Streamed, or televised Masses have become a feature of this time of virus. I am suggesting in this article, published in this week’s Connaught Tribune, that maybe it is a step backwards:
All the indications are that this virus will be with us for some considerable time, and that we have got to learn to live with it. From a Church point of view there is no indication that we will be able to gather for religious services any time soon. In the meantime Masses will continue to be streamed, with apparently many people joining online.
I have a couple of reservations about this development of online Masses. Pope Francis has been consistently urging the Church to break away from clericalism, the excessive power and control that the clerical branch has over the whole Church. Online Masses are a reversal to the centrality of the priest, with the people accompanying him as spectators. The online Mass is totally the action of the priest, so that the community dimension, a vital part of the Mass, is completely absent. It is going back to the Masses of our youth, back in the first half of the last century. I think this is, in the long run, bad theology and bad practice.
In my later years I have come more strongly to believe that God, or the Divine Presence as I prefer to express it, is not in some heavenly dwelling far away from us, or indeed locked in a tabernacle, but is instead at the heart and centre of the whole of creation, of the universe. I also believe that creation was not a historical event, but is instead a continuing reality, guided by the Divine Spirit. In other words, God is not distant from us, but is within us and around us in every aspect of creation, guiding the whole evolutionary process to what Teilhard de Chardin called the Omega Point, which he interpreted as the ultimate triumph of Love. Central to our Christian understanding is that God is Love.
I think that during this time the Church is missing a great opportunity to help people to come to know this Divine Presence in a deeper way. Where I am currently cocooning, down at the end of the garden there is a large apple tree covered with apple blossoms like I have never seen it before. Or is it that they were there other years, but I didn’t take the time to notice and to embrace them? The blackcurrant tree is showing signs of producing an abundant harvest in a month or two. I must learn how to make jam. In my little vegetable space the onions are all peeping up, and the lettuce are showing promise in the window boxes. One of the real pleasures is to walk out in the garden in the morning or evening time, and listen to the singing of the birds. The Divine Presence is all around us, and the beautiful weather with which we have been blessed these past weeks makes it so much easier to be aware, and to feel blessed. I think it is a pity in this time if we think we have to go to our screens and tune in to the actions of a priest in an empty church building in order to commune with our God.
All reports suggest, and it is also my own experience, that this time of ‘lockdown’ has brought out the best in people. Neighbours are interacting with each other, from a social distance of course, like never before. The over seventies, like myself, have numerous people offering help and support. That too is the presence of the Divine.
In this strange and difficult time, I believe that Church authorities are missing a great opportunity to open us all up to the reality of God’s presence in the world, and in ourselves. Let the churches remain closed, and without the streaming of solo Masses, until such time as it is possible for the community to gather together again, and celebrate the Mass in the way that brings out its full meaning and significance. If in the meantime we can attune ourselves a bit more to the presence of God in ourselves, in others and in the whole of creation, then when we come back to the church building we will not come there to meet God. We will instead bring the Divine Presence with us into the gathering, and the Mass we celebrate will not just be the actions of the priest, but will be all of us sharing our own experience of the risen Christ among us. Pope Francis, referencing the statement of Jesus in the Gospel, ‘I stand at the door and knock’, suggests that Jesus is inside the Church wanting to open the door and get out. Maybe this is the time for us to find him where he is most present and alive, and when appropriate, bring him back to the church building with us.