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Catholics miss community dimension of their faith

By Sarah Mac Donald - 25 May, 2020

Bishop Farrell giving his minute-long #LiveLent meditation.

Catholics are looking forward to returning to their parish churches when the restrictions on public gatherings ease and again taking part in the Sacraments in person, Bishop Dermot Farrell has said.

In his Pastoral Letter, ‘Missing Each Other, Missing the Lord’, the Bishop of Ossory said that since the suspension of public Masses in mid-March over the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been tuning into live-streamed Masses.

“Many people have told me that while this arrangement in the health emergency was a great comfort, they also felt a loss that they could not receive the Eucharist – the Bread of Life – in person” and that they looked forward to the day when they would be able to attend in person, and receive sacramentally again.

He said grandparents acutely understand such a loss. “Although their children and grandchildren could phone or Zoom or FaceTime, it was no substitute for a visit, for hugs and kisses, the closeness and life visiting brings.”

Addressing the restricted access to the Sacraments during the pandemic, Bishop Farrell said the measures affected more than Mass.

“Celebrations of First Holy Communion and of Confirmation have also been postponed until the spread of this disease is brought under control. Engaged couples have been forced to cancel and defer their weddings. Restricted access to hospitals and nursing homes means that celebrating the Sacrament of the Sick, and bringing Holy Communion to those who are ill, is far more difficult. Many have had to bid farewell to a loved one without the consolation of extended family and friends at the funeral.”

“Understandably, we all look forward to a time when it will be possible, again, to share our lives, to gather in our churches, to celebrate and be nourished by our faith.”

Dr Farrell said it had to be acknowledged that disturbing the rhythm of people’s lives during the pandemic and lockdown could also disturb people’s faith.

“It can interrupt the good habits of a lifetime, changing our patterns of prayer, and restricting how we celebrate the Sacraments.”

What many Catholics lament is the loss of the community dimension of their faith, and its human dimension. There is no Church without community; our humanity is at the heart of our faith, Bishop Farrell said in his pastoral letter.

“We believe that the Sacraments are privileged moments of encounter with God,” he said and added, “The Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, are food for those day-to-day lives. As we could not receive these Sacraments during the pandemic, we were not being nourished and strengthened by them in the usual way.”

He noted Pope Francis’ stress in his homily of 17 April 2020 that live-streamed Masses, even from parish churches, and spiritual Communion, “are less than the Church”.

“Virtual Mass is not the Church. The liturgy is not a film, nor are we spectators,” said Bishop Farrell.

He added, “People have come to the realisation that ‘watching Mass’ is very different from being physically present and participating in the celebration with other members of their family and the community. For all its advantages and immediacy, the virtual is no substitute for physical presence with the assembled community.”

The Bishop of Ossory highlighted how from its very beginning Jesus’ mission had two inseparable dimensions – announcing Good News, and gathering a community of disciples.

“The Sacraments that we miss are actions of the Christian community. They are Christ working among his people. That is why we celebrate them together in church.”

He said that these difficult times of recent weeks bring home to people what is truly important for them.

“After our initial shock and fear, we began to appreciate that a full fridge might permit us to survive but was no guarantee of the fullness of life. For fullness of life we need more: we need the people that are important to us. That is what the pandemic has been taking from us, the good and ordinary way of being with each other.”

Live streaming of Masses and Services from churches in Ireland and the UK can be found here: http://churchservices.tv

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