These thoughts are in no particular order.
One of the good things that has emerged is the online Pilgrimage to Pentecost, under the auspices of the Sydney Archdiocese, with 6 weeks’ worth of talks from international and Australian speakers about the Holy Spirit and a pre Pentecost novena of prayer to join in with. At last look, something like 80 countries have joined in this online pilgrimage.
Similarly, the Ark and Dove retreat centre, has been hosting a 7 day series of online talks, modelled on the Life in the Spirit seminars in preparation for Pentecost. If only all the parts had English subtitles, and vice versa for those joining in with Spanish and Portuguese backgrounds. At least it reminds us how international the Church is.
An overarching theme of the last 10 weeks has been rest. There has been extra time to dedicate to prayer, and an opportunity to slow down. Not having to be anywhere at a designated time, except for regular medical appointments, has been a strange experience for someone used to getting up and getting along to morning Mass. What a weird thing it has been to be without routine! But a circuit breaker was certainly much needed.
Thankfully there were already a few places offering daily Mass online prior to lockdown, and as each day passed the number of places multiplied. A combination of daily online Masses, spiritual communions, and the Liturgy of the Hours has been getting me through. It is ‘the Mass that matters’ after all, and a fresh opportunity to appreciate that truth.
We were able to take part in the Easter Triduum because St Mary’s Cathedral livestreamed it all, including Tenebrae, and put it on YouTube as well. It was a very big and additional blessing for the 3pm Good Friday Commemoration of the Passion and the 10.30am Easter Sunday Mass to be broadcast from the Cathedral on national television.
As the weeks passed, so did the patterns of online Masses, going from a combination of Sydney based and EWTN, to adventures all over the world. St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, North Sydney/Lavender Bay, St Patrick’s Church Hill and Hornsby Cathedral became the baseline, and Leeds Cathedral, Toronto, St Bernadette’s in South Africa, Walsingham, the Capuchin Franciscans of Oxford, Berala, Cronulla, Hunters Hill and Penshurst the icing on the cake. Also worthy of mention are the Divine Retreat Centre at Somersby, Melton VIC, Blackburn North VIC, Glendalough WA, and Seven Hills NSW.
My fluency in Latin responses has vastly increased, both said and sung, and I even found myself at a ridgy-dij Tridentine Mass which I found more disconcerting than I ever believed possible.
On the other hand, it has been really nice to be able to fast forward until the Mass procession begins, and to exit if the sound/picture quality is poor, or if the recessional hymn is being massacred. Likewise, if the Eucharistic prayer is going too fast, to be able to use the pause button has been helpful, or if an interruption happens, or to allow time for a spiritual communion prayer if the online Mass doesn’t put it on screen or pray it out loud. We will miss the easy access to so many wonderful homilists.
But for all that life has been in a state of limbo. An image, not mine, has seemed pertinent, that of a hen sitting on eggs to hatch, but in order for that to happen, the eggs keep getting turned, so that the warmth is evenly distributed; ie progress is happening despite feeling in a state of suspended animation, disconcertion and continual flux. It has been a battle to get through the must-do’s of each day, very rarely has anything more than the must-do’s been achieved. Without the routine, it has been much easier to fall into late nights and associated insomnia.
For creative types, writers, artists, illustrators, playwrights etc, it has been even worse. They have been in creative limbo. Part of this is the absence of all the usual things that would normally spark creative ideas; chatting with peers, visiting art galleries, libraries and other places of cultural interest, coffee shops, travel etc. Part of it is the body playing catch-up, since for most creatives it is either boom or bust, ie working round the clock for impossible deadlines, or having no paid projects at all. However the hope is that this time of fallowness will yield abundant creativity in the new normal – when it arrives.
One of the most distressing things of this lockdown period was how long it took for official parish communications to begin. For us it was something like 3-4 weeks of silence, not even weekly parish bulletins were being put online. We had no idea who was sick, who had died. We had no information about how to deposit moneys into parish bank accounts. Diocesan levels of communication weren’t much better, with only a few very short videoclips released via social media. At least we had internet for online Masses, but many parishioners don’t, and some of them don’t even have televisions to catch the weekly televised Mass For You At Home on Sunday mornings at 6am.
I am still trying to process the anger levels that the non-communication produced, and irritation that we were in this position while many other nearby parishes were in a much better position because they already had email lists, Facebook pages, and well-known bank deposit instructions. If I felt this, how many others did?
As with many others, this lockdown time has increased appreciation for the littler things; for listening to the birds, haircuts, getting out of the house to do shopping and banking, communication from family and friends. It has been a wake-up call to see just how many social interactions, community and cultural activities we have taken for granted.
Every so often an article in the news or via social media has indicated that there has been enough boredom for people to be able to break away from addictions and strong attachments in their lives. I’ve seen diehard football supporters so disgusted by the vehement push to restart sporting competition that they are no longer interested. I am guessing that coffee shops might be a bit nonplussed by those who no longer need a daily fix of cappuccino. Others are now over binge-watching on streaming services. Who knows what other good things might have been happening for those overly reliant on gambling and alcohol?
Pope Francis’ leadership in prayer has been inspiring. Firstly his vigil of prayer seeking an end to the pandemic. (I’ve recently seen a graph showing how the Italian daily death toll began reducing after this prayer vigil). Secondly his daily rosary, to which he has invited everyone to join in. Then there was a global day of prayer and self denial for people with any faith in a deity. Now he is inviting everyone to share in a rosary on Saturday 30th May as part of a renewed entrustment of our world to the intercession of the mother of Jesus. What a beautiful thing, to be united in prayer all over the world with the Pope and with Mary, on the day before Pentecost, reminiscent of that first Pentecost visitation of the Holy Spirit.
As the pandemic has worn on, and death tolls in various countries have been incomprehensible, there has been a wave of bishop’s conferences in various countries either consecrating their nations to the heart of Mary for the first time, or renewing those consecrations and entrustments to the mother of Jesus. The USA and Canada did it on the same day, May 1st. Australia did it on May 25th.
One thing that has been a surprise is the very slow weakening of the lockdown restrictions. Why I had the notion in my head that there would be an explosively fast return to normality I don’t know, but it was there. It seems such a shame that by the time things go from 10 people, to 20 people, to 50 people, and eventually to normal Mass sized congregations that we will have lost the sense of celebration that it should command.
So we find ourselves waiting for whatever the new is, and hoping that there actually is a new at the end of this weird season of lockdown.
The most difficult thing at the moment is our suspicion that our parish administration may have not learned anything valuable from this time, and that we will be hitting our heads against the same ‘brick walls’ as before. Most of us laity have been sampling the best of what is on offer online, but I doubt that our clergy have been watching each other’s Masses except for the brief time they were on the lookout for ideas to set up their own online Masses.
Yet one purpose of the lockdown seems to be to get us to slow down enough, to accumulate enough inner peace and inner silence for God to be able to get His messages through to us. All of us know that even between friends, conditions have to be near perfect for one friends to be able to disclose the deepest secrets of the heart to the other friend – in particular the recipient has to be waiting, open, truly present and unpreoccupied.
How amazing is God to permit this long process, which currently seems far from over, and not yet finished, so that He could speak more directly to our hearts! Until that deep and detailed revelation from Him comes, none of us can move forward with confidence. So we continue to wait, and learn deeper levels of trust.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.