By Sarah Mac Donald - 21 April, 2020
“Churches may be closed and the celebration of sacraments postponed but the Church is not closed. It is very much alive” - Dr Brendan Leahy.
Bishop Brendan Leahy is this week writing to children in the Diocese of Limerick who have had their First Communion or Confirmation postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking after midday Mass on Sunday in St John’s Cathedral in Limerick city, Bishop Leahy admitted that the postponement of the sacraments in addition to other restrictions around funerals, weddings, baptisms and other services, was painful but unavoidable in order to try and curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
Acknowledging the sacrifices people have had to endure because of the pandemic, Dr Leahy nevertheless stressed that “the Church is very much alive” at this time.
This is despite the fact that there are no public Masses, churches are closed, there is no Eucharistic Adoration, and even pastoral visits to the sick and dying are curtailed.
“None of us have ever experienced anything like it. Though we understand why, nevertheless, some wonder what it is saying to us about the Church and our regular Church practices,” he said after celebrating Mass via webcam in the cathedral.
Though the challenging circumstances had turned everything “topsy-turvy”, the Bishop said he had heard of whole families coming together, in a way they haven’t for years, to participate in Mass being transmitted on television or online.
“I have heard of people looking up online how to pray the Rosary as they want to do so with loved ones who are dying or in their homes or in mortuaries alongside the deceased.”
Bishop Leahy said, “COVID-19, strangely, is helping bring about a new recognition that the Church exists not only in church buildings or when we celebrate the sacraments but it exists in every family. For the Church as a whole, this could be one of the great learning outcomes from COVID-19.”
He referred to a humorous cartoon he had seen which showed a conversation between God and the Devil. In it, the Devil was saying, “With COVID-19 I have closed your churches”, to which God responds, “On the contrary, I have opened a church in every house.”
The Bishop of Limerick said the point of the cartoon was something to reflect on. “Churches may be closed and the celebration of sacraments postponed but the Church is not closed. It is very much alive.”
“We can pray as a family. Yes, we love our Church buildings but we don’t need them for prayer. Prayer can happen around a table or sitting together in a sitting room or privately on our own.”
He added that there are many other ways for the family to be Church, above all by loving one another.
“So, COVID-19 is indeed an enemy. It has closed your church and postponed celebration of the sacraments. But, paradoxically, it is also prompting you to recognise in a new way that God has opened a church in your house.”
“The postponement of the First Holy Communions and Confirmation will come as a disappointment to some. Though understandable given the COVID-19 crisis, it is a further sacrifice not least for the children.”
Bishop Leahy said he would be writing this week to children preparing for the sacraments to encourage them following the postponement of these special moments in their young lives.
He also highlighted the support he has received from young people at this difficult time. He said he had received a lovely drawing of the Risen Jesus from an eight-year old and he invited the girls and boys preparing for either First Communion or Confirmation to send him a drawing or to write to him to let me know what they are learning about Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
“I would be very happy to receive such drawings and letters. Maybe you have a question for me. I can try to get back to you with an answer,” Dr Leahy said.
Paying tribute to Limerick’s diocesan advisors who have put resources up on the diocesan website for the children preparing for the sacraments, Bishop Leahy also thanked school principals and teachers for teaching online and keeping pupils in touch with their ‘Grow in Love’ lessons.
“It is great that the ‘Grow in Love’ online resources have also been made freely available for parents by Veritas on their website,” he said.
Live streaming of Masses and Services from churches in Ireland and the UK can be found here: http://churchservices.tv