Last week I told you about the tradition of the “poustinia” in the Russian Orthodox Church, a setting aside space for God. The original “space” was a comfortable hut in the forest near the village but when the idea came to Western Christianity that space became a small room in the house, even a corner in one room. “That’s where I speak with God.” Beautiful idea.
We know that for many people going to church will not again be possible. Elderly, frail, aware of needing to be carefully protected (the pandemic is still sweeping the world) only the streaming of mass will be their Sunday mass for many. But we are together, wherever we are, and the Church is healing from within! More people will be receiving Holy Communion at home and that blessing is already developing.
The old “First Friday” custom has faded away. It is sad to remember the sick and housebound then received communion only twelve times each year. Now, with the help of ministers of the Eucharist, “Home Communion” can be brought frequently. Seven members of St Joseph’s parish have been invited to prepare themselves to be commissioned and each parish in the diocese can prepare its own ministers because a diocesan programme is not possible this year. Please tell me if you would like to receive Communion at home or if you know of someone who would.
We shall also celebrate a commissioning of “Readers”. Pope Francis wants us to recognise anew the privilege of “Proclaiming the word of God”. We shall have a meeting of all who would appreciate practical guidance in proclaiming (rather than simply reading), to listen to and encourage each other. Public reading is more than raising your voice a little: it is awareness of the power of God’s word, the importance of steady voice control, the clarity of every word.
Eamon Andrews was a famous broadcaster in his day and a daily mass goer. One day he was invited to read because the official reader had not arrived – but he politely refused. After mass he explained to the priest: “If I have to read something for the BBC I insist on having the script at least 48 hours before the programme so that I can prepare carefully and read with confidence and understanding. If I need to be that prepared for the BBC then how well I should prepare to read the word of God.”
Reading/Proclaiming is a newly appreciated ancient ministry alongside serving at mass (Acolytes), welcoming and stewarding (Porters) because Pope Francis is inviting us to a greater awareness of our traditions going back to the 4th century! The ministry of the Eucharist is new, only since the 1980’s – helping the priest at mass, taking the sacrament to the sick at home.
Can you see what is happening? People are returning to the Church from home! The numbers have grown during the pandemic. People feel invited to belong again (“we’ve never really been away”). Every home can become a “poustinia”, a place for God, a “chiesa in casa” in Italian – in church at home, at home but in church – however we express it! The new reality is becoming clear: we are hearing God’s gentle invitation “Come back to me”.
Dear God, we slowly learn your ways of bringing blessing out of sufferings – but still asking us to suffer with those who need us with them.
(29th August 2021)