In the prologue to ‘Let Us Dream’ The Path to a Better Future’, Pope Francis refers to Covid-19 as a crisis and says “… To enter into crisis is to be called to sift… Your priorities and lifestyles… The basic rule of a crisis is that you don’t come out of it the same…”
With these words of Pope Francis in mind, I would like to reflect on what the effects and implications this pandemic have been and may continue to have on the Church and how we worship, celebrate Eucharist and the way we pray. I will also say something about women and their place in the Church today and in the future.
In this short reflection then, I will be posing questions, rather than providing answers, which of course I do not have! Hopefully these reflections and questions will enable you to delve more deeply into your own reflections, challenging you and possibly more questions may arise for you.
What did we experience during the Covid Pandemic?
During the first lockdown, it was necessary for all places of public worship to close. In the second lockdown, they were allowed to open for private prayer only. In this third lockdown in England and Wales, they remained open for public worship. However, not everyone agreed with this especially as the Bishops left it to the discretion of the Parish Priest. Some people were delighted, whilst other felt, that the sacrifice involved in Church closure put us in solidarity with everyone else.
Lack and opportunities
Thanks to this digital age, people have been able to livestream the Mass and other services directly into their own homes. Whilst aware of course of the lack of receiving Holy Communion, it has given people opportunities in a new way, to worship together, as families, couples, and religious communities in their home. However, sharing with our Parish community is different, and those opportunities for personal encounters have not been there. We might ask ourselves then, what impact has this had on the Catholic Church, and how will this affect the way forward in the future in how we worship?
New way of connecting and being church
I think for many it has been a new way of connecting and being Church and has enabled and supported them through the reality of lockdown. It has also been a very difficult and isolating time for others. We could say it has been a blessing and opportunity. The question is, have we become too comfortable, too individualistic in our worship and what might this mean for the future? Will people return to the Church in the same way? What is our understanding of being a Eucharistic community?
Thanks to social media we have had livestreamed Masses, Prayer meetings, online group meetings and Family chat rooms. Retreats online, and weeks of guided prayer, have been full to capacity. Take for example The London Jesuit Centre and other places including dioceses who have gone down this road. Many people would never have access in the same way to Prayer and Spirituality and it opens up a whole new way of reaching out to people. Paradoxically, the physical separation from the Church building and from family and community has opened up for many these new ways of prayer and contemplation, together with a deeper sense of union and communion. Our reliance on others, the appreciation of little things, the wonder at the beauty of nature, the solitude and silence of the daily walk- all examples of the newness to which we have been exposed of which Pope Francis constantly reminds us.
A new way
In an article in the The Tablet, January 16th 2021, Fr. Thomas Magill wrote, “…we have been shrouded in darkness and unknowing, hopefully it has been a time of preparation to start afresh. Remembering we are not alone but with Christ at our side and with all faith believers we can discover 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 receive the sacraments, the Real Presence of the Lord never abandoned us.”
Has this pandemic been a time for the whole Church to start afresh, deepen our understanding of Real Presence and the place of women, and become a synodal Church. It seems to me that women have taken a very active and crucial role during this time, encouraging and activating family worship at home either with livestream Mass or in other ways of praying together. There is no doubt that many women have been involved in retreats online. Even though men have also been involved, the vast majority have been women.
Is there a change in the place of women in The Church?
To quote again from his book, Pope Francis writes “… The challenge for me has been to create spaces where women can lead, but in ways that allow them to shape the culture, ensuring they are valued and recognized…” Is it a coincidence that very recently,during the Pandemic, Pope Francis appointed Sr. Nathalie Becquart a Woman Religious as joint undersecretary alongside Fr Luis Marin de san Martin an Augustinian friar, to the Synod of Bishops, The first woman to hold this post, and the first woman to have voting rights at the next Synod. Perhaps reform is in progress in our Church.
These new bonds of solidarity and communion that have been experienced amongst priests, religious and laywomen and men, together with 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 Church, looks and tastes like. It is this synodality which offers a broader space and horizon for all members of the Church, to discern together the new road we must find. Can we be like those Magi long ago, who with courage and wisdom did not return by the same route, but took a new and different road?
Or, will we be in too much of a rush to try to restore the ‘Old Normal’ and risk suffocating the new opportunities that are emerging for Catholics in their spiritual journey, their experience of Church, and their Christian Living?
Photos: Lincoln Ho, Grandin Media / PA/Nurphoto, Ewan Bootman / Sr. Nathalie Becquart, La Croix