LITURGY MATTERS: Forward never backward

Well its begun. The restrictions are being eased and all the talk is about ‘back to normal’, or ‘adjusting to the new normal’. Language is always interesting. Of course, for people of faith – particularly Christians – there is no ‘back to’. Let’s reflect on that a bit.

The People of God are always moving forward.  God is always calling us into the future, to be made new every day by God’s love and to live in response to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who blows where it wills not where we might will. Given this long experience, it would be fair to assume that faith communities have wisdom to bring to this next step on the path of eased restrictions.

The experience of COVID 19 and its consequent isolation and lockdown has and is continuing to change us, individually, as a society and as a Church. It is not uncommon to hear in news commentary expressions of appreciation for how we have united as a society, some at enormous personal cost, for the good of everyone.  We hear it said repeatedly that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now but Australia. Well … maybe New Zealand.

So how will we who have been so blessed – even amid enormous difficulty – live differently as a church community? Change exists on a spectrum from superficial to profound. Christ invites us to profound change. We have special language for it: conversion, repentance, metanoia.

For most of these weeks of restriction, Liturgy Matters has reflected on the opportunities and gifts that have come with the closing of Churches and cessation of public liturgy.  At times it has reflected some of the torrent of commentary on ‘live streamed liturgy’ that has saturated Catholic journals.  Some writers suggest we have done twenty years reflection in a few months, as experience has pushed us to reflect on the nature of Church, liturgy and particularly eucharist.   

Whatever about the finer points of philosophy and the nature of presence, and the truth that live streamed masses by and large have been prayerful experiences that have supported the faith of the community, for me there are three striking realities:

  • A very few – mainly the ordained – have continued to be fed on the body and blood of Christ, while the vast majority of the People of God have gone hungry. Whatever your opinion about live streamed mass, nobody at home is receiving communion.
  • Everyone is without the flesh and blood experience of community. The ordained are in empty Churches and the rest of us are at home missing each other. No one is there to welcome the stranger, the homeless, the lonely.  The Church as sanctuary and shelter for all is gone.  Those inside have been behind locked doors, and the rest of us have been locked out.  
  • Live streamed mass is only a possibility to those who have internet and devices that enable them to watch. Those without – either because of geography or poverty – have no access.

These are the experiences that have prompted our deeper reflection. None of them embody adequately the nature of church, liturgy and eucharist. They are however gifts that not only prompt reflection but also promote conversion – change so profound it is visible in changed ways of being and behaving.

So, as we move forward with the new directives, more attuned to what manifests the true nature of Church, liturgy and eucharist – a nature found in Christ whose commandment is love and whose kingdom is concerned with the common good including a preferential option for ‘the poor’ – let us be the people who …

  • are good citizens continuing to do what needs to be done for the good of the whole community.
  • rejoice that now there can be more present at funerals and weddings.
  • are patient that public mass remains unavailable.
  • appreciate that to have any liturgy – especially mass – that is by invitation only and where all are not welcome, is in contradiction to the nature of Church, liturgy and eucharist.
  • understand that while Churches can be open, the restrictions placed on that opening might yet make it impossible.
  • keep strengthening our domestic church with prayer and liturgy and ongoing participation in God’s mission.
  • dwell more and more in the Word of God and become living Words of God in our neighbourhoods and society.
  • ponder the mystery of the incarnation and allow it to shape us and our response to our current circumstances. God does not engage with us remotely.  God came to be with us and remains with us always – within us, around us, beyond us.
  • develop our awareness of parts of our country and the world where people have little access to the celebration of mass – sometimes as little as once a year. Is there some response we can make in this space?
  • claim more deeply our baptismal identity as sharing in the priestly, prophetic and shepherding ministry of Christ, and as the foundation for ALL ministry.
  • participate in and encourage Christ centered leadership: that invites us forward not backward; that leads rather than responds to ‘opinion polls’ and the loudest voice.
  • are grateful and count the blessing of simple things.
  • allow our experience of isolation and lockdown to open our eyes to the many ways our world, our society and our Church isolates and locks down individuals and groups. So converted may we stand up and speak out against such behaviours. And may I be more aware of the many ways I isolate and lockdown others.
  • love as God loves us and follow the Spirit of Truth who is with us and in us.

What would you add to the list …?

On Sunday in his homily, Bishop Bill said we are moving into a new phase where we are anticipating the prospect of gathering again to celebrate eucharist. One of my hopes is that we are anticipating even more, the prospect of gathering as a community. Yes, I said ‘even more’ because as the missal says, mass can begin ‘when the people have gathered’. I hope too that absence has gifted us with a deeper appreciation of mass: as something we do together, as a gathering in which we offer ourselves with Christ to be taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of the world, as a celebration in which our receiving communion is a consequence of offering ourselves, and in the feeding we are becoming more like Christ so that we will be food for the world. That’s what we are saying ‘amen’ to. ‘Amen’ is a dangerous word. 

We are moving forward not backward because Christ is not only within us. Christ is ahead of us, calling us to what is yet to come. I can hardly wait!     

Accompanying imaging from Pixabay.  All rights reserved. Free for commercial use.

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.