Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year – Year A: 11.10.20
10.30am – Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow – Virtual Celebration
Covid-19 has turned our lives upside-down. Across the diocese we are back to virtual celebrations, transmitted across webcam, Facebook Live and parish radio frequency. I acknowledge once again KCLR who will bring Mass live every Sunday at 9.30am during the period of this Level 3 restrictive phase in our pandemic journey. I look forward to celebrating Mass from their studio next Sunday morning.
‘Lockdown’ is not easy, and at a time when our Cathedral and churches have done so much to make their celebrations safe in recent months, the current restrictions on public worship are all the more painful. Painful on good people of faith who simply want to be nourished by the Eucharist and comforted within the small capped congregations of fifty or pods of fifty. Painful on younger First Communicants and older Confirmandi whose ceremonies once again had to be postponed. And also particularly painful I think, on couples planning their wedding ceremonies. This pandemic has impacted on all our lives hugely.
And this morning’s gospel speaks to all of us and my encouragement to every couple, to every family, to every individual tuning into the Cathedral webcam is not to lose heart. Isaiah reassures us the Lord will remove the mourning veil; the psalmist reminds us He walks with us in our valley of darkness. The Lord is always by our side, all the more when we’re struggling. For not trusting in His accompaniment; for not putting our hand in His, when we can put it no where else; for refusing to take His lead to restful waters we pray …
- Lord Jesus, you have shown us the way to the Father:
Lord, have mercy …
- Lord Jesus, you have given us the consolation of the truth:
Christ, have mercy …
- Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd, leading us into everlasting life:
Lord, have mercy …
Matthew’s gospel focuses on the invitation sent to attend a wedding. Too many couples have been completely discommoded by this COVID-19 pandemic as they plan to celebrate what should be the happiest day of their lives, their wedding day. Couples have had to postpone and reschedule often several times. Couples have had to look at their guest list and wonder who else can they drop, so that they can keep within the tight regulations set by the government on the advice of NPHET. Couples have a lot in common with the wedding planned for the king’s son in Matthew’s parable. Three times invitations were sent out for his wedding.
Years ago a wedding ceremony with just twenty-five people would have been a wedding held abroad, because all the family couldn’t afford to travel; now twenty-five is the current limit within Level 3. A move to the next level sees the wedding ceremony guest list radically cut to six, basically the couple, their best man, their bridesmaid and the celebrant. Even parents don’t make the cut at this level. This is a harrowing call on a young couple.
Find a couple who don’t want to share the joy of their big day. But reduced congregations are the effect of this virulent virus that is sweeping across every county, every town, every parish and every diocese. There are no exceptions. Carlow people may perceive our number of cases as being small in number, but figures must be looked at in context. None of us can afford to ease up in our effort. We are literally “in this together”.
The king had a problem also with arranging his son’s wedding. It wasn’t a problem of a pandemic, but a problem of discourtesy. Those invited seem to snub the invitation. On the third round of invitations, he manages to fill the banquet hall. And then one shows up improperly dressed. Honestly we’re probably puzzled by the kings response to this impropriety, until we go under the bonnet of this whole “wedding garment” business. Basically it was an oriental custom of providing garments for the guests. Simply put, you borrowed your glad-rags, rather than as I recall as soon as a wedding invitation came in the door my mother dragged my dad to McElhinneys in Athboy, under the pretence that he needed a new suit while she just might see something that would work for her also! In the days of Matthew’s parable wardrobes were filled with thousands of garments, depending on the wealth of the host family – in other words there was and is no excuse to enter without the requisite royal garment! To do so was an insult.
A couple celebrating the sacrament of marriage say “I do”. That I do opens up a full and complete acceptance of the other. When we hear those words, the celebrant and congregation hold their breath, this is a powerful moment as the couple invite Jesus into their lives. And unlike the invited guests to the kings banquet in Matthews gospel, He never refuses an invitation to be part of a marriage. Two word’s that are said freely, and without any pressure. This is what makes marriage so precious in our Church and while small weddings are obviously intimate, no one likes to see a couple robbed of their “big day”.
In order to further assist in preparing couples for this huge event in their lives in these uncertain and stressful times caused by the restrictions the current pandemic brings, an Accord Marriage Preparation Programme can now be done in an interactive format virtually on Zoom with an additional preparation module covered in the local parish by the bride’s priest, who takes responsibility for ensuring the paperwork is in order.
This blended course is just a temporary response to a pandemic time, when it is not possible to gather for indoor events of any nature. It supports the couple, allowing them to continue to prepare for the sacrament; it introduces them to key learnings by trained facilitators to support their relationship and it enriches the parish in that their connection with the priest may also allow them to become more rooted in their parish and their faith. I look forward to communicating with priests and permanent deacons across the diocese on this initiative in the coming days.
Jesus is the specially invited guest at every sacrament of marriage. He will be there, whether there are six or twenty-five or fifty or even five hundred present, whispering collectively with the couple as they exchange their vows, ‘I’m there for you and I’ll never leave you alone’, like the reassurance of our psalm this Sunday morning “You are there with your crook and your staff; with these you give me comfort”. He is there for all of us, He is our unseen guest, we are never on our own.
 Ps. 23:4