In this lockdown I am celebrating a private Mass every day in our beautiful Lower Church, and after saying Mass this morning it occurs to me how much life there is in the liturgy. I have to admit, this pandemic has thrown me for a loop. I’m not having a crisis of faith as such, but it is as if I have woken up and while I was sleeping someone has come in and moved all the furniture around in my house. I don’t quite know where to find anything and I suspect whoever moved the stuff has probably stolen a fair bit and maybe they’ve installed surveillance cameras without me knowing. That’s how I have been feeling, and it is the liturgy which suddenly shows its hidden value.
The Divine Office and the Mass provide a rock to build on. It’s there. It’s solid. It’s real. It’s dependable. It makes me wonder what I would do as a Protestant pastor. What is church to them and what is worship without the liturgy? I know their beliefs about church would be that it is essentially (and perhaps only) a gathering of the faithful together to praise God and study his Word. So what do you do when you can’t meet together to sing hymns and have a Bible study?
The liturgy, on the other hand, not only pulls me through and gives me a rock on which to build, but the solitary celebration of the Mass reminds me that much more is going on here than the simple gathering together of the people of God for inspiration, worship and a pep talk. Celebrating Mass on one’s own reminds me that this is the holy sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ brought into the present moment and even with just the priest and one server the cosmic sacrifice continues. We are doing something essential, something transcendental, something powerful and positive in the world.
Since this is true it also transforms the way we perceive the Mass when we are not alone. Now the congregation are participants in this great sacrifice. They share in the action of the Mass by making their own sacrifice of prayer and praise. They are not there primarily to have fellowship. They are not there simply to hear an inspiring talk or a charismatic preacher. They are not there as members of Father Fabulous’ Fan Club. They are not there for a political pep rally or a committee meeting to promote the latest ideology to change the world.
They are there as part of the mystical Body of Christ, the bride at the marriage supper of the Lamb. They are there on the threshold of heaven and at the foot of Mt Calvary–with the priest pondering and wondering at the mystery of Christ crucified, risen and glorified for the redemption of the whole world.
This mystery of the Mass, therefore is nothing wasted as I celebrate Mass alone. Indeed, this mystery is magnified and hammered home to my hardened heart as never before.
Therefore know that as we priest pray for you at Mass it is more than a practical prayer time. It is bringing you and your needs and the needs of the whole world to the place where the whole world can be healed and all souls can be reconciled…if only they will.
PS: Read more of my thoughts on liturgy in my new book: Letters on Liturgy