In a few weeks’ time, we begin our Lenten journey. During the 40 days of Lent, we’ll be sharing 40 meditations on the Mass at our other prayer website www.daybydaystmaryscf10.com As we begin to look forward to the possible emergence from lockdown in the weeks or months to come, Fr Dean reflects on the Eucharistic life experienced during the past ‘Lockdown’ year.
It is silent here.
No cracks or creaks from central heating pipes. No sound from outdoors. Few cars, little noise except the sound of birds whose tweets become a new mantra of love. There is no chatter as people arrive, no doors opening and closing, no breeze, no scuffle of feet. I am alone, and will remain alone here.
The doors are closed to everyone except me, the altar untouched by anyone but me. This is a lonely place. Except that, in the corner, there is a soft glow of a candle. It’s not a candle lit by someone at morning Mass burning long after they have gone but the light at the Tabernacle, reminding me that, though unpeopled, this place is not empty, and one is never alone.
And yet, the lack of people creates a void as though this place has been abandoned. But it is not abandoned. People are prevented from coming here. They are at home, a hoard of people, frustrated perhaps, and yearning to return, keeping themselves and other safe.
In time, they will return. Although not all. It’s a slow process. The end of Lockdown and pandemic restrictions will take longer than any introduction which was severe and sudden, although indications of what was to come had come from other countries who already were juggling with pandemic pains.
There is no response from the unpeopled church, no ‘Amen,’ no one to own the prayer. It’s not normal to celebrate the Eucharist alone and many priests, depending on their situation and tradition, their personal beliefs and differing theology, cannot bring themselves to celebrate the Eucharist by themselves. It makes no sense to them. The Eucharist is something shared, a gathering at the altar, with a common cup, and the breaking of bread – intended only so that it can be shared with others. And yet the Eucharist is also so much more.
“Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again,” said St Paul (1 Corinthians 11:26) in the earliest written piece about the Eucharist.
“The Eucharist is connected with the Passion,” said St Teresa of Calcutta. She continues in her characteristically simple and striking way: “ If Jesus had not established the Eucharist we would have forgotten the crucifixion. It would have faded into the past and we would have forgotten that Jesus loved us. To make sure that we do not forget, Jesus gave us the Eucharist as a memorial of his love.”
It’s in the cross of Christ that we trust, and through the cross of Christ that our sins are forgiven. The Eucharist is the perpetual memorial of Christ’s precious death until his coming again and, through the Eucharist, we receive all the benefits of that saving death.
If Jesus had not established the Eucharist we would have forgotten the crucifixion. It would have faded into the past and we would have forgotten that Jesus loved us. To make sure that we do not forget, Jesus gave us the Eucharist as a memorial of his love.”ST TERESA OF CALCUTTA
“Remember that we have not a single hope but in the merits of Christ’s death,” wrote a former parish priest of St Mary’s, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones. “The way in which we now plead the sacrifice of Christ in the presence of the Father is the celebration of Holy Communion.”
Over the months, I move from altar to altar, trying to find a comfortable place, a less lonely place, a place where my voice does not appear too small, too lost in the echoes and acoustics. Some days, I find it a struggle.
Loaded with the privilege and the possibility of doing what others cannot, I still find the solitariness something to suffer, and I wade through the Mass as though I am asked to do something difficult and daring, as though speaking the words and making the moves is a job of hard labour, of sweat and sorrow. It’s a purely pathetic response of mine but then the pandemic situation plays its particular part in many different ways on lots of people. I’m grateful that mine is so mild.
Meanwhile, I’m mindful of the harshness and pain experienced by many people on the frontline, the home-workers who work so hard, as well as those who feel, for a while, that they’re on the back-burner, their lives frozen, locked in, locked down.
Since then, months on, we’ve managed to move back to the daily momentum of Mass, always alert to how fragile our position is within ‘Lockdown’ restrictions. I’m grateful to the people whose ‘Amen’ owns the prayer we make. The peopled church is alive with prayer, as candles burn long after the morning Mass. But a gentleness is needed now, and we don’t need to ask more of people, only the little things that mean so much.
A gentleness is needed now, and we don’t need to ask more of people, only the little things that mean so much.
We still wait for others of our number to return, those who are still isolated, still at home and where they feel safe, as they make their own Spiritual Communion, united as we are by the Holy Spirit, and turning to the cross of Christ for comfort and consolation.
The peopled church is alive with prayer, as candles burn long after the morning Mass. But a gentleness is needed now, and we don’t need to ask more of people, only the little things that mean so much.
There have been so many amazing ways in which so many have responded to people’s needs during the last year, and there is still much left to do whilst we wait for the final effects of the past year, and what poverty and hardship, struggles and struggling mental health will emerge. For some, perhaps, the offering of the Eucharist is a small, very insignificant and perhaps unimportant gesture to make, not worth the effort, not effecting much, too small when so much is asked of us.
And yet, during the last year, we have learned to love the little things, the things we often overlook or take for granted. Those things that become so important when all else has been stripped away. During Lockdown and since, I’ve learned to love the Eucharist in a new and different way, however small it is.
“We must be faithful to that smallness of the Eucharist,” said St Teresa of Calcutta, “that simple piece of bread which even a small child can take in. We have so much that we don’t care about the small things. If we do not care, we will lose our grip on the Eucharist – on our lives. The Eucharist is so small.”
From Ash Wednesday, February 17 2021, each day for the 40 days of Lent we’ll be sharing a Meditation on the Mass, a reflection on the Eucharist, at our prayer website www.daybydaystmaryscf10.com