|Shrine of St. Augustine, Passion Sunday|
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.
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.