“O God, You are my God, for You I long;
my heart thirsts for You, my body pines for You
like a parched land ..”
– Psalm 63
Finally across the Dioceses of Scotland, the moment we have all been waiting for has arrived, and the Churches have begun to re-open after three long months of lockdown.
These months have been trying in so very many ways.
Above all, for many they have been filled with terrible illness and with death. They have been seared with the pain of separation from loved ones, even as they aproached death because of the coronavirus; and death which was not marked in the ‘normal’ Catholic way of a Church funeral with mourners gathered – instead, there were grave-side funerals or cremations, with only the closest family present.
And for the entire nation, it has been a time of great uncertainty and of fear – fear of the unknown, but also of what the future holds, and what ‘normal’ will begin to look like.
For the Catholic community, it has been marked by a deep testing of our faith – the absence of the Sacraments at those pivotal moments of life and of death. This has been eased to some degree by the creativity of some of our Priests, who found new ways to minister to us – but online Masses were never the same as being in community within a Parish. That said, I am deeply grateful for them, and for those Priests.
While the easing of restrictions foreshadows forward movement, it does not signal the end of the pandemic – the virus is still amongst us and will be here for the foreseeable future.
A reminder of this is that although the Churches are opening, there are substantial conditions attached; no public celebration of Mass, from which we continue to be dispensed, and the reminder that we may need to ‘book a place’ to attend Mass once the celebration is allowed again.
For those visiting the Church at the moment, it is a quite different – and formalised – experience. Sanitisation upon entry and exit; one way systems in operation; alternate pews blocked off; no Holy Water; volunteers ensuring we follow all the precautions.
But despite all the numerous restrictions, the Churches are beginning to open up once more, and this is the crucial point.
Visiting a nearby parish yesterday, my heart was beating so fast at the prospect of being before the Lord in the Eucharist once more. To see Him enthroned upon the Altar in the Monstrance was an extraordinary joy, and a reminder that we can take even the most precious gift for granted.
This evening I was able to visit my home parish (pictured in the photograph on this page) for the first time since the lockdown began, and to be amongst some of my fellow parishioners, all there for the same reason – to present ourselves to the Lord, to thank Him, and to place all our intentions before Him in His great mercy. But above all, simply to be with Him.
And that is what I have missed most of all – just to be in the presence of the Lord.
The memory of my last Mass and Holy Communion are seared into my soul, a bittersweet memory – and it seems so very long ago now.
I fear that for many, the time away from the routine of Church will provide a break sufficient to loosen ties with the practice of the Faith, and so I pray that any such souls will be granted the graces necessary to remain faithful to the Faith; and not through routine, but through love. Love overcomes everything.
For now, it is enough to know that He is where He has always been – not only for the last three months, but for the last two thousand years. And it is enough to know that I can spend a moment there with Him once more.