Feast of the Body & Blood of Christ, Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow, Sunday 14 June 2020.
We gather in very different times to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. I am very aware that First Holy Communion classes from the Cathedral Parish and far beyond are tuning in this morning. Girl’s and boys you are very welcome, as are your parents and grandparents. Girl’s and boys, I am here for you, to reassure you that your ceremony will happen when the time is right and when it is safe to gather in significant numbers.
John’s gospel today reminds us: “for my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink”. It is this we have hungered for most as parish communities, 56 parish communities right across our diocese. And it’s not just communion as food for our journey; it is also communion with one another and the communion we are called to build. That great Irish word “meitheal” to be with and for one another because the church is not a building, an institution, it is a body of people who make up a parish and in turn make up a diocese. For failing to recognise Him, for failing sometimes even to remember all He has done for us, lets ask for forgiveness …
It’s the Feast of the Body & Blood of Christ – Corpus Christi. The very first Corpus Christi procession in our diocese was in Tullow in 1783, that is 237 years ago. We thank my illustrious predecessor, Bishop Daniel Delany, for initiating the Corpus Christi procession in his first year as coadjutor Bishop of the diocese. He lived in Tullow, so not surprising the tradition of the procession began there.
We won’t be processing today, but we will have Benediction at the end of our Mass, a Benediction more necessary than ever these pandemic times. At that time I will invite all of you to bow your heads at home as we pause in His presence for a few minutes at the end of Mass. Then I will quietly carry the monstrance to the front door of the Cathedral, and we will open the doors out to bless each one of you in your homes.
And so to today, to these pandemic times. The last three months have seen our whole civilisation thrust into the unknown. While the Greek word for ‘crisis’ translates as “opportunity”, it’s very hard to see the opportunities for growth or renewal in these strange times. Everything has been disrupted; it’s only now there are some small green shoots of gentle recovery. Our church overnight moved into a virtual community with a huge following, powered by webcams, Facebook postings and YouTube clips. I know people who join us for ceremonies from as far away as Adelaide in Australia. The challenge is to get everyone from for example Aylesbury up on the Old Dublin Road to connect – if Adelaide can do it, why not Aylesbury and everywhere else in the Cathedral parish?
Let’s not overexaggerate the church was tired before this pandemic ever struck. Had we turned a corner on the abuse narrative? Difficult to know, like Covid-19 we will always be haunted by events of the past and rightly so. We talk about social distance and physical distance, so that we don’t infect one another or they us. Many of our churches operated physical distancing by default before the pandemic, because the regular practice rate was there or there abouts 22%. Financially to run a parish carried challenges of its own for years but now without the pandemic Temporary Wage Supplement Scheme it would have been nigh to impossible.
We are reliably told many more have been engaging with the online presence of church. Perhaps people are realising we can’t do without God. We have deeply damaged His creation, as if we were its creator and controller. How spendid to hear the dawn chorus outside our windows every morning as we wake. How beautiful to plant seeds in empty egg cartons to teach the little ones that not everything is grown in a bag in Tesco, Dunnes or Lidl. How super to see families on bicycles together on a Sunday afternoon, families who through this pandemic rediscovered the value of spending time with one another.
And I know how we long to spend time with the Lord. On Corpus Christi it’s good to reflect on what we will do over the coming weeks to make sure we are ready for a gentle return to public worship. It will be different. It involves much more than leaving a bottle of sanitiser in the entrance porch or cordoning off a few rows here or there. The reopening must be systematically planned for. We owe it, to those who lost loved ones and are still doing so to Covid-19, to those who couldn’t be with them in their dying hours. Our haste to return or dilute a directive or guideline flies in the face of these supreme sacrifices.
So what will we need to consider? How we enter the church? How we make our way to the seat we sit on? How we process to Communion? How the Holy Communion is distributed and how we receive? How we contribute to the church, its upkeep and different appeals? How we leave? Each of them and much more will need serious attention. The dispensation from attending Sunday Mass still holds. Our churches will each have a certain capacity, a capacity determined by physical distancing norms, norms set by the health authorities. And the capacity is exactly what it says on the tin, capacity and no more. So creativity is needed here, we may decide to go to Mass on a Monday or Tuesday, a Thursday or Friday, spreading out the usual ‘Sunday congregation’. And going once will be more than enough, but if we are in any way vulnerable or challenged, we stay at home and continue to join through the webcam.
My prayer for those of you awaiting to make your First Confession and First Holy Communion, may the day for the little ones come soon when the time is right. You are all especially in my prayers on this Feast of the Body & Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi. Amen.