist, which derives from its essence and its place in the economy of salvation. Sacramental life is the integration of the various dimensions of human life into the Paschal Mystery, which strengthens us.'
Since it would no longer be possible for our communities to gather physically, it became imperative that we would have to enable our parish family to come together at least virtually, and so with the socially distanced help of a small group of parishioners I began to livestream the celebration of Mass on Sundays and weekdays, together with prayers at noon each day for those affected by the pandemic in any way. It is not the same, and can never be the same, as gathering in our churches, but I took the deliberate decision that our liturgical celebrations would be as similar online to what they would be if everyone were physically together in terms of style and music – with the challenge that I would be the Celebrant, deacon, reader, cantor, server and leader of the congregational responses! Even though we are gathering virtually, the Lord is still with us, as he always is when two or three gather in his name.
There are practical considerations as churches prepare for opening, initially for individual prayer and then for communal worship. Many of our parishioners are older – will they be able to come back yet? Some will have got used to celebrating online, and others, who have not been physically able to come to Mass for a long time due to ill health, are able to gather with their parish family on a Sunday again. It has been important for parishioners to join their parish priest in their parish church for their celebration of Sunday Mass, which has itself expressed a longing for the time when we can all gather once again in our churches, the homes of our parish families.
There is also the question of engagement for those who do not have access to the internet and other digital resources. And, of course, there is the constant challenge of not just coming ‘to church’ but ‘being Church, since although our celebration of the Eucharist – which is the source and summit of our lives as Christians, but can never just be the be all and end all – has been suspended, the living out of our Baptism has become even more imperative.
These reflections will continue and deepen; but just as the disciples, after the Ascension, couldn’t just stand looking up at the sky but had to think of new and creative ways of remembering Jesus and making him present, we are called to embrace the challenge that this crisis has opened for us and to see in a ‘new normal’ a renewed opportunity for encounter and engagement with God, with one another and within ourselves.