It was good to be back. Yesterday, the first Sunday when public Masses were allowed, there were stewards on the door of the church, a woman in a mask told you to sanitise your hands as you went in, and stewards had to escort you to your place. But even with only two people, or households, on a bench, the place was still far from full. The statues had Do Not Touch notices on. There were no candles lit. But it was still a real Mass, in real life, with real people and what a relief that was.
The priest felt the same. “Welcome”, he said, “back to church where you belong.” He had missed, he said, people’s friendly smiling faces during the long months of lockdown, saying mass to a screen. “Christianity isn’t about being alone”, he said; worship is something we do together. It was he who had said the last Mass before lockdown on March 23, and it was he who said Mass for the returning community. All that time, our priests has been saying Mass for the parish behind closed doors; now the doors were open.
I was surprised at how moving it was. The Mass was simple: no hymns, no bidding prayers, no sign of peace (that I don’t mind missing). Communion in a Catholic church is normally a fairly shambolic affair; this time it was regimented, with each side going up separately, stretching out hands to the priest for the Host, no words, no eucharistic ministers. We’d said our Amen when the priest raised the host and chalice after the words, “Lord I am not worthy…”
The physicality of the thing, receiving the host, was a huge relief. Catholicism, after all, is a touchy-feely religion, it’s about incarnate and sacramental things, visible and tangible, and it’s about community. Livestreamed masses have been wonderful, a link to liturgical normality and I hope parishes keep it – thank you to Farm Street and Blackfriars, Oxford – but from now on, I’m back to the parish. Thank God.
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