Over the past couple of months I think I could reasonably be described as a virtual traveller and visitor when is comes to accessing the celebration of the Mass. The priests of our own parish have very successfully been able to make the Mass virtually available, and so have many other locations. So, in addition to St Francis’, I’ve ‘been’ to cathedrals and little parish churches, I’ve ‘joined’ Carmelites, Benedictines and Jesuits, plus been able to ‘see’ a couple of priest friends from around the country. I was even able to share parts of Easter with Pope Francis, all from my own home. As time goes on I might even go a bit more international and tour the world a bit.
Now I don’t know about you, but under normal circumstances, whenever I do attend Mass in a different place, I find myself subconsciously thinking about the differences between home and where I am. This will start as we enter the church – what it looks like, how it is set out “that window looks good!”, “it’s quite dark in here”, “I prefer benches to individual seats”, etc, etc, etc….. And then the Mass itself, who does the readings, what the altar servers do at the offertory, never heard this hymn before! etc, etc……
But now I find myself doing the same thing with my virtual visits. And as for homilies – where else did you think some of my themes come from! There are often subtle little variations in the way that things are laid out, and then of course I will be mentally comparing the quality of picture and sound as the time progresses. Another little variation is in the wording of the Spiritual Communion that we are now invited to join in with. How much time is left for prayer and reflection also comes to mind – for some silence in a technological age seems to be a cause for concern.
However, as I took a bit of time to think and reflect about this, I realised that I might be in danger of missing the point. Much as we think we don’t, there are times when we view, especially from a bit of a detached distance, the Mass more in terms of performance than the sacramental high point of our lives that it should be. To my mind, one of the most important documents of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) hits the point about the Mass, the Eucharist, when it affirms that the “Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of the Christian life.” (Chapter II: The People of God).
So, with this knowledge, why can’t I seem to get past the physical barriers that I present myself with? Is it so important which priest leads the celebration of the Mass, or the location where it is celebrated, that it overtakes the true sacramental mystery and significance that is taking place?
In my defence, I find it easier to concentrate in some settings rather than others. Some priests are easier on my ear than others (some deacons are easier to listen to than I am!).
some music will inspire me, whilst another sort will draw my focus away. Even within our own parish, each of the individual Masses, pre-lockdown, had it’s own character. As I moved between them it required me to subtly make changes to fit the occasion.
But was the core focus of the liturgy different – of course not. Our focus should always be on the Eucharistic sacrifice – Christ Himself, present on the altar, offered freely to each and everyone of us. Whether in English or Latin, organ, guitars or silence, six candles or two etc, etc… IT IS THE SAME CHRIST! We all however come to Him in our own unique way. The way that helps us to deepen our individual relationship with Him. And because it is in our own unique and individual way, no-one can say that their way is better than another.
The Church, quite rightly determines the core ethos of the liturgy, and that allows for the diversity of celebration that we, the people of God, are permitted to be part of. It is not a free for all without boundaries, it is an invitation to join with every other member of the worldwide church. That is why wherever we go in the world, we can recognise and participate in the celebration of the Mass. We are invited to join Christ and that must be for us a source of joy and hope.
So next time I tune in, perhaps I will be able to focus not on the ‘show’, but on the presence of Christ, truly with us through the Word and Altar, right there in front of me, inviting me to be with Him as the source and summit of my life.
Deacon Ian Black