Over the next few weeks, and very possibly months, we will have to get used to a new way of living. So how do we adjust to a Church without public Masses? How can we help the most vulnerable? And might there be opportunities to live better lives than we did before? This week, six writers offer their suggestions for thriving in a lockdown. Here, Fr Matthew Pittam writes on the spiritual life:
Many of us were deeply saddened by the important decision that we should, for this time, not celebrate Mass with a congregation. For a number of my parishioners it meant the removal of an important anchor and strength in their lives. Something that would have helped to sustain them during these times of turmoil was suddenly no longer there.
It is certainly a time of great anxiety and uncertainty for most of us. Things we have taken for granted are now no longer a given and we can feel loss, pain and even a sense of bereavement. For many years I have been a mental health social worker, working in this role alongside my life as a priest. When supporting those who experience feelings of anxiety, I always remind them of two important pillars for coping: Routines and Purpose. If we try to live the Catholic life fully then we have these two in abundance.
Developing patterns for meal times, recreation and prayer can all help to establish a sense of wellbeing and stability. The Church’s life of prayer provides us with a strong and robust framework. We have a 2,000-year living tradition which has sustained our forefathers through great times of trial and distress just waiting for us to embrace anew.
This could be a time to think what a “rule of life” might look like for us, and to consider again praying parts of the Daily Office or trying to practise a particular act of piety or devotion. A rule of life can sound like something restrictive but it is very much a flexible framework that helps us to grow in holiness and in the image of Christ.
Many garden plants need a trellis to grow and thrive. In the same way a rule of life can be a way of giving us a framework to flourish. In its simplest form a rule of life can be a list of commitments to pray, read, sleep, rest, watch a live-streamed Mass, and give time to others. It is always a working document and can develop as we grow in Christ.
We could think carefully about how these could punctuate our day, especially if we have too much spare time because of self-isolation. With so many resources available on the internet, it has never been easier to break open the rich treasury of the Church’s devotional and prayer life. There are a lot of options out there, but here are a few suggestions.
Churchservices.tv provides daily Mass and other liturgies in hundreds of locations at lots of different times; Walsingham.org/livestream allows us to follow liturgy at our national shrine; Universalis.com includes daily Mass readings as well as the full round of the daily offices from the Breviary; Loyola Press now provides a regularly updated page – loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/prayer/traditional-catholic-prayers – with many traditional devotions, practices and prayers.
Our present circumstances give us many opportunities to develop a sense of purpose, especially if our previous sense of purpose has been disrupted by Covid-19. Caring for fellow parishioners, friends and family will be increasingly important and this links very clearly to our inner prayer life. Joining in Masses which are streamed, and having a sense of commitment to this, can help us feel connected to the prayers of the Church.
We may at this time feel very detached from everything, but in communion with Christ we can never be spiritually isolated from his Church. It is important to remember that all of the Church’s prayer and devotional life links us to the Mass and to the Cross of Jesus. Because the Mass is the source and summit of our faith, all other liturgies and devotions flow from its celebration and are made sense of in their relationship to it. Our prayers, offices and piety can never be detached from the Mass and are, through their relationship to the Mass, rooted in the redeeming work of Christ.
So when we pray the rosary, say the Divine Mercy Chaplet or take part in any form of the Church’s devotion, we are doing something which is rooted in the when we are not present. Recapturing a sense of this will help us grasp our complete connectedness to the Church.
Please also remember that priests are still here and available for you. We can still be contacted for prayer requests, advice and support. Many parishes are still providing notice sheets which can be accessed via their websites.
It is also not easy for priests, who now have to say Mass without their beloved parish families. We too experience a sense of isolation from you and a feeling of separation and loss. Knowing that you are continuing to connect with the Mass through the prayers of the Church gives us great comfort as we celebrate the Mass behind closed doors on your behalf.
Together through our prayerful connectedness, we can all look forward in hope to the time when we will gather together again around God’s altar.
Fr Matthew Pittam is the parish priest of Monks Kirby, Warwickshire