Deacon Tony writes:

Unprecedented times! Extraordinary days! Affecting our whole society, everyone can be affected regardless of their status. These words are very familiar to us today as we try to come to terms with the effects of the Global Pandemic which has been called Covid-19. But look closer at the words and they could also be describing something far more extraordinary, something which we remember every year at this time.

Last Sunday we recalled Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in honour, hailed as the ‘Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Mt 21:9) and as the ‘prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee’ (Mt 21:10). On Easter Sunday we celebrate the extraordinary and awesome truth that Jesus is risen. As we know this has had an almighty effect on the whole world ever since and followers of Jesus have come from every status in life; paupers, peasants, professionals, princes and presidents, everyone can be a follower of Jesus.

Scriptures paint a very vivid picture at this time of year and there are many aspects of Scripture this week from which we can take comfort and use as examples for our lives during this current Global crisis.

On Holy Thursday all three readings are so relevant at this time. In the book of Exodus we hear about the instructions God gave to Moses to pass on to the Israelites, this is the first Passover meal, a tradition handed down to remember how God protected His followers from great evil. This reminds us to trust in God. It was at another Passover meal where Jesus instituted the Eucharist, described by St Paul in the Second reading.

Then in St John’s Gospel Jesus, the Son of God, strips away human ideas of what a leader or a king should do, by removing his outer garments and getting down on the floor to wash the feet of his disciples. Perhaps in 2020 the idea of washing someone’s feet here in Hampshire doesn’t sound that bad, after all what is the worst that could be on someone’s feet nowadays? Some sweat, maybe a corn or a blister. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet there was no proper sanitation, there was little segregation between animals and people, there weren’t proper pavements and people didn’t wear socks and enclosed shoes. The washing of feet would have been done by the lowest of servants in wealthy homes. Jesus, the Son of God, came here to serve and told his disciples to ‘copy what I have done to you.’ (Jn 13:15) As followers of Jesus how can we follow his example at this time?

As we cannot currently go to Mass, many of us feel a great sense of loss, there is something missing from our lives. Watching Mass being celebrated online and responding when we are prompted by the priest’s prayers is available to some of us and helps us to take part in the celebration, and retain our sense of belonging. This sense of loss at the moment, will perhaps help us to empathise with those who in normal times are unable to come to Mass and perhaps miss out on this sense of belonging.

We are currently asked to make a Spiritual Communion instead of receiving Jesus physically (Sacramentally). A prayer for doing this can be found at the end of this reflection.

In his book ‘The Eucharist – Our Sanctification’, Raniero Cantalemesa recalls St Thomas Aquinas’ words on “the Christian mystery being always three-dimensional;

memory of the past, presence of grace and expectation of eternal fulfilment.’

For this reason he calls the Eucharist ‘the sacred banquet in which Christ is received as food, the memory of his passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace and we are given a pledge of our future glory.’”1

Spiritual communion was defined by St Thomas Aquinas as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament and a loving embrace as though we had already received Him”.2

I believe this desire becomes deeper as the days and weeks of this lockdown continues, the thought of Jesus lovingly embracing us is awesome. I would suggest that we can build and maintain our desire by taking time out to spend time with the Lord during Eucharistic Adoration online or spending some quiet time remembering our Lord is truly Present in the Tabernacle which we can now see on the live webcam too.

During this crisis we may have fears, we may take ill and sadly we may lose friends and relatives. As Christians we are all called to share Christ’s priesthood through our Baptism. At times like this we would do well to remember the words of St Paul ‘It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body the Church’ (Col 1:24)3 This is a call to offer our fears, our pain and our grief up to the Lord who knew all of these emotions during his time on earth, but especially in the week we remember at this time.

Like many of you I find myself working at home during the day and (except for when I exercise) confined to home in the evenings. This has been the strangest Lent I can remember. Unable to go to church I watch and take part online as best that I can. My wife Pam,and I have taken part in our Evangelising Cell group online using an App. We have also shared the rosary online with friends following the prompting of another parishioner. There are many ways to keep our prayer life alive during this enforced lockdown. This gives us an ideal chance to enter more into the Year of the Word by picking up a Bible and learning more about our Saviour.

The internet has countless resources for Christians to keep their faith alive at this time, whether it is a daily email from reputable sources, Apps which allow us to follow the Prayers of the Church, online Bibles or to link up with friends and family to pray the rosary. These are all ways of receiving blessings at this time and availing ourselves of God’s grace.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

Everyone has had to adapt, it is very strange for our priests to celebrate Mass with no congregation. We need to remember to pray for our priests at this time, with many of their normal activities cancelled they do not have the same interactions as usual.

There are also blessings to observe at this time, the willingness of people to start thinking more about others with many fantastic examples being witnessed on the news. These highlight the deeply engrained values from what was once a Christian society; with many of the other faiths demonstrating their call to serve the needy too. There appears to be a better sense of community and a real appreciation of those with vocations to medicine, nursing and care work as well as other key workers and those involved in the service industries. I pray that these appreciations will remain when the restrictions are lifted.

This time of lockdown and isolation has parallels with the time between Jesus dying and the resurrection. We have all been knocked out of our routine, it feels like nothing will ever be the same again, we are anticipating great changes in society; hopefully for the better; many are afraid, and people are grieving. As Christians we know that after Good Friday comes Easter Sunday, when all of this is over we will gather together to celebrate Christ’s resurrection again, we will share in His Eucharist because we are the Body of Christ and Jesus told us “to do this in memory of me”.

Remember that Jesus is walking with us through this Pandemic. If ever we needed a reminder of that fact it is in the prayer normally used when the priest prepares the Paschal candle before lighting it from the Easter fire. ‘Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and for ever. Amen. By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us. Amen.

I wish you all a Happy, Healthy and Holy Easter.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 9th April 2020.

1 Raniero Cantalamesa, The Eucharist – Our Sanctification, (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minesota, 1995) 77

2 Catholic Herald, How to make a Spiritual Communion, available from https://catholicherald.co.uk/how-to-make-a-spiritual-communion/ accessed 9 April 2020

3 Placid Murray, 100 Liturgical Homilies, (The Columba Press, Dublin, 1988)35.