In the UK the lock-down is set to continue for a further three weeks while in certain EU countries, most of whom started their lock-downs earlier, governments are easing their populations step by gentle step back to “normality.” Most sensible people realize that the new “normal” will be quite different to what applied before lock-down and know that it will take a lot of time, patience and moral maturity to adjust to the new realities which promise to shape the societies in which we live for quite some time to come. There is no indication, either in Europe more widely nor in the UK in particular, when our churches will be open nor when we can resume common worship, nor when we can again celebrate Mass with a congregation on the Lord’s Day. The short reading the Church puts before us as this Sunday’s Mass presents an idealized vignette on the life of the early Church. It describes for us how, within less than a generation of the Lord’s death, the Christians in Jerusalem and elsewhere celebrated their faith in the risen Lord. The first and most important thing to note, and it is significant in these times of self-isolation, that the first Christian disciples gathered, came together, assembled to celebrate their faith. That notion of congregating goes back to the very earliest days of Christianity. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, also tells us that the disciples went as a group to the Temple to join in the Jewish prayers with other devout Israelites at the prescribed hours. The Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office which is still prayed by clergy, religious and laity in today’s Church, traces its origins back to those early gatherings in the Temple and beyond deep into the spiritual history of the Jewish people. Many people, isolated and at home today, can pray together with the Church (the Universlis app. is available to all and can be downloaded to any smart phone): the psalm texts provide us with the words when we might find words difficult to articulate, and we know that our voice is added to the chorus of millions. Just as the lock-down does not dispense us from the Third Commandment (keep holy the Sabbath day) so too isolation does not mean we cannot pray together, for ourselves but more importantly for the well-being of the Church and the world. The Queen, in her Easter radio message, pointed out that, while churches may be closed, Easter had not been cancelled! The short reading from Acts (Acts 2, 42 – 47) tells us that the early Christians listened to the word of God (presumably readings from Torah or the OT prophets), sang sacred songs and broke bread. We see here the key elements of our own Eucharistic liturgy. We can listen to the word of God – and it is worth reflecting that we have much more of it than those early disciples had, for we have the four Gospels, and the letters of St. Paul and others – and we can sing, hymns and sacred songs. We can do all this at home, with our family. And, even if we miss coming together for Sunday Mass, we can worship God in union with the whole Church from the living room of our own home or apartment, all of which will whet our appetite for worshipping in common again in God’s house as soon as it is safe for all of us to do so.
Father Patrick Daly