“But what of the practice of our Catholic Faith? It may be that for a while, our practice will change in terms of location and form. The location may move from the parish Church to the ‘domestic Church’ – that is, our home. And the form may change from liturgical gatherings and worship, to prayer practiced at home.”

As Catholics, one of the most worrying aspects of the present Coronavirus pandemic is the potential or actual loss of access to the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Initially, there were measures taken to reduce the means for the virus to spread amongst the faithful in Church – changes to the reception of Holy Communion, the emptying of Holy Water fonts and the suspension of the Sign of Peace, for example. But things are changing now rapidly and these measures have been insufficient in the light of the global pandemic.

And so now, the public celebration of the Mass has been suspended in a number of Dioceses in various countries and the faithful have been given dispensations from attending Mass. Thankfully, in many other places the Catholic Churches remain open, so that the faithful can go there to pray before the Lord in the Tabernacle. But this is not the case everywhere. Already in Rome, almost all Catholic Churches have been closed to the public. This is an entirely unprecedented situation – one which would have sounded entirely implausible just a few months ago. And yet here we are.

Here in the United Kingdom, it sounds very much as though the hierarchy of the Church may be preparing to announce something similar – at least, the suspension of public Masses, if not (yet) the actual closure of Churches. Speaking on the radio this morning, Cardinal Nichols of Westminster, England, said –

“We are preparing for a time when the churches should not be used to gather big numbers of people together, so we might come to an end of the celebration of Mass or other services.”

Thinking a month or two ahead, it is entirely possible that there may be no public liturgical celebration of Holy Week and Easter this year, nor of the Feast of Divine Mercy a week later.

A day or two back, I wrote elsewhere about the ‘Pandemic And Prayer’ and in that piece, I asked –

“So what does all this suggest to us?

First of all, we should not panic. Rather, we should listen to, and follow, the advice given to us by the civic authorities.
Secondly, remember that the illness will – for most people – be relatively simple and short-lived.
Thirdly, remember that a time such as this offers us the opportunity to practice a number of the Works of Mercy – and we should most certainly do so.
And fourthly, perhaps it will remind all of us to give thanks for what we already have – particularly the Church to which we belong, and the ability to practice our Faith.”

I also asked this question –

“But what of the practice of our Catholic Faith? It may be that for a while, our practice will change in terms of location and form. The location may move from the parish Church to the ‘domestic Church’ – that is, our home. And the form may change from liturgical gatherings and worship, to prayer practiced at home.”

I then went on to speak about the practice of praying at home and how we can do this to the best of our ability. You might like to read that article in full and to make use of the suggestions it offers.

Reading the news at the moment becomes ever-more disheartening; the headlines alone are quite frightening. While it can be tempting to fall into a generalised sense of panic in view of the present situation in the world, particularly with regard to the potential loss of access to the Sacraments (at least temporarily), it does us good to recall to mind a few facts.

We are a people of Faith.

We believe in something greater than any temporal power or crisis or event. We also believe, as people of Faith, that death is not the worst thing that can happen; the Lord Himself tells us in the Gospel that we should fear the death of the soul more than the death of the body (cf. Mt.10. v28).

Our Faith is based on the Person of Jesus Christ, the Lord. We call Him ‘the Good Shepherd’ for a reason – He takes care of us and He comes to look for the lost amongst us. He will never abandon us. We are His people and He loves us dearly. The Psalms offer many reminders of the love of the Lord for His people, and of His care for us, so that we can put fear away from us –

“The Lord is my light and my help,
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life
Before whom shall I shrink?” (Ps.26, 1)

Elsewhere, the Psalmist tells us –

“Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
The Lord is our help and our shield.
In Him do our hearts find joy.
We trust in His holy name.” (Ps.32, 20-21)

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ in the world.

We are members of that Body, each and every one of us. The Church opens wide to us the treasury of Divine Grace so that we might benefit from it. The normal conduits of this Divine Grace are through the Sacraments – each Sacrament offering a specific form of that grace and each for a specific purpose; the forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for example.

And above all, our Faith finds it’s greatest expression in the Sacrifice of the Mass. The Catechism tells us –

“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’. ’The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Pasch.” (Catechism, para.1324)

The Church is also our mother.

She loves us and cares for us, reflecting that divine love of the Lord, the Good Shepherd. Our Holy Father the Pope, the Bishops and the hierarchy, and our local Parish Priest – all of these love us with the full love of the Church and they desire our material and spiritual well-being. Here is what the Catechism says about the Church –

“The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a ‘sacrament’.. The Church’s first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God. Because men’s communion with one another is rooted in that union with God, the Church is also the sacrament of the unity of the human race. In her, this unity is already begun.. the Church is the ‘sign and instrument’ of the full realization of the unity yet to come.. As sacrament, the Church is Christ’s instrument..” (Catechism, parae.774-776)

Believing this, we need to trust in the Church, and accept in humility and in good faith what she places before us, whether in this present moment or in any other. The Church wants our good and the good of all humanity. Even in this present moment, I hear some complaining that they cannot receive Communion in the manner they would prefer and they talk about their rights to do so; what seems to have been forgotten is that with rights come responsibilities – and our responsibilities (particularly to those around us) often trump our personal rights. Remember, we will be judged on how we have loved each other.

This, then, is a time for us to act with charity and with humility and with obedience, accepting the limitations placed upon us by the Church and by the civil authorities, and doing what we are asked to do, all of which is for the common good. This common good includes us, but it extends far beyond us.

Bearing all of this in mind, and realising the heavy cross placed upon the Church herself in these days and the sacrifices she is called to make in this moment, we should remember that she is greatly in need of our prayers; this is the case at every moment, but perhaps especially now in the present moment.

A single candle always produces light; but in the darkness, that same light seems so much brighter and it’s glow reaches so much further. So it will be in the present moment. The grace of God is always active in the world – yesterday, today and tomorrow. In these present days, that divine grace – like the candle light – will be seen more clearly in some; trials always bring out in some souls qualities and virtues which become an example to us all, and from which all of us can learn, so that we ourselves change in some way for the better.

Examples of this will be the Works of Mercy. While the world clamours to think only of the individual, many will look far beyond themselves to see the needs of those around them. And seeing those needs, these souls will reach out in acts of compassion toward others in equal or greater need – whether through a visit, a smile, a kind word, through sharing of food or goods, or in some other way. Others looking upon the actions of these souls will be touched and will (with the grace of God) be changed. Pray that we might be souls such as these.

With regard to the practice of the Faith, take this opportunity to make use of the Sacraments while they are available. And if this changes, at least spend time as often as possible before the Lord in the Tabernacle, placing at His feet all the needs of the world, confident in His infinite mercy. Pope Saint Paul VI tells us –

“To visit the Blessed Sacrament is . . . a proof of gratitude, an expression of love, and a duty of adoration toward Christ our Lord.”

I find it interesting that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has spoken on several recent occasions of the needs for Eucharistic Adoration, a practice we have forgotten in some places. Recently, he wrote –

“One cannot know the Lord without being in the habit of adoring, of adoring in silence. I believe, if I am not mistaken, that this prayer of adoration is the least known amongst us; it is the one we engage in the least.. To adore, there in the silence, in the silence of adoration. He is the Lord, and I adore Him.”

Speaking in January this year, on the feast of the Epiphany, Pope Francis said –

Once we lose the sense of worship, we lose our direction in Christian life, which is a journey towards the Lord, not towards ourselves.. In the Christian life, it is not enough to be knowledgeable, unless we step out of ourselves, unless we encounter others, and worship, we cannot know God.. worship is an act of love that changes our lives. Although we have some idea of what it means to pray, the Church must go even further with the prayer of adoration, we have to grow in adoration. It is a wisdom that we must learn each day.

Worship means bending low before the Most High and discovering in His presence that life’s greatness consists not in having, but in loving. Many Christians pray, but they do not worship. It is up to us, as a Church, to put into practice the words we prayed in today’s Psalm: ‘All the peoples of the earth will worship You, O Lord’.”

I cannot help but wonder about the prophetic nature of his words. 

Perhaps in these days, one of the graces that will be granted to us by the Lord is that of a return to adoration – of simply being in the Presence of the Eucharistic Lord, adoring Him there in the Sacrament of His Presence, and of placing our praise and our petitions before Him in that silence of which the Holy Father speaks.

What is without doubt is that in these days, the Lord will be greatly generous with His divine grace, especially if the usual conduits of His grace are not available to us. We need to trust Him completely and we need to pray – for ourselves and for each other, and for the needs of the entire world. May all we do for others be a clear reflection of our love for Him.