Extract from Fr Iggy O’Donovan’s Easter Sunday Homily
(Extract from homily of Iggy O Donovan, Fethard, Easter Sunday.)
All will have noted the recent controversies on the pandemic lockdown and the fact that churches are closed again this Easter. Personally, I regret that this is so but I fully understand the reasons why the public authorities have to act in the way they did. Not just in Ireland but globally we face an ordeal of the most grievious kind.
In being confined to conducting religious services on line we church people are making a very small sacrifice indeed. In challenging this some of us are displaying an arrogance and sense of entitlement which is breathtaking. For example I have heard our Taoiseach being compared to Oliver Cromwell and Dr Holohan’s directives described as “Penal Laws”. Such arrant nonsense coming from an insolent minority is an insult to the great majority of believers who are acting in the public good.
Extremists of every ilk frighten people and bring an already discredited church into even greater disrepute. One reverend gentleman, who last week recklessly opened his church for public worship, went on to launch an all out slanderous attack on the Gardaí for having the temerity to enforce the law. For all his piety and posturing he is doing untold damage to the Church. I sympathise greatly with the Gardaí who are being placed in an unenviably difficult position. I know the last thing they wish for is having to enter churches during services, and besides they have better things to be doing in these critical times.
Well done Iggy again. Straight and to the point, comments about Cromwell and Penal laws are OTT. I note Cromwell’s name is being invoked a lot of late. I agree the Gardaí may not want to be doing this and have better things to do but the law must be adhered to in so far as possible without being dogmatic. We will get over this and hope we are in the final phase, so let’s not blow it as we reach the finishing line.
I find it rather laughable that you feel it necessary to criticise a fellow priest for opening the parish church for the celebration of mass. I certainly didn’t witness nor read of what you call his “piety and posturing he is doing untold damage to the Church” I wonder if that’s the truth of your view point would you then compare it with the same actions in your own recklessly action in attempting to concelebrate the sacred mass with a member of the Anglican clergy and to the upset you caused in your actions to believers.
Finally I would ask you to research the actions of other countries who have either kept churches open for public worship or have now reopened.
While no attack on a person is justified, I find the contempt of a government to put animal welfare first by opening zoos ahead of the spiritual and emotional welfare of a vast majority of people who wish to attend public worship as laughable and dangerous for any one who practices their faith. But of course I just wonder do many clergy even appreciate what faith means anymore or is a just a means to earn a living rather than be a witness to their vocation.
This is excellent Iggy. A challenge of the most grievous kind, indeed.
No doubt at this time, every bastion of community gathering from the pub to the pew has had to adapt and overcome.
Extract from Fr. Iggy’s homily.
This is indeed excellent and very well said, Iggy. And it really has to be said over and over again. Brendan Hoban has also spoken in a very wise and sensible way about this very issue. Surely the common good –in this instance, the prevention of the spread of the virus –should take precedence given what we are all living through.
And this kind of bizarre mentality that Iggy refers to does not exist only at home in Ireland. The Scottish Bishops condemned the Scottish government over here in January when places of worship were all closed down for a second time. Thankfully, Fr. Tom Magill, a very wise and able man challenged the bishops in a subsequent piece in the Tablet and I now share that article below.
Should Scottish churches be open under lockdown?
by Thomas Magill
Should Scottish churches be open under lockdown?
The closure of churches to public worship ‘is not anti-religion – it is anti-virus’.
While in England and Wales communal worship continues, in Scotland, the churches are closed. Scotland’s Catholic bishops have condemned this as unfair; one parish priest argues that the bishops are wrong to ask for an exemption from the restrictions for Catholics.
Matthew ends his story of the Epiphany with the powerful image of the Magi, taking seriously the warning they had received, deciding to return home by a different road. With our Epiphany celebrations concluded, we too find ourselves being warned about the potential calamity we face in this present health emergency if we do not change course.
Like the Magi, the Church here in Scotland as elsewhere has found it necessary to take a different road to arrive at the same destination – a deep union with the Father through Christ, in the Spirit. The closure of churches has in a surprising way revealed to us new ways of celebrating and living out our Catholic faith, contributing to the common good of all.
Thanks to social media we have had livestreamed Masses and prayer meetings, online group meetings and family chat rooms. In my own parish in South Lanarkshire in the diocese of Motherwell, I know this has led many to a deeper experience of God-in-Christ. And these media have enabled people to keep in touch with the Church both at parish and diocesan level.
Paradoxically, the physical separation from the church building and from family and community has opened up for many new ways of prayer and contemplation, together with a deeper sense of union and communion. Our reliance on others, the readiness to greet and help strangers, the appreciation of the little things, the wonder at the beauty of nature, the solitude and silence of the daily walk – these are small examples of the newness to which we have been exposed and of which Pope Francis constantly reminds us.
With the Magi, we feel that things can never be quite the same again, nor should they be; that an end has happened and we are on the cusp of something new. There is a feeling that “to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from” (T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding). The physical closure of churches last March in many ways marked the end of a certain way of being Church. The closure was accepted overwhelmingly by Catholics in Scotland as something painful but necessary in order to protect the health of all. Our bishops understood this and directed all churches to close immediately. It is astonishing that the bishops have now issued a strongly worded statement criticising the Scottish government’s directive that places of public worship be closed again.
This directive was made in light of the new, more infectious, variant of the virus which is putting severe pressure once again on ICU beds and leading to an alarming daily death toll. Yet the bishops consider that Catholic churches should be exempt from the restrictions, insisting that they are “arbitrary and unfair”. In their statement, there is no recognition that attending public worship potentially puts people, many of whom – often including the priest saying Mass – are in vulnerable categories, into a high-risk situation. The statement fails to grasp that government legislation is not an attack on freedom to worship. It is not anti-religion – it is anti-virus. It is a secular expression of the Christian imperative to love one’s neighbour.
The rationale the bishops give for their stance is that there is an essential link between access to the eucharist and what they term “ultimate salvation”. This is simply wrong. God is not bound by the sacraments. There have always been Catholics unable to access the sacraments due to persecution, a shortage of priests, or for other reasons; the Church does not teach that they cannot be saved. Such language not only incites spiritual concerns among the faithful but also signals an anxious desire by the bishops to return as quickly as possibly to how things were before the pandemic. Their rush to try to restore the “old normal” risks suffocating the new opportunities that are emerging for Catholics in their spiritual journey, their experience of Church, and their Christian living.
In the long Holy Saturday we have found ourselves in over these months, we have experienced some sort of an end and, still shrouded in darkness and unknowing, we are preparing to start afresh. We are doing so not alone but with Christ at our side, alongside our fellow Catholics and fellow citizens, waiting, expecting, with trust and hope. We have discovered that we are being offered in so many different ways that root eucharistic experience of personal encounter with God in Christ. Although we have been unable to access the sacraments, the Real Presence of the Lord never abandoned us.
Rembrandt’s The Entombment hangs in the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery of Glasgow University. Its structure and content allow it to be read as a Nativity Redux. In the upper right hand quadrant are some shadowy figures, nodding perhaps to the Magi. Here they are presented as having internalised Christ’s message – that death and ending are necessary for the new beginning and the different road to take. They are grouped and huddled together, in solidarity and communion with each other. And they are lit by a lamp which evokes Christ as the light to the nations and which is never spent.
The new bonds of solidarity and communion we are experiencing with each other, priests and lay men and women, the whole people of God and the wider society, have given us some inkling of what synodality, of being “on the road together”, central to Pope Francis’ vision of the Church, looks and tastes like. It is this synodality which will offer a broader space and horizon for laity, priests, and bishops to discern together the new road we must find. Like the Magi, if we find the courage and wisdom not to rush to return home by the same route we came, we will more surely feel the pulse of the Holy Spirit within and among us, be opened up to divine epiphany, and be filled constantly with worship and adoration of the Lord.
Thomas Magill is parish priest of St Athanasius’, Carluke, vicar episcopal for mission and evangelisation in the diocese of Motherwell and an honorary teaching fellow in the School of Education at the University of Glasgow.