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The Rector Writes...

by Christopher Colven

The Bishops of England & Wales have recently issued a statement inviting the Catholic people of our country to return to the Sunday Mass obligation from Pentecost (5th June) which by happy coincidence is the occasion of the Queen’s platinum jubilee and a time for national celebration. The Catechism sets out the requirement that: “on Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass”. Of course, an obligation can only be such when it can be fulfilled, and since the beginning of the Covid pandemic it has been the judgment of our bishops that circumstances impeded the possibility of attendance at Mass and that the obligation has therefore been in abeyance. Our pastors have now recognised that: “the pressing challenges of the pandemic have  lessened significantly and we therefore believe that the reasons which have prevented Catholics from attending Mass no longer apply”: they go on to draw the conclusion: “with humility, we glory in being a Eucharistic people for whom attendance at Mass is essential. Looking forward to the coming feast of Pentecost, we now invite all Catholics who have not yet done so to return to attending Mass in person”.

 

There is a section in the letter which deals specifically with online streaming and the bishops say that “virtual viewing does not fulfil the Sunday obligation”. These words, which might sound a little hard to those many who have been helped through the past two years by regular streaming, apply only to those who genuinely are able to attend Mass in person. But “it has always been the understanding of the Church that when the freedom of any Catholic to attend Mass is impeded for a serious reason, because of situations such as ill health, care for the sick or legitimate fear, this is not a breach of the Sunday obligation” and from that principle follows the advice that streaming: “may, however, be a source of continued spiritual comfort for those who cannot attend Mass, for example those who are elderly and sick, for whom the obligation does not apply”. We shall continue to live stream Sunday Mass from Spanish Place recognising those many people who are housebound or inhibited from attendance who have come to value this part of the parish’s ministry.

 

Sunday attendance at Mass is of fundamental importance because it meets the First and the Fourth of the great Commandments enjoined on us, but, as the Bishops note, we should see this obligation as “the greatest of all privileges – a beautiful hallmark of the Catholic faith is the profound desire to participate in the Holy Mass and share in the Eucharist. We do so with deep gratitude and joy”. Put another way, we should be at Sunday Mass not because we are told to do so but because we want to be there with our brothers and sisters: “the Eucharist gives the Church her identity – ‘the Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist’”. While we believe that salvation is individual it can never be divorced from the corporate, and  on this shared journey we are making towards eternal life we need the support of our fellow believers just as they need our support in turn. “Nourished by our encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus, fed with is Word and his Body in Holy Communion, and supported by the presence of each other, we receive strength week by week to serve the Lord and glorify him with our lives”.

 

One of the defining characteristics of Catholicism in this country has been a great devotion to the Mass. During penal times (lasting roughly three hundred years) it was difficult and sometimes impossible for the Eucharist to be celebrated and there were many long decades when even to attend Mass could result in arrest and execution. Just on the edge  of the parish is a plaque commemorating Tyburn Tree where so many of our martyrs met terrible deaths simply for believing that: “in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Jesus entrusted to us the precious gift of Himself”. If past generations realised that the Eucharist was crucial to their life in Christ and were prepared to pay any cost for that realisation, we must hope and pray that their vision is not lost on us. Writing in the fifteenth century, Thomas a Kempis set out to encourage the believers of his generation: his words apply as much to the  situation in the England and especially in the London of our times: “If this most holy Sacrament were celebrated in only one place and consecrated by only one priest in the whole world, with what great desire do you think, would people be attracted to that place, to that priest of God, in order to witness the celebration of the Mysteries? But now there are many priests and Mass is offered in many places, that God’s grace and love for us may appear the more clearly as the Sacred Communion is spread more widely through the world”.

 

Most Catholics have returned already to Sunday Mass, but there are still some who are nervous about taking the step and others who have fallen out of the routine. Now is the time to encourage any we know in those circumstances to find the way back into their rightful place within the Eucharistic community – we need them to worship with us and they need to be nourished on “the Bread come down from heaven” (John 6:58).
 

“If this most holy Sacrament were celebrated in only one place and consecrated by only one priest in the whole world, with what great desire do you think, would people be attracted to that place, to that priest of God, in order to witness the celebration of the Mysteries? 

The Imitation of Christ
Thomas à Kempis
Book 4