The lovely basilica of St Mary Major in Rome is the setting for a beautiful custom. In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel every thirty minutes there is a Holy Communion service. People gather quietly and prayerfully. One of the priests comes. A simple service (“Lord have Mercy/Our Father/This is the Lamb of God”) and those who are there are blessed to share the sacrament.
Until I can celebrate a public mass, this might be our way at St Joseph’s, linking Holy Communion with our streamed mass. At the times of visiting for prayer during the week, Holy Communion would be given – linked to our celebration of mass “outside of time”.
When the liturgy was reformed in the 1960’s Rome gave guidelines on how mass might be celebrated. Talks were given in various parts of the country and one of my brethren attended one. He came home excited, telling us of how mass might be celebrated through the day, especially in religious communities: Penitential Rite at morning prayer, readings linked to Office of Readings, Offertory at mid-day, Eucharistic Prayer and Holy Communion at evening prayer, thanksgiving at night prayer.
“Imagine,” he said, “the celebration of mass taking up the whole day! The day becomes a sacramental celebration.” We shared his excitement and came to know of places where such beautiful celebrations happened.
Imagine . . . . is God calling us to see the celebration of mass not only in one single service but over a day, even over a week? We attend mass in the blessing of our homes and go to church later in the day/week to receive the sacrament . . . .
A monk from Belmont Abbey spoke to us at the National Conference of Priests in the late 1980s. Like many monasteries, Belmont had been invited to share the pastoral life of the Church in looking after parishes and Fr Tom Reagan spoke of looking after one such parish in the west country. The abbot asked an elderly monk (who had served many years of pastoral work in South America) if he would help Fr Tom to establish the parish.
“Willingly,” he had said, “but don’t tell me he needs help. Two of us in the Missions had a parish of 180,000 people and our communities were alive, everywhere.” Of course! It is our baptism that unites us with Christ, that makes us the Mystical Body of Christ. Our baptism. In every home, from every home, we can unite ourselves with the universal church community in faith and prayer. Distance and time are no barriers. We can be anywhere in love, with anyone and whenever we choose.
Fr Tom was rebuking us for seeing our Church as a collection of parishes and becoming aware of our falling number of priests. “It is the people we count,” he said, “the people of God in every part of the world. They must hear the message in their hearts and the best place, our missionaries have told us, is their homes and communities.”
The Institutional Church serves the Mystical Body and sets up structures to help spread the Gospel message, but we worship God in spirit and in truth, Jesus reminds us, wherever we are.
The Home Church is coming alive in a new way and livestreaming is part of this new life, God guiding the Church to wider understanding. The whole world is open to the message. We must hear it simply: “God loves us. Will you love God with me?” What changes are coming! Vatican II’s calls to Church Unity, Inter-Faith Dialogue, Universal Charity, are echoing around the world.
How many of you have “been to mass” in another country in recent months? You are living proof that it is happening: we are becoming the People of God in ways that no one had thought of except the overwhelmed apostles at the beginning. They had a universal message how would they preach it? Now we know. Slowly, slowly mission was undertaken in various ways – and Whoosh, in 2020, God has allowed us to understand that in love and ideals we are already united. At a meeting with bishops Pope Francis memorably said “We are the shepherds, and we have one sheep. We have lost the ninety-nine!” No, Good Shepherd Francis, they are not lost, they are all at home. They are listening. We are becoming the People of God in a universal call that education and technology will relatively soon bring to everyone. “Go out to the whole world” said Jesus to the apostles. Slowly, slowly they did – and suddenly we have almost done it.
PS The recorded history of the human race is frightening – the intense cruelty of dictatorships, the military conquests of empire builders and the subjugation of peoples, the merciless mercenaries available to kill anyone when ordered and paid enough; wars tribal, nationalist, racial and religious; cruelty and vicious conquests and hatreds across the Americas, Europe, Middle and Far East, people seen and used as serfs.
How have we survived? The divine spark in the human spirit has held its ideals, lived them, worked for justice and peace, denied the need for revenge and avenging, knowing that, finally, love is more important than life and they have given all for love. Those wonderful people are the peacemakers, the healers, the ones who go anywhere to nurse, heal, feed, give shelter and education.
They are the saints. Saints have kept our world alive, made life worth living. In spite of our brutal human history the ideals have remained alive and saved the world. The human heart. Who can know it? Immense in its possibilities, overwhelming in its horror but also in its goodness.
Dear God, let our hearts belong to you and our sisters and brothers everywhere. Bless us to be the People of God. Your creation is overwhelmingly beautiful, full of love. We are awaking to its fragile beauty, our fragile beauty.
“Two men looked through prison bars
one saw mud the other saw stars.”
Bless us to see and understand,
(29th August 2020)