One of the most devastating privations since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has been the closure of churches and the suspension of public liturgies right across Britain. Christians everywhere are now prevented from gathering together for the worship of God, where they can raise their hearts and minds to Him in the hope that this virus will come to an end. Friends have asked why this matters so much – suggesting we can surely praise God individually and from our own homes. But I gently remind them of Christ’s words in the gospel:
‘Wherever there are two or three gathered in my name, there I am with them.’ (Matt18:20)
Many of us might be asking who has sinned, and why has this come upon us. There are those with no faith, who rely entirely on natural explanations – the eating of strange animals, and the science of how epidemics can spread. These reasons are no doubt true, but they leave God out of the picture. Others will seek an explanation from Divine Justice; we might have done something very wrong to deserve such a punishment. Indeed, there are times when God punishes our sins, but explanations that solely rely on Divine Justice forget about mercy. We must not leave God or mercy out of the equation when we seek to know and understand why these things are happening.
Indeed, we now live in strange and unprecedented times. Christians are enduring the challenges of this virus in the already penitential season of Lent – forty days of prayer, fast and almsgiving that mirrors Christ’s isolation in the desert.
The Lenten fast usually comprises abstinence from alcohol and cigarettes; or chocolate and crisps. But this year, we are fasting from something much more profound: physical access to the Mass and Holy Communion.
This is the source of much pain and suffering for priest and layman alike. The Lord’s flock are isolated and separate. This desolation and wilderness is intensified by the very real very separation from the rest of the Church Militant here on earth.
Commentators have noted that church attendance has been in steady decline for decades. What they have not reported is the religious revival among young people. In the advent of smartphones, and social media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, increasing numbers of the Christian Faithful have been authentically discovering what Pope Benedict called that ‘what earlier generations held as sacred.’ Young people today ardently desire doctrinal orthodoxy and liturgical reverence, instead of trendy heresy and infantile worship. This has been articulated in their attachment to the older, Tridentine or Extraordinary Form of the Mass – the traditional mode of Catholic worship before the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae (New Order of Mass) in 1969.
Young people have found their ultimate search for transcendence and awe fulfilled in the Extraordinary Form. In this expression of the Christian faith, significant emphasis is placed on beautiful vestments and a splendid repertoire of sacred music, used not only for reflecting the glory that is due to almighty God, but also in contributing to the dignity and nobility of the Sacred Liturgy. Because we interact with the world through our senses, we should not become distracted by created goods such as art and architecture (which have a positive or negative effect on their audience) and instead, we should use them to find God.
This current crisis is starving us of our physical contact with consecrated buildings and the wonderful services that take place within them. This naturally causes our souls to be sad, and is of great sorrow to Christians everywhere. This reality resonates even more as we journey closer to the solemn days of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. Nobody would have expected to commemorate these days alone and at home.
But thanks to modern technology, an overwhelming number of live-streamed Masses and church services have appeared online, and it is reassuring to know that the Mass continues.
Our inability to participate in this most sublime form of Christian worship should cause us to value and treasure the Mass more profoundly when we access it again. In doing so, I hope many will reject an absence of beauty in the postmodern wasteland; and instead, return to an experience of the sacred rather than one of the profane.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.