I have to begin this piece with a confession. This headline is completely plagiarised, from a wonderful, sadly deceased writer, Brian Doyle. Brian was the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon. He died of brain cancer in May 2017, aged 60.
The headline is taken from a piece published in Eureka Street in November 2016, long before we knew about the Coronavirus that is changing our lives daily. Brian’s writing style was enchantingly unique, and I strongly recommend that you seek out some examples online. Do yourself a favour!
I rediscovered this piece with its prescient headline during the endless (and satisfying) sorting that occupies part of Corona-days. There’s something to be said for keeping hard copies.
We can’t go to Mass – or as someone I know and love prefers to say, ‘participate in the community celebration of the eucharist’ – for now, and for how long? Nothing concentrates the mind more wonderfully than deprivation, so perhaps you, like me, have been thinking differently about Mass.
I have said to fellow parishioners that I miss gathering with the community that celebrates with me. In some ways, I feel I ought to be saying ‘I miss the Mass’, but I don’t have any experience of the Mass outside a community. I have participated in the community celebration of the eucharist in many different lands, on pilgrimage, on camino, on retreat – with family, friends, fellow pilgrims and travellers, students, colleagues, strangers – but always and only within a community.
Not only can we not participate at Mass (I’m abbreviating) but we can’t gather for coffee, brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner – except with the people in our household or via Zoom and other online means. And of course, like Mass online, it’s not the same – and that’s an understatement.
That’s a long way around to Brian Doyle’s insightful statement. Our ‘’way to Mass” is all we have for now. So what is our ‘way to Mass’?
I believe it’s the lives we’re leading amid Covid-19 that mark us as the body of Christ. In these days and weeks and (possibly) months, all that we are and do will bring us to the community celebration of the eucharist. We will surely have a rich harvest to offer!
As media, including social media, indicate, people have been incredibly creative in reaching out to each other. There are balcony gatherings, maybe with music, dance or exercise; online choirs, clever parodies of familiar songs; letterbox drops offering help to neighbours; phone trees; libraries with ‘call and collect’ service (thank goodness) and sharing of the fruits of the national bake-athon that seems to be happening, despite flour shortages…and so on.
For us, all our activities and experiences are carrying us to Mass. All the way to Mass is Mass.
We cannot chat before Mass to those around us, hearing their news and sharing our own, and linger in the carpark afterwards – but we can phone or email fellow parishioners, especially those who are vulnerable or have no family close by.
We cannot join the community in acknowledging our failings, confident of God’s forgiveness, but we can acknowledge failings to individuals in our circle – perhaps remotely – and surely pardon will ensue?
We cannot hear a member of our parish community say ‘The Word of the Lord’, and our priest proclaim the gospel, but we can take time to sit with the day’s scriptures, and most importantly we can embody that Word.
God speaks to each of us
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
(Book of Hours, I 59 by Rainer Maria Rilke)
We cannot pray together the Universal Prayer – but we can remember in our prayer at home the needs of our family and friends, our local community, our nation, our world.
We cannot bring forth gifts of bread and wine – but we can offer a meal or a treat to a neighbour who may be particularly isolated. Maybe help with shopping is needed?
We cannot receive Christ’s body and blood before the altar and in the midst of our community – but we can choose to be Christ’s body.
As St Augustine of Hippo, wrote:
“If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying ‘Amen’ to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear ‘The body of Christ’, you reply ‘Amen.’ Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!” (Sermon 272)
In these strange days, ‘our own mystery’ cannot be placed on the Lord’s table, but it can be placed at the service of those around us. There is an old old saying: ‘Charity begins at home.’ It was never more true!
Finally, your reward for wading through this is a taste of Brian Doyle’s beautiful prose:
“…when they arrive at the church on the hill, the church where my wife and I were married many years ago, she and the house wolf slip up the back stairs, and she affixes him to the railing at the top of the stairs, next to the door now propped open with a brick because he ate the rubber doorstop last year, and from this position he can hear the Mass but not be seen, because in my wife’s experience the house wolf is a magnet for kids and dog people who admire his wolfish carriage and deer-ears, and she does not want anything to distract from the Massness of the Mass, because the Mass is a quiet miracle available all day every day everywhere in the world, except for some places where it is forbidden by law, and people who gather for Mass can be tortured and imprisoned for believing that the Mass and the faith behind it are bigger and truer and wilder than any state or nation or dictator for life could ever be.”
(You can read this piece in full here.)
Tracey is a local freelance editor and writer
Photo © 2020 Tracey Edstein. All rights reserved. Used with permission.