Saturday 4 April 2020

Mass In Time Of Pestilence...

Shrine of St. Augustine, Passion Sunday
Just at the time when celebrating the Mass in time of Pestilence would be a really good thing, the whole country (and most of the world) is in "lockdown" to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Apparently, despite the existence of a Mass in time of Pestilence in the Usus Antiquior, it somehow was ditched when they produced the Novus Ordo Missal, so they had to make up a new version pretty quickly. Why didn't they just use the original Mass? The inimitable Fr. Z had a few thoughts on the matter... rather scathing and pertinent thoughts!

This lockdown is a strange state of affairs in the UK. Schools (those major institutions which are stuffed to the rafters with pathogen-incubators, (ie. children) are closed. However, in order that staff running rather vital services (such as the NHS, utilities, supermarkets and such like) are able to go to work, schools are being kept open for those children. And also for the children classed as vulnerable in any way. And for the children who have EHCPs (these used to be called "Statements" of special educational needs.) By the time you've factored in that little lot, the number of children still at school is quite high, so your pathogen-incubators are still passing stuff between themselves; that's ok, apparently, because children don't get it very severely... at least that's the theory.

Supermarkets are also open, because we all still need to eat. People who are self-isolating (either because they have the symptoms of the coronavirus or because they are in a particularly vulnerable group and don't want to catch the coronavirus) are reliant on food deliveries, but unfortunately demand for these slots has been high, and due to early panic-buying, which was allowed to go unchecked by the supermarket chains, even if you get a delivery slot there is no guarantee you can find everything you want. It's therefore often easier to go the the shops in person... but that means that people are in contact with others, thereby risking the spread of the virus...

Off Licences (for the benefit of any of my foreign readers, these are shops which sell alcohol for consumption off the premises) are considered to be a vital service, so these are open as usual. Strangely enough, garden centres are not considered vital services. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, you can't buy seeds or whatever you need to grow your own vegetables, but you can sit among the weeds and drink yourself into oblivion.

The Government originally declared that churches could be left open, provided they weren't attracting large gatherings and that social-distancing was observed. The Bishops decided that they would shut them. All of them. Masses would still be celebrated by the clergy, but without a congregation present and behind locked doors. Some decided that even a server was too much social contact. It's a slightly disconcerting state of affairs when the country's politicians believe that churches are more necessary than do the Bishops. What does that remind me of...?

I am not a virologist. I do have quite a good scientific background, and microbiology was a large component of my B.Sc. degree. I also like reading stuff about contagious diseases, Ebola being one of my favourites, as it livens up the teaching of Biology somewhat. Teenagers are totally unimpressed by tales of the discovery of cures for anthrax and smallpox, but a brief description of the symptoms of Ebola Zaire gets even the toughest boys looking slightly queasy. However limited my experience, I do have some basic scientific knowledge. I have yet to read an article which explains why it is safe to go shopping (directly handling items that other people may have picked up and returned, as well as being unable to avoid some contact with people) but not to go and sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament to pray, or even to attend Mass. Weekday Masses are hardly crowded affairs, and the majority of churches were built for much larger congregations. Stopping the reception of Holy Communion for the laity is understandable. Closing the churches is not.

That being said, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays has been removed in England & Wales. Many priests, wishing to offer some comfort to their parishioners, have started to livestream their Masses. I never felt inclined to watch recorded Masses, but knowing that the Mass is actually being offered then and there has a very different feel to it (at least for me!) I think that the nature of the Traditional Latin Mass actually helps here.

The Novus Ordo Mass, even when celebrated reverently in accordance with the liturgical norms, appears to me to have a more social aspect. It is almost expected that people will make the responses out loud together, to repeat the verse of the Responsorial Psalm, to offer the sign of peace to each other, and to stand, kneel and sit at the appropriate points. In the Usus Antiquior, however, the prayers are offered by the priest, and the few responses needed are made by a server who represents the rest of the congregation. The congregation itself is free to participate in whatever way it wishes. There are no rubrics to say what the congregation must do, only custom. The people can sit or kneel in silence to pray, can watch the liturgy unfold, can follow the words with a Hand Missal, can allow the music (if there is any) to lift the heart and mind to God, can meditate on the many writings of saints on the Mass, or can pray a Rosary... even getting up to light a candle or two is an option. People do not have to pray the same way at each Mass, or even the same way for the whole Mass. All the prayers of the laity are offered through the priest in the Holy Sacrifice. We aren't expected to respond in any single way.

As a result, it seems to me that the Traditional Latin Mass is much more suited to the livestream format than is the Novus Ordo. Priests who are averse to celebrating ad orientem will, I think, find the total absence of a congregation disturbing: at least one priest was reported as printing out pictures of his parishioners to stick to the pews so that he could remember them at Mass. It seems very sweet. But the Mass isn't offered solely for those parishioners who the priest can see: the Mass is attended by the whole Church: Militant, Suffering and Triumphant, and this sort of gesture weakens our perception of this truth.

Of course, there is no obligation to "attend" a livestream Mass, and some people find it to be spiritually unfruitful. Personally, while it's not a patch on the real thing, I find the availability of the livestreamed Mass a great help. I can put aside the time for God, just as I would if I was actually at church for Mass, by turning off phone notifications and not looking at anything else online. Knowing that there are other people watching at exactly the same time is a comfort of sorts, which is where it differs from an event which is merely recorded. The priests (and sometimes laity) who have taken the time to organise the hardware setup which allows the livestream to be broadcast deserve heartfelt thanks.

Finally, the Latin Mass Society has done an exemplary job of collating details of many TLMs being livestreamed around the country, so it is possible to find one happening at a convenient time, and to access the feed as easily as possible. They have also produced many free prayer resources (including information for priests wishing to learn more about the traditional Mass) and information regarding the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance and Holy Communion.

Friday 3 April 2020

Return Of The Mac...?

It has been nearly 2 years since I last posted on this blog. This post will be a sort of stream-of-consciousness affair, just to see if I can find the old blogging mojo - and also whether anyone is still bothering to read it!

I didn't know whether I'd ever get back to blogging, though I had no intention of deleting the blog itself - as I had explained to so many people before, the existence of links from other websites meant that, if I had deleted it, a porn site would probably take over the address. Occasionally I sent out a link on Twitter, or via email, if a question arose that I'd already answered. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet too loudly, I knew that I was reasonably good at writing, and some of my stuff had been entertaining and informative. It could get a little frustrating however, that, despite all the time and research I spent on my serious pieces, the stuff people really seemed interested in was the cat posts.

I used to complain that, when I had time to blog regularly it was because I was doing nothing worth blogging about. Conversely, when lots was happening, I didn't have any free time. The past two years have borne this out - lots happened, and I didn't have the time to blog. First of all, Fr. Tim became seriously ill and nearly died. He therefore retired as Parish Priest of Margate. Thanks be to God he survived, and went off to recuperate with his sister in Bournemouth. We will all have to watch his blog, the Hermeneutic of Continuity to see where he will fetch up next.

I continued to worship at St. Austin & St. Gregory's Church in order to help Fr. Bernard McNally - he was holding the fort by providing the Sacraments. Once a new Parish Priest was appointed, I gave him a bit of administrative support until he'd had time to settle in, and then switched to attending the Traditional Latin Mass at the Shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate. Six months without the Usus Antiquior was almost unbearable. I was very blessed to be able to find another regular one so near to home (the Isle of Thanet is not very big, and it takes me about the same time to get to Mass in Ramsgate as it did to get to Blackfen.)

Unfortunately for me, my own health took a decided turn for the worse. I lost my teaching post, and was told that my knee joints had pretty much collapsed, meaning that I would need knee replacement surgery - the left knee first. I am now having to use crutches to get about. It took a while to get onto the hospital waiting list - there were various administrative hurdles to be negotiated - but just before Christmas I was told that I had been successfully added to the list, and it would be about 6 months' wait...

...Only, unfortunately, the whole world suddenly found that it was being shut down due to a pesky little organism called COVID-19. All elective surgery has now been cancelled. The good news is that I had managed to sort out my registration as a disabled person before the rest of the country caught the virus and blocked the government phone lines, and also that my GP had finally recognised (from the X-rays and the description of the damage to my joints by the Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon) that I was going to need something rather stronger than ibuprofen and paracetamol while I was waiting. Being on morphine has the added advantage of making my rather uneventful days positively zip by. I am doing a pretty good imitation of a cat. Apart from praying the Office, "attending" livestreamed Mass, checking Twitter and making something to eat each day, I spend most of my time napping.

Miaowrini seems happy enough with the current state of affairs. I'm home all the time, and so am available for the dispensation of treats (she loves Dreamies - I think they're called Temptations in the US) and ear-scritches pretty much on demand. She has me well-trained: she doesn't even have to miaow, she just stands and waits, looking at me expectantly. I'm such a wimp that I can't bear todisappoint such trust, and out come the treats. However, I'venoticed that she is getting fat, so I shall have to try and harden my heart against her blandishments. I can reduce the number of Dreamies dispensed at any one session anyway...

I've been through the health situation before - though it was just the one knee that time, with the added difficulty that the damage wasn't so clear on the X-rays, and it was suggested by some of the doctors I saw that the whole thing was actually in my mind. Not having to question my own sanity this time around makes it much easier to bear. However, the illness last time was the way God called me back to the Church. There is a little niggle in the back of my mind that there might be something equally earth-shattering around the corner this time too. Not sure if it's just for me (like before) or, given the weird stuff happening in the world (and the Church itself) just before this all kicked off, maybe it'll be even bigger.

Watch... and keep praying.
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