After some months of relative freedom, we people of Aotearoa New Zealand find ourselves confined to our homes to ensure the safety of all people. These days are difficult for families and workplaces with many experiencing anew the burden of financial, social and relationship tensions that can surface in a time of lockdown. For we people of faith, many who depend on the Mass celebrated on Sundays and throughout the week, find ourselves struggling without the strength received from the Eucharist.
Early last year the New Zealand bishops dispensed all New Zealand Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. While this dispensation has not been lifted in the months since when we have been able to gather for Mass many people freely returned to the Eucharist. While there is no suggestion that watching and praying through a live-streamed Mass is the same as participating in a Mass in person, many people have found live-streamed Masses a helpful support for their faith. You can find details of time and place of live-streamed Masses at each diocesan website or on the diocesan social media pages.
Fr James Lyons has composed four prayers for this time.
The Lord's Prayer in a Covid world HERE
Three short prayers in Covid 2021 HERE
Many faith-filled people have reported to this National Liturgy Office a variety of other ways of deepening personal and therefore communal faith, when pandemic restrictions prevent communal worship.
Some of these creative suggestions include:
Taking time with those in your bubble to read the readings of the day, with a few minutes of reflection together on what you heard in the readings and how Jesus is speaking to you through these scriptures.
Daily phone / zoom conversations with faith-friends sharing something of your experience of Jesus in the last few hours.
Setting time every day during lockdown to be still and silent and to daydream (contemplate) with Jesus.
Deciding with others in your regular worship community that you will stop at an agreed time each day to pray one prayer (ie. Our Father) for your worshipping community, especially those who are struggling most. Set an alarm on your phone to remember this community appointment.
Set up a faith-friend WhatsApp (or similar group) to share your experience of Jesus in your day.
Share faith resources that you find helpful, perhaps a reflection or encouragement.
Most of all, increase the time you take each day to pray alone. While you might be on your own in these minutes, the first fruit of taking such time is becoming aware that when we pray we are never alone. Instead prayer unites us not only with Jesus, but with every other praying person across our land, across the world, and across history.
Remember that across history, even in our own land, there were many faithful Catholic people who because of distance could only be at Mass rarely. I think of the people of South Westland who were able to participate in the Mass only four times a year on the fifth Sundays of the Month. These were people of great faith who, when unable to be carried by a worshipping crowd, turned directly to Jesus who did not miss the opportunity to respond to their invitation with miracles of faith.
Just as the Pandemic was beginning to take hold of the world in March of last year Pope Francis led people of faith in prayer. Standing alone in St. Peter’s Square Francis reflected:
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.
He concluded his reflection:
Embracing the 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 the cross of Jesus 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.
Last Sunday on the feast of the Assumption, the Catholic community of Aotearoa renewed the initiative of the first Catholic bishop of our land by re-dedicating Aotearoa to Mary, Mother of God, Assumed into Heaven, a re-dedication following similar initiatives in other parts of the world in response to the current pandemic.
In his homily at the St. Mary of the Angels’ Mass Cardinal John reflected on the new words of the Lourdes hymn, these new lyrics written by Robert Loretz. One verse in particular has become my prayer in these days:
Heal and sustain now each life in this earth
Growing, maturing by bringing to birth
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria!