The Rector writes …
On 3rd September, Pope Francis approved a statement from the Dicastery for Divine Worship written in the name of its Prefect, Cardinal Sarah. Its purpose is made clear in the opening sentence: “Let us return to the Eucharist with joy”. We are told in direct terms that we have a social and moral responsibility to observe the norms established by secular authorities during a time of pandemic (the first concern must always be for the common good) but: “as soon as circumstances permit, however, it is necessary and urgent to return to the normality of Christian life, which has the church building as its home and the celebration of the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as ‘the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed’’”.
We are too close to events to attempt a proper analysis, but the Letter begins the process: “aware that God never abandons the humanity he has created, and that even the hardest trials can bear the fruits of grace, we have accepted our distance from the Lord’s altar as a time of Eucharistic fasting, useful for us to rediscover its vital importance, beauty and immeasurable preciousness. As soon as is possible, however, we must return to the Eucharist with a purified heart, with a renewed amazement and with an increased desire to meet the Lord”.
Through this time of separation, it is to be hoped that Catholics will have come to a renewed understanding of the truth that: “we cannot be without the banquet of the Eucharist, the table of the Lord, to which we are invited as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, to receive the Risen Christ himself, present in the Bread of heaven which sustains the joys and labours of this earthly pilgrimage”, while also accepting that: “we cannot be without the Christian community, the family of the Lord: we need to meet our brothers and sisters who share the sonship of God, the fraternity of Christ, the vocation and the search for holiness and the salvation of their souls in the rich diversity of ages, personal histories, charisms and vocations”.
Never one to shirk the grasping of nettles, Cardinal Sarah, emphasises the right of local conferences of bishops to make alterations to universal norms in a time of pandemic (i.e. Sunday obligation and means of receiving Holy Communion). “A sure principle is not to err in obedience – obedience to the norms of the Church, obedience to the bishops. In times of difficulty (e.g. war or pandemic) bishops and episcopal conferences can give provisional norms which must be obeyed. Obedience safeguards the treasure entrusted to the Church. The measures given by the bishops and episcopal conferences expire when the situation returns to normal”. The Cardinal goes on to say: “in the Eucharistic celebration the faithful adore the Risen Jesus present, and we see with what ease the sense of adoration, the prayer of adoration, is lost. In their catechesis we ask pastors to insist on the necessity of adoration”.
It seems right that we should now increase the provision for the celebration of Masses in our own parish – with the proviso that circumstances and regulations may change at short notice if the virus reasserts itself. From Sunday 4th October, in addition to the Masses already being offered at Midday, 4pm and 7pm, there will be three Sunday morning Masses – at 8am, 9am (in the Extraordinary Form) and 10.30am. The two earlier Masses have been put back by half an hour to allow time for proper sanitising before the arrival of the next congregation. The Solemn Mass at 10.30am will now be a public Mass, but it will continue to be streamed. The hour of Eucharistic Adoration which used to precede the Saturday 6pm Vigil Mass (4.45-5.45pm) will be reinstated from 3rd October. It would be helpful to know if the return of an early weekday Mass would be of help – most of those who used to attend a 7.15am are out of their offices at present, but perhaps we might think of a resumption in Advent?
Although the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is in abeyance, it is to be hoped that these further changes will encourage more people to return to their place within the Catholic community. “We cannot live as Christians, fully realising our humanity and the desires for good and happiness that dwell in our hearts without the Word of the Lord, which in the celebration of the Liturgy takes shape and become a living word, spoken by God for those who today open their hearts to listen – let us return to the Eucharist with joy”.