The Prime Minister says we are on our way back to normality. In England, the schools are back next Monday, and all being well outdoor sports will resume at the end of the month. In the week following the Easter Octave (which concludes on 11 April) gyms, shops and outdoor tourist attractions will reopen – as well as barbers, which will I am sure be a relief to my wife, who has heroically stepped into the role of my personal hairdresser since all this began a year ago.
By the time of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on 29 June, “all legal limits on social contact” will have been lifted, dependent on the coronavirus situation.
We’re not out of the woods yet. International travel is likely to remain problematic for at least the rest of this year. Compulsory indoor masking isn’t going anywhere for a while.
So, I’ve been thinking recently about what I’ll appreciate more once the restrictions are gone, or mostly gone, and the return to Mass is the one that comes to mind.
Even in our very normal parish in a seaside town in Kent, the ethnic diversity gives you a real sense of the truly universal mission of the Church.
We’ve been able to watch Mass on TV or over the internet, but it’s not the same when you’re not physically present. It’s very difficult to keep the minds and eyes of a four-year-old and a five-year-old on a church service happening on a screen, when you’re in your living room and they are surrounded by toys and books and games.
The dramatic virtual experience of Easter Vigil from Blackfriars, Oxford, was a notable exception. It held my daughter’s attention for a good hour or so last April. I should say, she was also very intrigued by a sung Mass in the usus antiquior, which we attended in Advent 2019).
It will be very good for my small children.
Lockdown One came just when they were starting to manage their behaviour at Mass a bit better, and take an interest in what was going on. I’m worried that our inability to attend during most of the last year may have set back the maturing of their attitude.
For myself, although I’ve maintained my personal prayers reasonably well, with the help of the breviary, I have really missed the rhythm of regular Mass attendance.
As John Paul II famously put it, the Eucharist is “the source and summit” of our faith. There is nothing to match the spiritual nourishment that comes from being present for the meeting of Heaven and Earth, and from uniting my own faltering and inarticulate prayers with those of the whole Church throughout the ages, and with Catholics from every tribe and tongue and nation.
Even in our very normal parish in a seaside town in Kent, the ethnic diversity gives you a real sense of the truly universal mission of the Church. It feels profoundly right and fitting for people from so many different national backgrounds to be kneeling together and seeking reconciliation and peace together.
I’ve been thinking recently about what I’ll appreciate more once the restrictions are gone, or mostly gone, and the return to Mass is the one that comes to mind.
I miss the children’s questions, too, and the resulting opportunity to give them an idea of the liturgical riches of the Church. “Why is everything purple today, Daddy?” “Why is the priest doing that?” “Why is that statue there?” “Why is that bell ringing?”
I did not grow up Catholic, so it’s a particular delight for me to start furnishing their minds with all the traditions and rituals and customs that give Catholic life its unique texture.
So yes, roll on normality, even if it’s a masked and monitored normality for now, and thank God and our priests for the Mass.
Niall Gooch is a regular Chapter House columnist. He also contributes to UnHerd.