Caring for one another
With the presence of the Coronavirus, the Bishop has outlined for parishes some sensible precautions to be taken during liturgies and while we go about our parish life. They can be found on our website.
While particularly nasty viruses are always a concern, particularly at this time of the year, the measures taken also give us a chance to reflect on the importance of the symbols we take for granted while we are reflecting more deeply during Lent on our spiritual lives.
What comes to mind first is our call to protect the vulnerable. We tend to think of older people at Christmas but sometimes forget that they need care the whole year round. People get anxious especially if they are on their own. Can we pop in a bit more often to see if they are OK? If the flu or the Coronavirus do cause us problems, can we cooperate with health and other officials to play our part in looking after vulnerable people, if, for example, there is a shortage of carers?
Ritual of preparation
Washing our hands before coming to mass can be something of a ritual of preparation for us. Sometimes, we rush into mass without thinking much, just trying to organise ourselves or the children! Like fasting for an hour before communion, washing our hands can remind us of the importance of what we are about to do.
Signs and symbols
Blessing ourselves with holy water is one of the most basic activities as a Catholic. We do it instinctively. Probably as a baby, my mother dipped my little hand into the holy water font and blessed me.
Priests know that on Holy Thursday, when we traditionally empty the fonts and stoops, nearly always someone asks us where the holy water is. When we can’t do something, we are taken aback, even annoyed. It’s almost as if someone has denied us a right!
Perhaps we bless ourselves unconsciously, forgetting that it is to remind us of our baptism. As we enter our churches these days, and we automatically go to the holy water font, we can remind ourselves more keenly of our baptism and bless ourselves anyway.
The sign of peace
The Order of Mass of Paul VI turned the peace into a rite which expresses the brotherhood and sisterhood of the congregation. This is also seen as part of the preparation of the community for communion, expressing solidarity and reconciliation. It is sometimes the only occasion when you acknowledge the person sitting next to you!
Not shaking hands does not mean that we cannot wish each other peace. Some of us remember the famous ‘Paisley Nod’, the short bow to your neighbour in church rather than shaking hands. This is certainly a possibility. But perhaps we have another opportunity to quietly reflect on our relationships and the people against whom we have a grudge or who, we suspect, have something against us (Matthew 5, 23-24), before we utter the words, “Lord, I am not worthy...but only say the word.”
We could take a moment to bow to our neighbour and smile and say, ‘hello’, but we could also, every so often, have a silent pause and reflect on our need of reconciliation.
Reasons to be grateful
Often, only when we are deprived of something do we fully appreciate it. While we have this virus among us and take reasonable measures to help combat the spread of the illness, we can reflect on how lucky we are that our gestures and rituals are full of meaning. While we cannot for a time act on them, we can reflect on them.