Last Wednesday the Bishops of England & Wales, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, & following official advice, & in order to keep each other safe, save lives & support the NHS, at this time we must not gather for public acts of worship in our churches. This begins from this Friday evening 20th March 2020 until further notice. Our churches will remain open each day, & they will be a focal point of prayer, where we hope each of us will find solace & strength. In visiting our churches at this time, we must observe with great care the practices of hygiene & the guidance on social distancing. The Bishops want us all to understand that in these emergency circumstances, & for as long as they last, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays & Holydays is removed (Catechism of the Church 2181) this pandemic is the “serious reason” why this obligation does not apply at this time. Mass will continue to be celebrated in each Parish without the faithful on a daily basis. In our case, I will concelebrate Mass with our Community at the Abbey each day, at what necessarily has to be a private family Mass, to prevent any possibility of cross infection. The Community will in effect, for the foreseeable future, be self-isolating. Mass will continue to be offered for the Church & the world at this time, & we can unite ourselves to these & other celebrations worldwide through a spiritual communion. St Thomas Aquinas described Spiritual Communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament & lovingly embrace him.” as our pattern of life changes, we should try to keep a regularity of prayer in our days, & this is one way we can unite in prayer to Our Lord & his world. When you make regular visits to the Church in the coming weeks, please remember the story of St John Vianney, a simple Parish Priest in France. Having celebrated Mass each day in church he would go out to visit his flock. Often on returning through the church, he would see an elderly man sitting in prayer. This went on for some days. Eventually he went up to the old man & gently enquired what he said to God day after day in prayer. The old man looked up at the Priest & smiled “I look at him & he looks at me, & we are happy in each other’s company.” We pray for one another that we too will find some peace & consolation in those reflective times in Our Lord’s presence at this difficult & uncertain period. For the time being, & I hope understandably, I will cease to take Holy Communion to the sick, the elderly & the housebound, most of whom are already self-isolating, except in the case of critical illness. I want to assure you that I will be fully available & contactable each & every day, & please do not hesitate to contact me if you have a particular need, or question, or if you would like to offer some advice on how we might respond to this emerging crisis. My contact details are firstname.lastname@example.org & 01439 766819, which includes voicemail. Tracey Swiers & Teresa Briggs will be calling into the Parish Office regularly, & you can make contact with them through their emails: email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org or 01439 788596 (& voicemail). I will be sending out this weekend the first of a regular weekly update on the emerging situation, as advice from the Bishops & from the Government are reviewed & developed as necessary. We have email addresses for the majority of you, & postal addresses for others. If you feel you have not let us have these contact details thus far, please be in touch immediately with them, & we will ensure that a necessary & mutually helpful line of communication can be established & fostered in the coming weeks. By coincidence or the Holy Spirit? the entry on our “listening to the invitations of Lent” sheet, with daily thoughts for the Season, includes for today “we can stand together on the inside.” Indeed we can, whilst we necessarily need to practice social distancing, I would like, each time you hear that phrase in the media or in conversation to add our faith commitment at this time “social distancing, & spiritual deepening.” We pray that this crisis will bring us ever closer on the inside, as we pray for, & importantly keep an eye out for each other, & perhaps up to now a distant neighbour, throughout the days to come.
Living God, you walk alongside us & speak to us throughout the Scriptures. Your Son, Jesus Christ, listens to our hopes & fears & shows us how to live for one another. Send us the Holy Spirit to open our hearts & minds so that we may be your witnesses throughout the world. Amen. V. Your word is our path & your truth is our light. R. This day & every day. (Prayer of the Word for the Year of the Word)