COVID-19, Restrictions on Public Worship and the Challenge to the Church

I’ll probably lose a few friends and several readers with this post, but I think we need to stop grumbling about how much we are suffering because of COVID-19 restrictions, especially the restrictions on public communal worship. At one level, we can argue that observing lockdown restrictions is merely a way in which we can put the common good before our own. That is what I call the functional approach. At another, I think we have to consider where the Church’s true good lies and what is being asked of us both as individuals and as an institution. Increasingly, I have come to believe that lockdown represents a opportunity to recover a faith and holiness the Church currently lacks; but let’s take the COVID situation first.

The impact of COVID-19 on worship
Those who have or have had COVID, those who have lost people dear to them or their homes and livelihoods, those battling the pandemic right now, they have something to complain about; but do the rest of us? We can see that for those most at risk, the virus is scary; for those who are lonely or depressed or anxious, it is a daily struggle; but for the majority of us, it is more of an inconvenience than anything else. We have to take more care about hygiene, think before we go anywhere, keep our distance from family and friends for fear of spreading a disease we may not even know we have, abandon, at least for a while, much that is familiar or pleasurable, but our essential freedom to worship God has not altered. In saying that, I am aware that opinion is divided about the risk to public health that meeting together in church constitutes. I’m also aware of the statement issued by Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop McMahon in response to the government’s proposals. However, if we concentrate too much on the negative, we may miss an opportunity — a moment of grace, if you like, that could potentially transform our lives and the lives of those with whom we come into contact.

Deepening our life of prayer
If the bedrock of our religious practice is daily or weekly Mass, lockdown provides us with opportunities to see how the Eucharist fits into a much wider context of scripture and ‘private’ prayer. Praying the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours not only joins us with the whole Church in every age, it provides a sacred rhythm for the present. It extends the celebration of the Eucharist and hallows time. We can forget that it is possible to become very individualistic, even selfish, in our approach to worship and the sacraments, allowing our routines to provide an assurance more apparent than real. I go to Mass, so I’m alright spiritually, am I not? If I can’t go to Mass, for whatever reason, life suddenly becomes much more alarming, doesn’t it? I’m not so confident any more. My faith doesn’t stretch that far. Once we recall that it is Christ who prays in us and that the words of scripture, the psalms especially, are his prayer, a temporary restriction on meeting together and celebrating the sacraments looks less like a loss and more like an encouragement to re-think some of our old ideas. How many of us have asked ourselves whether lockdown is an invitation to deepen our knowledge and love of scripture, grow in prayer, and become closer to Christ in a new way?

Being aware of God’s presence
Most of you know I am not a fan of live-streamed worship. Many are, but I have never found it necessary or helpful. I’m also unenthusiastic about many devotions from which others derive great comfort and support. That isn’t because I don’t value them or see the good in them but because I am aware of God’s presence here, in my monastic cell, in the chapel, wherever I happen to be and whatever I happen to be doing. It is all-embracing, and I attribute that to my formation as a Benedictine and long years of trying to practise lectio divina. I’m not suggesting that everyone should become a monk or nun — heaven forbid! — but I do wonder whether key elements of the monastic tradition of reading and prayer could helpfully be rediscovered by the Church at this time.

What is normal?
Many priests and pastors are doing their imaginative best to support those who feel bereft, but some talk only of ‘when things return to normal’ and, to be honest, I question whether that will ever come about. It is not just that, however successful vaccines prove to be in controlling the spread and severity of the virus, there are many other changes that will take much longer to work through. The shift in work patterns, the economic consequences of actions taken by government, the effects of delayed healthcare interventions, the disruption to education, to say nothing of climate change and political re-alignments, they are all going to have an effect on our future lives. Add to that the loss of trust that the IICSA reports and the McCarrick report have produced, and I question whether anyone in the Church can honestly go on talking about a return to normality. What normality are we talking about? The tired, rather inward-looking normality that seems to have become characteristic of the Church in Europe and North America in recent years?

Worshiping together is only one aspect of what church-going means. Fellowship and service of others are also important. However, I’d like to stay with worship a little longer because I think it is there that we can identify a lack we need to address. Here in the West we are not accustomed to being unable to receive the sacraments. The fact that such has been the experience of the Church at many times in her history and still is her experience in many places outside Europe and North America is one of those uncomfortable truths we prefer not to acknowledge. Could it be that the Lord is allowing us to experience something of the same because we have become too complacent? Do we ever ask ourselves why spiritual riches are lavished upon us and whether we have responded to them as we ought?

A changing Church
I’ve said often enough that I think the territorial parish is no longer central or necessary to most people’s experience of church, and I think that trend will continue. But if the traditional parish goes, and with it the economic and financial basis of much church organization and activity, there will be a knock-on effect on how we understand priesthood, both of the ordained presbyterate and the priesthood of all the baptized. If the buildings are closed, we go on being the Church but we can no longer make the same assumptions about what that means or how it is expressed. Are we ready for that? Can lockdown restrictions help us?

Recovering faith and holiness
I think our most urgent need is to recover what I think we have sometimes lost: a sense of God’s transcendence. So much of our church activity, our thinking and planning, concentrates on being of service to others, perhaps to the point where it has all gone slightly out of balance. Faith and holiness are not just ‘nice extras’ for some: they are for all. Where faith is lacking, we find the most appalling sin and corruption. Where there is no striving for holiness, there is only emptiness and routine. The emptiness may look glorious, the routine may be attractive, but we have forgotten the jar of nard, the call into the desert, the being alone with the Alone.

Romantic rubbish? I daresay some will think it so. Parish priests mesmerised by new technologies but grieving the loss of the physical presence of their parishioners will be scratching their heads and asking themselves what more can they do to keep their congregations together. A return to what is familiar will be their top priority. Parish treasurers, faced with a big drop in income, will be wondering how to make up the shortfall. What can we keep, what will have to go? And those who lovingly place their talents at the service of the liturgy in a thousand different ways, from making music to mopping the floors, will be torn by the desire to go on doing exactly that. For the less obviously talented, the mythical ‘person in the pew,’ there may be fewer conflicts but still there will be hard choices to make. 

We are dealing with what, for most of us, is a new situation, for which there isn’t really any precedent. We can read about martyrs and those who kept the faith in times past; we can reflect on Israel’s forty years of wandering in the desert; but that was then and now is now. There aren’t easy solutions to the challenges we face. The danger is that we may rush to decide how we should meet them before we have really formulated the questions or examined them in any detail — still less given God a chance to have his say.

Grumbling about not being able to go to church in the way we’re used to is understandable, but it would be a tragedy if our own noise blocked out the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing,’ says the Lord in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 43.19). What is he doing now? Are we sure we know? To put it bluntly, should we be asking ourselves anew how we are to be the Church, how we are to cultivate faith and holiness ? Perhaps this Advent we shall begin to find out.


61 thoughts on “COVID-19, Restrictions on Public Worship and the Challenge to the Church”

  1. You are quite right in this. The Church isn’t the buildings we use for worship, it is every member of the body of Christ, wherever they are and whatever their situation. Yet, in the first lockdown, I missed dreadfully the ability to be in the building daily, keeping it open and accessible for the people who came to light a candle to say a prayer for a lost loved one, for those who just came to sit quietly in prayer, for those who came with issues, wanting just a listening ear. For the homeless who came seeking support or just a handout to buy food (or other things not good for them) and the fellowship of those, in the main, elderly (like me) who joined in the ministry of welcome and presence. I also missed the pastoral visiting, taking Home Communion to those in care or isolated in their own homes due to illness or just sheer age related conditions. I also missed preaching, serving and receiving the sacraments in the Eucharist and the services on Sundays, midweek and also Evensong, which for me is a wonderful service on Evening Prayer, with music according to the BCP.

    I didn’t rant, but I felt sorrow that we had to adapt, which we did. Our Vicar innovated, went online from his study in the Vicarage and quickly got to grips with the technology required and we went live. In time we were able to include music, recorded by our Choir from home, prayers and recorded sermons (some from me) and all of the time, people who had the technology could participate, others sadly couldn’t and were excluded. I soon discovered that the recorded video’s could be sent as a link to those who have only basic technology and established a distribution list of over 35 people in this situation who could receive and view a video.

    Fortunately for me, once the first lockdown was over and once Jen had recovered sufficiently I was able to return to Church from 1st October and have continued to serve in Church since those times and even in the current lockdown I have been allowed to continue with the Vicar participating in streamed services through readings, prayers and preaching. I led several services of the Word, live streamed and even led the brief Remembrance Service on Sunday 8th November outside, socially distanced at the War Memorial

    So, I feel privileged, and I am sad for those who feel deprived of their services and the sacraments. It is all well being told about “Spiritual Communion” with a reference on how to take part (a BCP reflection), but many don’t feel confident in that type of worship and feel excluded by the lockdown. We need to do more to reach those in this position, rather than castigate them for their selfish needs?

    Theologically, we can justify such exclusion and as a practical measure we can justify it for the public good in a pandemic, but the reality for many for whom their physical presence in Church for prayer and worship is something they’ve had since Baptism and life long. It is the thing that brings their faith to life and receiving the sacraments cements that life of faith. I fear for their health and well being if this continues for much longer without some respite and churches being open for at least private prayer (something we are unable to offer as we need volunteers, mainly retired people, to keep the church open and Covid19 safe – many of whom are still sheltering due to age and other health concerns).

    God is with us, he abides in us and we can abide in him, but we still need support of others, our friends, family and fellow members of our community to feel included in the gathering of his disciples.

    I pray that we can be together again, soon, safely and with hope for our fellow citizens that they will too come to feel God’s presence and understand that it is life itself for so many who believe.

    • Thank you. I’m sorry if I’ve given you the impression that I’m castigating those who feel a sense of loss or exclusion from worship and the sacraments (not just the Eucharist). Given my own experience, how could I! I’m suggesting we look at things from the other end of the telescope, so to say. Our fellowship stems from our unity in Christ. Lockdown is a reminder that that we have to cultivate our personal and institutional closeness to the Lord. A wise priest said to me a few days ago that he thought some of his brothers in the priesthood had forgotten what celebrating the Holy Mysteries, whether with a congregation or without, really meant. I haven’t put that very well, but I hope you see what I’m getting at.

  2. Once again Sister, you hit the nail on the head.

    Sometimes there is a sense of entitlement from some quarters.

    I like you have not got anything out of online services but I know that the people who have watched the online services I have put out have appreciated them.

    It has been a time to pray the office, to read and for silent meditation on the word.

    I do look forward to a time when we can live less restrictive lives. Also lives that are less fearful. I have realised only recently that my occasional visit to a shop does give me anxiety. I can do without that.

  3. Thank you for this enlightening blog! I have been trying to come to terms with not being able to receive Holy Communion for longer than the Covid moratorium, because I am sufficiently disabled not to be able physically to get to church and then sit through the Mass before hobbling back down the little hill home. Bringing Communion to the sick is not a priority here, unlike in the UK. Eucharistic ministers non-existent, too. But I chose to live in Germany, an excellent choice in most aspects, so must accept the down side of this choice, too.
    But it has made me come to a sort of modus vivendi with the absence of Holy Communion in my life. I take the point about live streaming, but have to say that it is a God send for me. Not that my own parish church can offer this, but I have a wide choice of churches offering it. I have settled on Ampleforth, a straight forward, unfussy Mass which includes the Padre Pio prayer for spiritual Communion. Aside from having the hour kept exclusively for worship there is the knock on benefit that I don‘t go on beating myself up about not dragging myself up the hill to sit in a cold and draughty church with 2m between each one there. No feelings of guilt.
    It is a new time. Things taken at face value for centuries are being queried, the psalms have greater significance, particularly those asking for God to come to the aid of his people. I have what is called a Herr Gotts Eck, a corner for the Lord,in my living room. A crucifix above a tiled stove in a corner, with photos of loved ones no longer with us and flowers. During the day I keep up a conversation with Christ on the crucifix, referring all kinds of matters to him, like Don Camillo. Christ is very present in my daily life. I can‘t get to Mass, but I can reach Him. At any time.

  4. I have been pondering alot on this too sister,
    Maybe with a wee bit of a head start, due to all the church’s here having to shut down 10 years now, due to the earthquakes and aftershocks that continued for months. No, we are not anywhere near recovered!
    I for one have found a deeper relationship with god outside of what was familiar and on the heels of this I have had to adjust again with the COVID-19 Lockdown (that’s what we call it here) tho hard, It is the best thing that has happened to me, I feel must more at peace in myself. Thanks for the opportunity to share my experiences. Blessings.

  5. I always read your blogs with much interest and rarely respond, but so dearly want to this time.

    I think you raise very valuable points in today’s blog. The most important subject you have raised is that of moaning and complaining that things are unsettled. I totally agree, we must remember that whilst things are far from ideal at the moment, for some they are terribly, terribly bad times indeed. Of course, that isn’t to say that those who are mildly uncomfortable, with how and when they might worship at present, do not have a valid grievance, but perhaps there is a better way of approaching the matter. I’m thinking of how those prisoners of war desiring Mass might have coped without bread, wine, hymns and incense. They had to cope as best they could, and indeed they proved resourceful. Whatever substitutes they had for the things that they would normally expect in a Mass, God was indeed present for them. The situation at the moment is dreadful, but we do have our freedom, we are free to worship how and when we wish…just not where and with whom.

    I would like to respond a little to your approach to online-worship if I may. For my wife and I, we have found this innovative approach of the church to be impressive, heartwarming and very valid indeed. It is not for some and even for my wife and I, we still yearn deeply for that wonderful day when we may feel safe enough to walk through the door of a church, sit in a pew, approach the alter and be in the company of other worshipers. When I joined the Catholic Church, it was impressed on me the importance of worship together. My wife and I had spent a few years being ‘home-worshippers’ and whilst that was a crude sort of monasticism, we were aware that, as non-monastics, it just wouldn’t do. We were called to a congregation whereby we could share our faith, and not simply indulge in the ‘Church Of Me’. For those who are called to live a monastic life, it is a beautiful blessing, not just for the person, but for all of us, the work that is done benefits all of us in many ways. Thinking though of the ‘parishioner’, whilst time alone and quiet worship is a blessed thing, we are still called to our congregation and to be guided by the celebrant. And so, the provision of online-worship is a time when we can indeed come together, not physically, but visually and audibly together…I think this helps the average parishioner connect perhaps a little better than through prayer alone. The online option for my wife and I helps us feel very connected, without it we would feel lost. Were we to be monastically minded we might find the whole thing so much easier, but we are congregants and so participating in Mass through a computer screen is essential for us. True, it isn’t ideal and as soon as things are safe, we will likely dispense of online worship, but it does make us feel connected and we know that God can be, and is, present through the Word and in Spiritual Communion…just as he was for those soldiers many years ago.

    Finally, the situation will return to normal. We must have faith it will…and it will. How the church is and will be, was an issue before the pandemic, I do not know the answer. But perhaps it is heartening to know that certainly congregations (at least) in the Catholic Church seem to continue to swell. The church has proved innovative in its responses to social changes, and now a pandemic, we must have faith that it will continue to respond. The situation we all face will come to an end, and the Church will develop and continue.

    May God bless you

    • Thank you. I think the most important point I raised was the necessity for deepening our faith and growing in holiness, but I’m sure we can agree to disagree agreeably on that! Please remember that I write as a Benedictine, formed in a particular tradition of prayer and liturgy. I am happy to acknowledge with gratitude your positive experience of online worship — it just isn’t for me, despite my illness having made it impossible for me to go to Mass in our local church for some years (and that’s from someone who has done some innovative things online over the years). I share your conviction that the Church will continue to develop, but I’m putting out a few questions I believe we need to think and pray about because I’m not convinced that the old normal will return. And if it doesn’t return, where is the Holy Spirit leading us?

  6. Good morning sister
    Very uplifting reading.
    Just a thought.
    If we really believe in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic would we have had this pandemic?
    Yours in Christ

    • Thank you. I don’t think it is possible to equate belief/disbelief in the Real Presence with whether or not the world experiences a pandemic. God respects our freedom, and he uses apparently negative experiences to teach us. In this instance, I think we have to look for the voice of the Lord in what is happening and follow where he leads us. Would you agree?

      • Thank you for your reply.
        Yes however I struggle with where he is leading me ie. his will or mine.
        I found a peace during lockdown I have never known before. I did not have to make myself go to church. I realise I am contradicting my first comment regarding the Eucharist.
        I struggle with a church that is so far removed from what I once knew.
        I am very sensitive and struggle with controlling types who keep some people away and are at present thriving with these extra rules eg I do not remember anyone reminding me to bless myself with Holy water in a way the finger is pointed to the sanitizer. That is the real reason for my anxiety in church at present not the virus.

        • Unfortunately, such situations often bring out the over-bearing or bullying tendencies in some. I pray that you find a more lasting peace You can be quite sure the Lord will guide you, but you’ll have to listen hard!

  7. Thank you, Sister. That all needed to be said. I, personally, am so grateful for the discipline of a daily prayer life and the rhythm of the Divine Office; am not sure where I’d be without that! Particularly as our Morning Prayer – from All Saints to Advent – contains a canticle built on the challenge of Isaiah 43. The only constant, indeed, is God – and he , after all, IS constant. Love and prayers from an East Anglian Anglican X

  8. I read this at first light and found it truly inspirational. I had so much to say, and then decided I usually say too much so I’ve spent four hours in the garden thinking about it while dealing with leaves, snails and slugs and suppressing my gasps of disgust.

    So, just a couple of thoughts (I have pondered!)

    I’m not keen on Mass on the phone and I’ve now abandoned the idea and when I analyse the reasons I think it’s because, without being physically in the community, it seems unreal.
    The laity are pretty voiceless at the best of times but this has thrown our voicelessness into sharp relief. When I was a teenager we used to have compline in the chapel which I loved – it seems more inclusive than Mass where a priest was needed and many excluded from communion. That seems not to happen anywhere I know, neither are the laity encouraged to join together in groups online or otherwise for any liturgies.
    And when the hierarchical structure of the church is so rigid and male, and seemingly unable to hear or empower the people of God (other than being ‘helpful’ in ways sanctioned by the PP or the Bishop) it is no wonder that so many are increasingly disenchanted and trust has gone out of the window.
    My family and friends who are not in ‘The Church’ have asked me what the response is the two reports you touch on. It’s been either silence or a woefully inadequate, lawyer mediated statement.

    So, yes, new ways must be found of being church, of building relationships, of empowering the laity and of dismantling the pomp and ambition of too many clerics.

    And, as I write this, I still have that feeling of fear, dating from childhood, that no one should criticise the church for fear of giving scandal. And look where that has led.

    • Thank you. Live-streamed liturgy ‘works’ for some, not for others, and where the Mass is concerned, there is the theology of the Eucharist which, for Catholics, means the only communion must be a spiritual Communion — and that takes us straight back to thinking about the nature of the Church, the sacrament of Orders, her mission, and so on, doesn’t it? The abuse scandal has highlighted what happens when we don’t really have faith. I sometimes think the Church needs the equivalent of H.M.’s Opposition — people who will ask questions, probe motives, and prevent our sinking into the kind of torpor that worries more about PR than the saving of souls. The fact that there are many good and holy people in the Church is to me an encouragement.

  9. This is a wonderful teaching/sermon, received with gratitude. The paragraphs about deepening our prayer life and being aware of the presence of God in all things were especially meaningful for me.
    My parents would reminisce about WWII times, and the privations and hardships, but they had pride that they knew they contributed to the well-being of the world by their sacrifices. We can emulate this attitude as we strive to get the virus under control.

    • Thank you, Barbara. I was thinking how much music contributes to the liturgy and how the kind of restrictions we are living under in England affects that. It is complex, isn’t it? But I do think growth in prayer and holiness is key.

  10. Much to reflect on: thank you. We are feeling our way in Hendred and after eight months of Facebook and Zoom have invested in Church Services TV not least because of the desire to continue to hold the school. I have sent out a daily reflection, usually on the first reading at Mass, and I think that some have appreciated that as a written thing more than the live-streamed version. The Anglicans are alternating with us in a 6pm Short Service + Evening Prayer but numbers so far are small, much fewer than when we did something similar in our churches. We struggle on…. Prayers and best wishes.

    • Thank you. Hendred continues to be dear to us and prayed for daily. When we were there we were deep into an early form of webinar — from 2006 onwards, I think — giving people a chance to ask questions and explore questions of faith together online, as well as holding lots of talks, etc. I suppose they were really an adult form of catechesis. I was looking at the stats for our online retreats and see that the first one we launched (2008?) attracted over 1200 participants. Our Benedictine oblate forum died the death because we couldn’t persuade other monasteries to participate: I suspect many thought it would be too much effort! All good learning experiences, the failures as much as the successes, but we are trying to work out what we should be doing now to be true to our Benedictine charism and the needs of the Church today. Please pray for us.

  11. Although my husband and I formally served notice of our decision to leave the RC Church this past summer he has continued to maintain the parish website and will do so until Jan 1st at which time, hopefully, the pastor will have found someone from amongst his circle of followers to take over. This voluntary service provides maintenance of the sign-up sheets needed for those still attending Mass as well as for the volunteer cleaners and ushers and serves as a platform for the priest’s announcements, etc. It will be particularly necessary heading into Advent and Christmas so will be his final act of service to the RC Church.

    As we were unable to attend Mass right from the beginning of the pandemic we did feel the sting of being sidelined, a profound sense of loss, in addition to lack of contact with the parish save for requests from the priest to add something to the website. As we discussed, prayed and considered our reasons for remaining it became increasingly clear to us we were not where we needed to be for our spiritual health and wellbeing and our reasons for leaving grew to a place of certainty it was time to move in a different direction, something we’d been thinking about for the past five years.

    Our once per week grocery outings are tinged with anxiety as is the case for many yet the contact with store clerks and other shoppers in the store have become more meaningful to us. Our daily walks and little outdoor conversations with neighbours and fellow walkers also a warm and appreciated interaction. Even the points of contact, whether by phone or collecting mail in the lobby of our apartment building with neighbours, as well as the brief “Hello, how are you doing?” from our mail carrier have a quality of warmth and holiness that we find difficult to describe, yet other people have spoken of the same experience. Perhaps it’s experiencing the divine in all people, no matter the setting and no matter their faith or none?

    Prayer, Lectio Divina, certainly rounds out our spiritual life at this time. Nurturing an attitude of gratitude for what we have rather than focusing on what we’re lacking at this time must certainly be a grace from God and confirms to us we are in the palm of His hand, whether we make it through this pandemic or not, we are His. We do not believe life will return to what it was pre-virus, just as everything changed after wars, famines and plagues, but perhaps how we respond with faith will be the key?

    • Thank you, Jean. You and Harold are in my prayers, as you know. It sounds to me as though you are living the ‘sacrament of the present moment’ more fully than ever. Although I grieve that you have left the Catholic Church, I rejoice that you have found much that is positive. May God continue to bless and guide you both.

      • You had to know I would be tipped off by your reference to the “sacrament of the present moment”. Of course I had to look that up, and of course Harold has ordered the book. Hopefully it doesn’t take too long to arrive and will provide material for an Advent retreat-in-place.

        Many thanks!

  12. In my house there are many mansions….
    Physical church is a non sequitur for most of us now, but our faith remains undiminished. I have not received Communion since Ash Wednesday, neither have l been to Church, to Canterbury or even on a bus. I miss singing praises to our Lord with the rest of our choir.
    But l know that our good Lord is with us and will not abandon us during these travails with C19. We have a new normal, keeping in touch by phone, messages, emails and video links. There are live links on Sundays for various services and also during the week for Vespers and Compline. Although it is not the same as greeting friends and parishioners with a hug or a kiss durinh the Peace or receiving the body and blood of our Saviour in the Eucharist, there is no lack of faith or devotion among us. Seeking that those who do not believe turn their lives to the Lord is also not diminished. There is much evil and cruelty in the world which needs challenging and there are numerous people who need help. If we can do something for them and be kind, forgiving and gentle to everyone we encounter, we are part of God’s loving and living Church, which will prevail…

    • Thank you, Tim. My reference to ‘lack of faith’ was really a response to the terrible history of abuse in the Catholic Church, as referenced in the IICSA reports into the English Benedictine Congregation, for example. If we truly believed, could anyone behave so badly, so repeatedly, and the sin be covered up as very often it has been? It is the same with other forms of abuse, including a lack of reverence for people as individuals, the liturgy, etc. What you describe is very heartening. Please God your isolation will not continue for ever and you will be back singing the praises of God with your choir.

      • Dear Sister Catherine, all those involved in and affected by this abuse need our help and understanding. Evil has to be challenged, exposed and not hidden away. The many acts of obfuscation have created a near nuclear device which has exploded catastrophically within the Church. It matters not that senior clergy must take the blame for all of this. But for the victims of abuse, everything must be done in their interests and seen to be done. A great healing process has begun but needs to be completed for the victims. For the perpetrators and their protectors, penance, retribution, training and ultimately forgiveness.

  13. Sorry, Sister, I forgot to offer our thanks for this post. There is no doubt whatsoever your writings have kept us well fed throughout this pandemic. Certainly, reading what others have shared has served to emphasize we are one body in Christ, whatever our denomination.

  14. Being a philistine, I don’t much mind watching Mass with a large G&T but that is all it is.
    I read somewhere that the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray, and we have the Lords Prayer.
    Jesus, went into various synagogues and read our the scriptures . (no TV’s then )
    It can’t be beyond us all to give praise and thanks to God.
    with or without a large G&T.(only kidding )

  15. On the ‘return to normal’. Speaking as a communicant member of the Russian Orthodox Church I can point, thirty years on, to the problems causes by the ‘rush back to doing things we have always done them’ in the years immediately following the collapse of the Communist régime. Restoration of the plant: hugely expensive church rebuilding, famous monasteries restored at a cost of 10 million euros plus per monk, reopening of seminars, … but now gridlocked into a situation where any creative thinking into the future is impossible, and spiritual momentum, at least within the official church, is waning fast.

  16. Dear Sister Catherine

    Thank you for this, I think you raise questions which need to be pondered virus or no virus! I think church will change.
    I think all the access to various services, homilies etc is wonderfully informative and are great for anyone wanting to get their own bearings regarding liturgy without the challenge of actually having to cope with interacting with others in a real physical sense. I am sure online worship is a great comfort to many and keeps them in touch with their church community. But if online worship is … what about all the other stuff we may witness on line – are we partakers of really horrible things we see? I guess it is just down to prayer of the heart, which I guess can be online , offline , anywhere in any event or circumstance.
    I was particularly taken with your last 5 paragraphs and in particular:
    “Where there is no striving for holiness, there is only emptiness and routine. The emptiness may look glorious, the routine may be attractive, but we have forgotten the jar of nard, the call into the desert, the being alone with the Alone.” I wonder, perhaps this is being picked up on by many. Exciting times!
    I wish you well.

    • Thank you, Jo. I think it is a work in progress, as always, but the virus has focused our attention on certain aspects of life. I hope, pray, it ill lead to a deepening of faith, hope and love among us all. Nothing can replace a close, personal relationship with the Lord. Bless you!

  17. Thank you very much for this, Dame Catherine. I agree completely. Here in NZ we have been able to attend Mass again for some time. I am a member of the cathedral choir and have very much appreciated being able to participate in our uplifting choral and orchestral tradition. I did find two sympatico livestreamed Masses (celebrated by priest friends elsewhere) but found the return to Mass much more upsetting! Booking online (max 100) was required. I did it the first week but hated it. It was officious (cluipboards, name checked and crossed off, then escorted/frog marched to a pew by one of many high-viz vested unknown people, given a lecture in the aisle about distancing required when seated. At the end of Mass we were told to leave by the side doors as the main doors were for those arriving for the next Mass, resulting in a very undistanced throng being funnelled out as quickly as possible. The whole thing was mad! Mainly I felt it went against my experience, since becoming an RC in 1962 at the age of 11, that a Catholic church was always open to all. Bot not in 2020: no computer = no Mass attendance. No thanks. Having checked other parish websites with similar booking systems I found the unedifying spectacle of red “Sold Out” notifications appearing next to Mass times for weeks ahead. And of course there was no choir allowed at that point. It was back to online Mass for me until all restrictions were lifted. You have struck a nerve here, Sister, as for so many of those who have responded to this post. With very best wishes and grateful prayers.

    • Thank you, Alice. That sounds absolutely grim! It also underlines my concern that we have to find a way of dealing with these things that corresponds to the deepest desire of the human spirit for God — and his for us.

  18. I read this blog first thing this morning, but decided to delay commenting until much later. I have been much encouraged by your daily prayer requests and regular blogs and have not been to church for any of the permitted Masses or for prayer but I have been to keep abreast of parish admin as bills keep coming in and have to be paid. We have taken part in virtual parish services led by parishioners, but I have missed taking the Eucharist to the sick and housebound as I know they appreciate it.

    This month we celebrate our silver anniversary of our Oblation and it is really the saying of my daily offices that have kept me close to God not the receiving of the Eucharist nor attending Mass. I know that morning and evening prayer are not well attended in our parish, but I find that sad as it keeps my faith alive, together with your prayer intentions and blogs. The latter beat many a sermon I have heard.

    • Thank you, John, for sharing your experience with the rest of us. I imagine many oblates will echo your words. Amidst the sadness of being unable to attend Mass in person, the rhythm of the daily offices provides an important anchor. Perhaps encouraging this more widely is a task for oblates today?

  19. I appreciate these remarks very much. I try to resist thinking that God is “sending” us a pandemic to teach us something about him, ourselves, and church, but in my heart of hearts, I think that we are being asked to listen and allow something new to emerge. As an Orthodox Christian, I have felt for some time that we have been spoiled by ready availability of spiritual offerings and sacraments and put our spiritual lives on hold because we were too busy or too stressed, knowing that Sunday was coming and we could “take care of things” at that time. Recalling those who were separated from churches and spiritual gatherings due to government oppression in the last century and in the Middle East today, I have wondered how they cultivated the regular practice of the presence of God, if you will, because any outward sign of religion was firmly and often punishingly suppressed and what sustenance they drew from it.

    I have been working in an emergency department and have not attended any service except one zoom Pascha service since February due to fear I might transmit illness to people at church from patients I have seen. As the months have passed, I have become more aware that I have put spiritual life on Sunday’s “to-do” list too often, claiming that my service compensated for not giving time to it during the week. I no longer think that is true, and I wonder if that might be part of the lesson we might learn from the earthquake of events that are resulting from this world-wide crisis.

    I think that this was a very thoughtful and insightful essay, and am grateful that you wrote it.

    • Thank you very much for your helpful contribution to the discussion, Jane. I wholeheartedly agree that the idea that God would send us a pandemic to teach us something is a weird way of seeing God, but we can learn godly things from the experiences we undergo. We shall keep you in our prayers as you work in the emergency department. For what it’s worth, I think you have discovered something important about the Sunday-to-do list and how vital it is that we cultivate an interior life of prayer at all times, as best we can.

  20. Thank you so much for this, Sister Catherine. The core of it is what I had hoped to hear from our Church leaders, when the first lockdown happened. I was encouraged to hear the Cardinal say “God is not limited by the Sacraments”, which echoed what I heard from a very holy sister over 60 years ago. She said “Christ is greater than his Sacraments”. Alas, this truth seemed to be forgotten very quickly. Over 70 years ago, during a retreat at college, the priest told us that a time would come when we probably wouldn’t have time in a busy day to both attend daily Mass and give time to personal prayer. He urged us, in that circumstance, to be faithful to personal prayer, because a time might come when we are unable to attend Mass and without a habit of prayer we will flounder.

    I was longing for Church leaders to tap into the growing attraction to contemplative prayer and living among the laity. However, it felt as if, instead, the clergy were all running around like headless chickens, sending out lists of prayers to say, giving talks on You Tube and livestreaming their Masses. I am not a fan of the latter either although I have found one which is quiet and prayerful for Sundays. For myself, after 82 years of mass attendance, I have been absent since 15 March and had found the time deeply graced. To receive Communion again, would be a great joy, but I have no doubt that God is just as much present in my silent prayer sessions and Lectio Divina as in the Mass. I, too, love de Caussade, and his teachings, along with that of many mystics both ancient and modern sustain me. I will not be leaving the Catholic Church but pray for the day she will return to a richer, stonger faith, although I doubt I will live to see it.

    • Thank you. I think many readers would agree with you (not all have commented on the blog but have emailed or replied in other ways). Some priests have been very imaginative in the way they have responded to lockdown restrictions and shown exemplary care for their parishioners. I think of one Irish priest who ensured that the children of the parish made their First Holy Communion in a way that engaged the parents and was so reverently done that I’m sure it made a big impact on everyone. Others, alas, have settled for the ‘broadcasting without dialoguing’ approach that can be the spiritual equivalent of a lead balloon. I pray that you will see a fresh flowering in and of the Church; but I think it will be because of the laity showing leadership, don’t you?

  21. Regarding live-streamed liturgy:

    A few years ago I was hospitalized for several weeks and as a consequence I could not attend Mass (I was not even allowed to leave my room, due to severe immunodepression, so even the hospital chapel was off-limits for me). I could have “attended” the liturgy broadcast on TV; instead, I opted for a sort of DIY live-stream: a phone call to a friend who in turn held her phone next to the church loudspeaker. This provided a powerful connection to “my” community, and I am grateful beyond words to those who made it possible. In retrospect, however, I’m not sure it helped me to actually worship better that I could have done in any other way. Or maybe it did, for it was a reminder that many friends were at the same time praying with me (and for me).

    Again in spring during the first lockdown here in northern Italy we resorted to live-streamed Mass (this time a properly done live-stream, at least), and again this provided a strong “sense of community”. Yet I am here now questioning whether it actually helped any of us to “cultivate faith and holiness” (quoting your last paragraph). Maybe the technology here is completely “neutral”… it is only a tool, and what really matters is whether we make good use of said tool, or not.

    And we are going to have an Advent retreat on Zoom this year…

    • Thank you, Piero. Although I don’t care for live-streamed liturgy myself, I do know that others find it really helpful. I’m pleased that your experience connects you with your local community. I’ve found that many people in England ‘shop around’ for a liturgy they like rather than tuning into one from their local parish. That’s one of the reasons I question whether the local parish is still central to our idea of the Church. I agree about seeing technology as a tool — we’ve made use of it on those grounds for many years — but I still wonder whether we are neglecting growth in prayer, etc. I pray you will remain well and not need another time in hospital.

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