Message in a Bottle #11

As you probably have heard, our provincial health authorities, as well as Archbishop Valery, have given us the green light to resume weekend Eucharist with a maximum of 50 parishioners. This is good news but comes with a list of protocols as long and as twisty as the Petitcodiac River. As staff, we have been working diligently, behind the scenes, trying to prepare our worship spaces and our worshippers for the new, albeit temporary, way Eucharist will be celebrated. We anticipate hiccups, frustrations, and returning to the “drawing board” many times before we all get use to the new drill. We need everyone’s understanding and patience.

Just know ahead of time that all of the guidelines, that are there to keep us safe, fly in the face of what good, sound liturgy is all about. We will be having mass each weekend, but it will be far from a celebration. For instance, singing is discouraged because when we project our voices, we also project tiny saliva droplets at a farther distance than during casual conversation. Good liturgy would have us all singing; the Catholic Mass is a “sung liturgy.” The music ministry (choir) is not there to do the singing for us; they are there to lead us in our singing. However, for the time being, we are asking you not to sing.

A second practice we are asked to observe is that we will not be sharing in the Communion Cup during Mass. Again, this goes against all good liturgical practices as Jesus himself said at the Last Supper: “Take this all of you, and drink from it…” He did not say, “Take this some of you” nor “take this is you feel like it.” Again, for reasons of safety, we will not be offering the Blood of Christ to those who will be coming forth for Communion.

A third procedure to be aware of is that we will not be sharing in the “sign of peace” during Mass. As you know, this is a powerful gesture of reaching out to the Body of Christ (our brothers and sisters in faith) before receiving the Body of Christ in Communion.

A fourth practice we will be following is that there will be no exchange of words between the priest (or communion minister) and the one receiving the Body of Christ during the Communion rite. That is, as you come to receive Communion no one will say to you, “The Body of Christ,” nor will you respond “Amen.” At that point the communion minister, wearing a mask and having sanitized his/her hands, will simply place the blessed bread in your hand without making any physical contact with you and without saying any words. This obviously is not good liturgy, but it is what we have to do to keep everybody safe.

When will we able to return to Mass in its fullness and be able to gather with the entire faith community again? Probably not until a vaccine is discovered and administered to everyone. That could be a long way off. In the interim, we do our best to make our liturgies as prayerful and as meaningful as we possibly can. My fear is that we will begin to think of these temporary measures as permanent. That would be to our detriment. These are temporary safety measures designed only to get us through this period of time. I hope, when it is all over, we do not continue with these bad habits and minimalist liturgies. We have worked too hard and too long to ignore the great gift the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) gave us in the reformation and renewal of the Church’s liturgies.

WHEN COVID-19 IS OVER, I hope you will all sing with grateful hearts each and every time you gather for liturgy. It was always your role as laity to do that. Unfortunately, in our history, singing got taken over by “professionals” and it has taken us, since Vatican II, to give it back to our people. Whoever told you “You can’t sing” was wrong. While some are more gifted than others, everyone can and should sing. Those more gifted are encouraged to share their gift of music but never to the detriment of the entire assembly.

WHEN COVID-19 IS OVER, I hope you will all respond “Amen” loudly, clearly, and with conviction when a communion minister looks you in the eye and says, “The Body of Christ.” These are no small words. What the communion minister is saying to you has dual significance. In other words, do you understand that what you are about to receive is the Body of Christ in no less a way than what the apostles received 2000 years ago at the Last Supper? And, do you understand that you are what you are about to receive, the Body of Christ? Do you know these two truths? Yet, after nearly 23 years of priesthood, and perhaps repeating those word “The Body of Christ” some 700, 000 or 800, 000 times (that’s a good sample size), I still only get about 25% of the people responding in any audible way, “Amen.” Amen means “let it be so” or “I do believe.” These are words meant to be said with strength of voice and conviction. Saying “yes” to being the Body of Christ in the world is not for the faint of heart nor for wimps. You are not wimps!

WHEN COVID-19 IS FINALLY OVER, I hope we will return, with gusto, to offering each other the “sign of peace.” Originally it was the “kiss of peace.” We scaled back the kiss of peace to a handshake and now, during these pandemic days, we have to settle for a wave from a safe distance. Let us return, when we are permitted to, to handshakes that are not akin to dead fish or limp noodles. Remember, your handshake says a lot about your personality and how you perceive the person in front of you. These are you brothers and sisters in faith; look them in the eyes and affirm them with a solid handshake. That way, you will be saying, “I value you, you are important in my life, and I pray the ‘Peace of Christ’ will live in you now and for ever.” Never simply say, “Peace” or “Peace be with you.” Say instead, “The Peace of Christ.” Remember, Christ alone can offer us peace the world cannot give.

LASTLY, WHEN COVID-19 IS FINALLY OVER, and we are able to receive Communion from the Cup, I hope we do so with greater enthusiasm. It is after all, the Cup of Christ’s suffering. It comes to us at great price. I doubt anyone else will ever offer you or me anything so selfless or so intimate over our entire lifetimes. It is also one of only a few things Jesus actually asked us to do: “Take this all of you.” While the pandemic persists, though, we fast from this form of Communion until we can drink again. Let us use this time to be in solidarity with all those who, through no fault of their own, cannot receive the Blood of Christ. Some people are alcoholic, some have allergies, and some are on medication that prevents them from regularly receiving from the Cup.

I leave you with a poem written, I assume, by Fr. Ron Rolheiser. They are the final words in his book The Restless Heart. It is a book dealing with the subject of loneliness and our deep drive for communion both with God and with each other.

A man was discouraged,
Discouraged as only one could be,
Who looks on much hard work,
on much sincerity,
and sees only failure,
and a sinking sun.

A man feels alone,
and lonely,
and frightened.
He sweats blood, in darkness,
the blood of loneliness,
the loneliness of all people.

A man looked on loneliness, and
He yearned to heal.
He yearned to lead all into unity,
Into Community, and
Out of the damned aloneness
Which keeps people from warmth and life.

A man sweats blood,
in body and spirit.
He sweats in darkness,
He sweats in loneliness,
it is then…

A man takes bread and wine, and says:
This is my body, this is my blood,
Meet often,
Eat this bread, drink this wine,
And when you do,
I’ll be there, and…

I’ll be leading you out of fear and loneliness,
Out of isolation and darkness,
Into Communion,
Into a community of warmth and life,
with God, and
with each other.”

When the sun had long gone down,
And hope and warmth had said good-bye,
When the darkness of loneliness had seemed to win the earth,
We were given,
as a gift from God,
the possibility of Community.

Fr. Phil Mulligan


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