A Message from the Metropolitan Archbishops
of the Catholic Church in England and Wales:
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The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have issued a reflection on post-pandemic recovery and the challenges faced by the Church in encouraging people back to the Church and her Sacraments.
The Bishops met for their Spring plenary meeting from 19 – 22 April 2021.
In a reflection titled The Day of the Lord, the Bishops also praise families, parish communities and those who have worked tirelessly in hospitals, care homes, schools and prisons during these challenging times of ill-health, grief and isolation.
The Bishops salute the leadership of our priests and also express gratitude for the ‘immense efforts’ of those who have provided food for those most in need:
“The generosity shown in the distribution of so very many meals has given eloquent expression to the mercy, love and compassion which are at the very heart of God. Many have been touched by the joy of meeting Christ in the poor; and many of the poor by the joy of meeting Christ in selfless parishioners.”
Whilst acknowleding the creative and diverse methods of outreach during the pandemic – not least the live streaming of Mass – attention then turns to the post-pandemic world.
The Bishops recognise that it is impossible to predict the pace at which we will emerge from the pandemic but state “what is clear is the challenge we face of bringing our communities and the practice of the faith to a still greater expression and strength.”
They identify the groups of people they are seeking to reach:
Those who have lost the habit of coming to church and who may be anxious about doing so
Those who may not want to re-establish a pattern of Catholic worship – who may have seen a gap widen between the spiritual dimension of their lives and any communal expression of that spiritual quest.
The ‘Covid curious’ who may have encountered the Catholic Church for the first time during the pandemic
The Bishops highlight the strengths, the “veritable treasures” of the Catholic Church as being the tools at their disposal to rise to these challenges. The greatest treasure is, of course, the sacramental life of the Church and at its heart, the Eucharist.
“It is the Eucharist, the celebration of the Mass, that makes the Church; and it is the Church, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, which makes the Eucharist. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the lifeblood of the Church. It requires our active participation and, to be fully celebrated, our physical presence.
“At this moment, then, we need to have in our sights the need to restore to its rightful centrality in our lives the Sunday Mass, encouraging each to take his or her place once again in the assembly of our brothers and sisters.
“We face the task of seeking to nurture the sense of Sunday as ‘a weekly gift from God to his people’, and something we cannot do without; to see Sunday as the soul of the week, as giving light and meaning to all the responsibilities we live out each day; to see the Sunday Eucharist as food for the unique mission with which we have been endowed.”
Reflection: Day of the Lord
Gathering as Bishops in Conference this week, we wish to pay tribute to all in the Catholic community who have shown such courage, generosity and understanding in the face of adversity this past year. Across England and Wales, families and parish communities have risen to the challenge of sustaining one another through times of great isolation, loneliness and grief in an impressive variety of ways, spiritual, emotional and practical. We thank all who have worked tirelessly in prisons, in hospitals, care-homes and across the medical profession for giving of themselves so generously. We thank all who have worked valiantly in our schools, facing unforeseen demands and meeting them with characteristic professionalism and dedication.
We wish also to pay tribute to those who have given of their time and energy to keep open our churches as havens of peace and prayer. Churches up and down the land have realised the vision of Pope Francis that they be like village-wells where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey; and centres of “constant missionary outreach.” We thank all who have developed diverse new patterns of outreach – of prayer, catechesis, study and spiritual solidarity; all who have made participation in the Mass possible through the internet.
Also prominent in this tribute should be thanks to all who have contributed to the immense effort of providing food for those most in need. The generosity shown in the distribution of so very many meals has given eloquent expression to the mercy, love and compassion which are at the very heart of God. Many have been touched by the joy of meeting Christ in the poor; and many of the poor by the joy of meeting Christ in selfless parishioners. The provision of food is often the first step into a deeper relationship of help and accompaniment, including the sharing of the gift of faith in our Blessed Lord.
‘Vibrant’ is a word which seems to have characterised so many of our parishes throughout the pandemic. We wish to salute our priests in particular for the leadership they have shown in this time of crisis. We thank them for their deep devotion to both the liturgy and to their parishioners. We commend every priest who made of his parish “a ‘sanctuary’ open to all” and with a particular care for the poor; and the many Deacons who have exercised with such generosity their mission of charity.
What will be the pace of our emerging from this pandemic remains as yet unclear. What is clear is the challenge we face of bringing our communities and the practice of the faith to a still greater expression and strength. As your bishops, we are aware of a threefold pattern to this challenge.
a) There are the fearful and weary, anxious about coming into the enclosed spaces of our churches; those who have simply lost the habit of coming to church. Personal contact, clear reassurance, and sensitive invitations will all be needed.
b) There are those who will have reassessed their pattern of life and priorities. The practice of faith within the community of the Catholic Church may not be among those priorities. A gap may have opened up, or widened, between the spiritual dimension of their lives and any communal expression of that spiritual quest. They represent a particular focus and concern for our outreach.
General Prayer for Health
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Prayer for those in Authority
Loving God, in Christ Jesus, the servant of all, you call us to the service of others.
Grant to those who govern the community the skill to recognise its urgent needs
and the strength to pursue the common good. Endow us all with patience and courage.
Prayer for Health Staff
Wondrous God, author of life, you fashioned us in your likeness and breathed into us
the life which is your own.
Be with those whose special care
is the health of mind and body.
Fill their hearts with awe
for the life which is your gift
and sustain them daily in your service, that their hands may bring to others the comfort of your healing touch. Through Christ our Lord.
Prayer for those Affected
come to the help of your people.
Be our shelter in this time of peril
and strengthen the bonds of our community. Bring healing to all who suffer
the ravages of disease
and assist those whose skill and art
can put an end to this affliction.
Through Christ our Lord.