Keeping the Lamp of Faith Lit – Archbishop Reflects on First Sunday of Coronavirus Regulations
By Archbishop Michael Jackson
Sunday March 15th 2020 was, and will remain, special in my own spiritual and religious experience. It was the first Sunday when we had to grapple as carefully and as creatively as we could with the new regulations about the size of public gatherings. We in Ireland are now living through the coronavirus in regard to gathering for public worship. Ecclesia (from which we derive words like ecclesiastical = having to do with church matters) itself means gathering. So you can see the very specific dilemma. Different people made different decisions about the appropriateness of gathering in a group and I have no doubt that they acted as conscience dictated. Both gatherings of which I was part yesterday adhered comprehensively to the guidelines issued by the HSE as they can be applied to churches and church services. Of course, numbers were down. Of course, we were trying our best to keep afloat. Of course, we have been preparing for some time now to make other ways of sharing worship from churches across the dioceses happen with and for people confined and isolated at home. Of course, we will change our approach if the national guidelines change before our eyes and under our feet.
Yesterday morning gave me the chance to worship with two types of communities gathering to worship God. One was a parish setting and the other was a cathedral setting. The cathedral services in both Dublin cathedrals are live streamed. Both of yesterday’s contexts showed the same consistency of approach. Both had a strong sense of prayerful solidarity, offering thanksgiving to God through the Eucharist and seeking hope from God for others as well as for ourselves. In fact, one of the Readings from Romans chapter 5 gave voice to the particular Christian hope: ‘… and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us…’
What came home to me forcefully again and again was the word prayer. And I thought about prayer in three ways. I realized how much I took each of them for granted and now treasure all of them equally. The three types of praying are praying for, praying with and praying in. We are accustomed to praying for other people – we should also pray for ourselves. We take praying with others for granted – we need to commit to doing this in a range of different and new ways. We love praying in churches and chapels and in quiet spaces – this may become a luxury and, again, we will need to centre our praying in the place where we are rather than in the place where we want to be. The prepositions came into sharper focus for me: for, with, in …
Over a long period of time, we have become impatient with patience itself. We will have to learn patience all over again as the days and weeks progress. We are not sure how long this situation will last but, on the basis of my experience yesterday, I want to thank all of those who are keeping the lamp of faith lit and the ways of God open to people who are more frightened and more in need of comfort than they ever imagined even a couple of weeks back.