The Bishop of Plymouth, Bishop Mark O’Toole has described the announcement of the resumption of public masses as a “return from exile”. Citing the experience of the return of the Jewish people to worship in Jerusalem, after the Babylonian exile, Bishop Mark reflected, “These last months have been an exile for us, too. An exile even from our own churches. An exile from the regular celebration of the Sacraments. An exile from the normal pastoral life of the Church”.
Urging that the “steps we must take in this return are to be gradual”, he reminded people that the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday was still suspended and asked people “to be conscious of their fellow parishioners” and to go to Mass on a day other than Sunday, if possible so that those who could only go on a Sunday would be able to attend Mass.
The Bishop asked priests to continue the live streaming of Mass, and quoted from a moving email he had received, where one person wrote:
“As an old person living alone who is shielding, I have hugely appreciated the daily masses online…… Can I beg you not to stop them when public masses can be said again? Please remember people shielding have to stay in until 1 August. Even then, some of us….are scared….Please do not abandon us.”
In looking forward to the resumption of public mass this weekend, Bishop Mark recalled the Gospel of his Ordination day, thirty years ago, from Matthew Chapter 11, which happens also to be the Gospel to be proclaimed this weekend. He reminded people that this Gospel speaks of God’s preference for the “little ones….for mere children”, and rejoiced in “how much is done, how much influence and impact there is by a parish in its local community when there is a relatively small proportion of local people going to the church.”
Bishop Mark acknowledged the presence of real fear in people’s lives, in the face of “how deadly this virus can be”. He recognized that people will return to Mass slowly and anticipated that the numbers may be relatively small, to begin with. He asked people to wait and see if this is, “a sign of a greater shift in people’s practice of their faith.”
He recognized that the last months have taught us that “as human beings, we are not masters of our world”. He pondered on the negative impact the virus has had, noting, “because this virus seems to be able to hit any of us, at any time, we may be tempted to believe that our life, and a possible imminent death, does not matter. Am I just another statistic?”
Instead, he reminded everyone that, “God is our Father. He looks at each of us with the self-same love with which He looks eternally at His Son……. Each one is infinitely loved by our God, desired by Him, and looked upon by Him with a continuous loving gaze.” In this vein, the Bishop asked all to remember that, “it is in living close to Jesus, making our way to Him, that we are given the rest for which we all long”.
“It is no wonder,” the Bishop said, “that our hearts…. are filled with deep gratitude to God that this ‘return from exile’ is coming soon”.
The full text of Bishop Mark’s reflection: