In Time of Pandemic

Overnight, we have heard the news the Church has authorised a new Mass proper “In Time of Pandemic”, in response to requests for specific prayers for use in these uncertain times.

The rubrics regarding the usage of this Mass proper read:

This Mass can be celebrated, according to the rubrics given for Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions, on any day except Solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lend, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day), Ash Wednesday and the days of Holy Week.

The Collect from the Proper is perhaps something we could pray as part of our daily prayer:

Almighty and eternal God,
our refuge in every danger,
to whom we turn in our distress;
in faith we pray
look with compassion on the afflicted,
grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to mourners,
healing to the sick, peace to the dying,
strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to our leaders
and the courage to reach out to all in love,
so that together we may give glory to your holy name.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Pope’s Urbi et Orbi Blessing

Overnight, Pope Francis gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing in the light of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic event. Below, via the ZENIT website, you can find the translated text of the Pope’s address prior to the imparting of the blessing.

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets, and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits, and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents, and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves, we founder: we need the Lord like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support, and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross, we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross, we have been redeemed. We have hope: by his cross, we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity, and solidarity. By his cross, we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

Original text in Italian; English translation via zenit.org.

The Awesome Power of Eucharist

The Eucharist is not celebrated to simply consecrate the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, but to transform the assembly into the Body of Christ. This transformation takes place a through a participation in the Eucharist that empowers those present to proclaim to the world the kingdom of God from which flow unity, justice, peace, and love. This is the ultimate goal of the Eucharist, the res tantum described by scholastic theologians.

Mark Francis, “Reflections on Clericalism and the Liturgy”, in Worship 93 (July 2019), p. 200.

Review: Field Hospital Catechesis: The Core Content for RCIA Formation

Field Hospital Catechesis: The Core Content for RCIA FormationField Hospital Catechesis: The Core Content for RCIA Formation by Nick Wagner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What does the bankruptcy of US steel manufacturers have to do with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults? Everything, according to Nick Wagner.

The story that begins this insightful book and guide outlines the need for those involved in the task of catechumenate ministry – and that is every single Christian! – needs to focus on getting back to basics. The image of the ‘field hospital’ is a well-known one made popular by Pope Francis and further illuminates the need for those who are called to the task of evangelisation – again, every single Christian! – to attend to the pressing and immediate needs of those who they engage with, rather than the secondary issues that we might consider important to focus on.

Drawing on the teaching of Pope Francis, particularly in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Wagner reminds us powerfully and clearly that the task of evangelisation, of preaching ‘the Good News’, is not about doctrine and dogma, nor about well developed and exhaustive programs, but about introducing the person of Jesus to those who need to know him and how much we are loved by God. The focus of the first proclamation of the kerygma, to which we should return over and over again, reminds the reader that the primary task of the Christian disciples is to make other Christian disciples through the explicit proclamation of the Christian faith, a faith that is rooted in the person and story of Jesus Christ.

This book offers suggestions and potential practices for use at a variety of points of the Christian journey – first proclamation, initiatory catechesis, and ongoing catechesis – that focus primarily on the three stages of the story of Jesus, i.e. The Beginning, The Climax, and The End. Embracing the possibilities outlined in this volume raises the potential of a new commitment to the missionary dimension of the Church above all things.

What might we gain if we were to do such a thing? Potentially, everything. What do we have to lose if we don’t? Wagner himself answers it best:
There is a real risk to this kind of teaching. If we do not control the learning environment and we do not focus on those few doctrines that Pope Francis says “are at times more philosophical than evangelical,” we run the risk of change. Our seekers might change, our RCIA process might change, our parish might change. We might change. For most of us, change is scary. It involves dying and rising – and we’re not always certain about the “rising.”

But the alternative to change – to conversion – is certain death, with no possibility of resurrection. That is a much greater risk.


View all my reviews

Review: Your Parish Is the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of the Community

Your Parish Is the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of CommunityYour Parish Is the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of Community by Diana Macalintal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have long been a supporter of and passionate advocate for the proper celebration of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in the parishes where I have been privileged to serve. I would like to hope that I have been largely successful in journeying with a range of people who have availed themselves of the RCIA process to become part of the Church that is the People of God. I would like to hope that because making disciples is fundamental to the identity of the Church as Church; if we’re not proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to others, then we really need to re-evaluate who we think we are.

And then I read Your Parish Is the Curriculum and came to realise that I had spent most of my time involved in the RCIA process over many years focussed on the wrong group of people. Instead of spending all my time on catechumens and candidates I may have been better served, and served the community of faith better, with more of my time focused on the parish community that is the privileged place where the RCIA process unfolds. I really needed to read this book many years ago; unfortunately, it was only published in 2018.

Diana Macalintal argues passionately for a recognition that the proper minsters of the RCIA process is not the parish RCIA team, or the pastors, or the parish catechists – though they certainly have important roles to play. The proper ministers of the RCIA process, a process that is intrinsic to the identity of the Church, is the entire parish itself. There doesn’t need to be a separate process that is disconnected from the parish community. Rather, following the renewal of the Second Vatican Council, the people who can assist inquirers seeking to be baptised into Christ are those who are already baptised into Christ, i.e. the parish community of the faithful. Embracing the RCIA process is the natural result of valuing our own baptism, and wishing to enable others to share that gift along with us.

If anyone was considering introducing the RCIA process into their parish community, read this book. If you would like to reinvigorate the existing RCIA process in your parish community, read this book. If you are in any way at all interested in the mission of the Church to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples, read this book.

Easily accessible and filled with practical suggestions that can be adapted to any parish setting, Macalintal communicates her own passion for the RCIA process to the reader, and encourages her reader to not be daunted by the requirements that are set out in the RCIA ritual. Macalintal encourages those who are keen to see the RCIA process in the life of their parish community to not ask people to get involved in the RCIA, but rather to consider who the RCIA can be involved in their parish.

This ‘upside-down’ approach to the way things are normally done is both liberating to those who otherwise would bear the burden of the RCIA process and challenging to an entire community of faith to recognise that it is the parish community that is the curriculum, the syllabus, and the classroom where those who are seeking can be introduced to the person of Jesus and the life of discipleship that we are all called to embrace.

View all my reviews

Why Involve the Community?

Welcoming seekers into “the way of faith and conversion” is the most important thing we do. Think about it. If a family had a great sense of community but never welcomed new people into it, slowly, one-by-one, the family would die off. If a parish did the same, we’d have the same fate. But the reason we need to get the community involved in welcoming seekers does deeper than self-preservation. It’s why parishes exist. The Trinity is the ultimate community of love, but it’s not a closed system. God is constantly drawing all creation into that community of love. It’s the reason God became one of us, and it’s the reason we exist as Christians. Integrating the catechumens and candidates into that Christian community of love is the biggest, most essential mission that the Holy Spirit has set before our parishes.

Diana Macalintal, Your Parish IS the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of the Community (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2018), pp. 38-39. ISBN: 978-0-8146-4465-2. Emphasis added.