I am writing this reflection on the evening of the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), 5th July 2020. I believe this is a most important moment to record the ‘event’ in St Chad’s Cathedral that was the re-opening for public Mass following the lockdown and cessation of public Mass towards the end of March and before Holy Week.
What a journey it has been and how people have encompassed a range of experiences: the inability to attend Mass, the ‘fast’ from the Eucharist, live stream Masses (from just about anywhere in the world they choose) and now the opening up of the Cathedral and parish churches first for private prayer and now again for public Mass.
At the four ‘weekend Masses’ this weekend, I have suggested to those who have attended the Cathedral (a mixture of regular Catholic parishioners and visitors from other places) that they spend a few moments reflecting on what returning to Mass and Holy Communion has meant to them, a unique experience in their life.
Both with opening for private prayer and now for public Mass, take up has been quite modest – not a problem, but just interesting to see. We reached about half of our capacity at each of the Masses. As Sunday obligation is still not required in the circumstances, we have encouraged people to consider using weekday Mass as their ‘Sunday’ in the coming days and weeks.
It is already clear that the live stream Masses will continue to be the point of encounter with the Mass for many people and, for that reason, we shall continue to make those joining us for Mass from home, school or elsewhere most welcome and we pray that the dynamism of the Mass – Word and Sacrament – continue to nourish you on your pilgrim journey with a renewed love or a new experience of the place of the Word of God in the liturgy and in our lives.
The annual Day for Life is one that every preacher approaches with some nervousness but I have always experienced it as an opportunity to speak the truth with compassion about some of the most sensitive and delicate issues of human life. Because they are sensitive and delicate, they also touch people at the deepest level and so it is not surprising that they can be at times reassuring and at the same time challenging.
I can recall over the years preaching on subjects such as end of life care and euthanasia; disability and this year the Church’s outreach through prayer, accompaniment and Reconciliation to those who have either experienced abortion directly or been affected by it.
This Day for Life (dayforlife.org) I was very aware that even mentioning abortion in a homily can be something that can put people on their guard.
It has always been my view that abortion or a pro-life stance is not a ‘Catholic issue’. By virtue of it speaking of the precious gift of life, it is an issue of humanity. But there have been times where when the defence of the dignity of the unborn child is in danger when legislation does not recognise it, then people of faith have a right and a responsibility to speak about the most important issues.
This year, the Catholic Church in our country has drawn our attention to the work of Rachel’s Vineyard (www.rachelsvineyard.org.uk) in seeking to bring healing and peace to women and men who have known a range of emotions sometimes long after an abortion.
At a time when the gift of life has been so much in our minds in respect of the coronavirus, let us seek always to protect human life, and that includes those for whom life’s experience has brought trauma and bereavement through abortion.
Let us be a Church that is open and welcoming, especially when people wish to return.
A message from the Cathedral Dean
Dear Parishioners, Visitors, Friends of St Chad’s,
Cathedral Life recently has become ‘virtual’ and so I thought it would be a good time to reflect with you on the Season of Eastertide that we celebrated together and a few thoughts on the way ahead!
What did we learn during Eastertide
- Continuity of readings – A concentrated reading on the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter Season was something that priests and people alike found quite an eye-opener. For at least some time after Holy Week and Easter, most priests would take a break and so miss the flow that we have seen this year. Similarly, there are many people who have made daily Mass or at least occasional Mass during the week a part of lockdown in a way that they could not before and might not be able to in the same way in the future. While acknowledging the challenges of Eastertide this year, I invite you to continue to consider what the blessings have been, what new ways of praying, even if they have been ‘for a season’ and cannot be sustained.
- The liturgy of Eastertide has helped us to see some of the subtle differences in the way we mark the days of the Church’s Year, known as the Liturgical Year. So, on Solemnities and Feasts days of particular celebration at the Universal, National, Diocesan or Parish level, there are Scripture Readings given which override the readings of the given weekday. Most of the celebration of the Liturgical Year are kept as Memorials. This still means that the vestment colour and prayers will reflect the saint or celebration in question, but so that Solemnities and Feasts remain special, on Memorials it is preferable to keep the readings of the weekday, so that the more you hear during that week, the better you can understand God’s Word developed through the different writers. Simply put, if every day were a birthday, then birthdays would cease to be special!
- The Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John – we are left in no doubt of the Church’s focus during the Easter Season. Although Matthew, Mark and Luke are read on the A, B, C cycle on Sundays over three years, and over the course of a year on weekdays, John comes into its own in Eastertide. It is sometimes said that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels) present Christ in a historical way, John presents Christ in the deeper, theological sense. Both are necessary for our life of faith.
- Spiritual Communion – in a sense people have had no real choice but to accept this connection with the Eucharist over this time. I can assure you that Archbishop Bernard and every priest has known the privilege of receiving Holy Communion over these long weeks and have been very mindful of the longing that many people have felt to return. Positively, I believe it has created a sense of equality for all of God’s People, different from the pain that so many of our Catholic brothers and sisters feel at Mass when they cannot receive Holy Communion. Hopefully, what St John Paul II spoke of as a ‘hunger for the Eucharist’ will not only give everybody a greater appreciation of what they have missed, the care with which it is received in the future. But more than that, maybe the Scriptures, the Living Word of God has been a source of sustenance as never before at a time when being fed by the Eucharist has been less obviously the case. Never forget: our faith tells us that to be present at Mass and to witness the Sacrifice of Christ is to receive something of the grace of that action of faith.
- The opening of churches for private prayer – the moments are drawing near when hopefully, the People of God will once again be able to pray in Church buildings again. The living stones – as you are always – will be able to connect with the House of God which draws you week by week. We do not yet know what this will mean for the Cathedral. Before lockdown, when the Cathedral was open for prayer only, fewer and fewer people were coming into the city centre to shop and so very few came to pray. It is different from a neighbourhood where people might be able to walk to their local church. I understand well how much people want to come back to Mass. I ask people not only to make a decision for themselves but to do so in conjunction with their families as to whether coming here even for prayer is best for you and for others when it is possible. Please continue to benefit from the Live Stream Masses and the other forms of prayer which need not stop at home.
- Ordinary Time – what will the future be like? As you will hopefully have seen in the month of June, we are spoilt by the number of wonderful Feasts and Celebrations of the Church. It gives us joy and hope in our faith. Feasts like the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Corpus Christi can evoke so many memories for people, from childhood and throughout their lives. On the Feast of Corpus Christi this year, I am very aware that we shall be missing two significant events in the life of St Chad’s Cathedral, and which were due to coincide this year: the annual Flower Festival and the Corpus Christi Procession. The Flower Festival was going to take as its theme this year ‘The Year of the Word: The God who Speaks’. We shall look forward to that next year now.
- Donations – thank you – at Mass on Trinity Sunday, restraint could not hold any longer, and I spoke about matters financial! I was very careful to say that as people have been with us at the Cathedral via the Live Stream from many different parishes, it was important to acknowledge the financial needs of all of the parishes of the Archdiocese. Thank you for the generous response that people have made to that appeal, in which I mentioned that it cost some £3000 to install the live stream facility (as well as a monthly service charge to follow) and the near future costs of Health and Safety equipment and cleaning ahead of and after the reopening of churches.
- A people of prayer – I end as I began, with the thought that we have possibly all found new and varied ways of praying during this time of lockdown. Please continue to pray for your priests as we do for you. May God bless you and your families and all those you love: many for whom you have kept connected by praying even at times when you have been apart.