Saturday, March 21, 2020

Mass at a distance: devotional aids

Mass in Chartres Cathedral relayed to Pilgrims outside (2014)
Tomorrow for the first time in my life I am going to sit down to watch the celebration of Mass on my computer screen. I'm not a great one for watching liturgy on screens. The experience of the liturgy cannot easily be reproduced through a screen, and indeed it is important to remember that at the end of the day one is looking at a (moving) picture of Mass, by contrast with one one can see, for example, through a window or a glass door. (I have extensive experience of following the Mass through windows and doors, in the company of small children who need a breath of fresh air.)

Huge screens outside a church for the overflow crowd, as we have at Chartres Cathedral for the Chartres Pilgrimage, are rather different, as you know it is happening right there in the church and the people around you are all taking part in the usual way. But no one would suggest that these are as good as being in the church.

But in one's home? In one's work space? On a little mobile device?

In these strange times we must do the best we can, and if we can't get to church, this is better than nothing. The experience of a live, as opposed to pre-recorded, Mass will give us a more intimate connection with what is happening, and it will be the liturgy of today, the liturgy intended by the Church specially for this moment in the Lenten season.

The Latin Mass Society has collected links to live-streaming Masses being celebrated in England and Wales here.

A plenary indulgence with special conditions, has also now been granted for those who ‘assist virtually’ at Mass, because of the extenuating circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic.

To get the most out of it we should consider the ideal preparation one might make for Mass: not only prayer, but looking ahead at the texts, and commentaries on the texts. The great liturgical commentaries of Prosper Gueranger, Ildefonso Schuster, and Pius Parsch - especially the last of these - are intended to facilitate the Faithful in liturgical participation precisely through explaining the texts, in themselves and in the context of the season and feast. If we can't get the ordinary liturgical experience, nor receive Holy Communion, we can at least do this.

The LMS online shop has a number of books which explain the Traditional Mass, which will be helpful not only to the newcomer but to even long-established EF Mass-goers.

If you don't have a hand Missal, this situation should prompt you to get one. The Latin Mass Society's online shop has a large range of Missals for the Traditional Mass, for children, for Sundays only, and ones with pretty well everything one can find in the Altar Missal, with a facing translation. We even have a Latin-Polish Missal, with an Imprimatur from a certain Bishop Wojtyła: pretty cool, eh?

You will find that even the smaller ones have lots of things in addition to the text of Mass: lots of traditional devotions and prayers, prayers for Confession, and often very useful explanations and commentaries on the Mass. Your hand missal is your spiritual treasure-trove.

Even without a live-stream of Mass, you can pray the prayers of the Mass and meditate on them, using your hand Missal. Peter Kwasniewski discusses it here, and provides downloads to assist you further, with the texts of Mass and prayers for a Spiritual Communion.

More useful links for help in praying the Mass are these:

Acts of Spiritual Communion are of particular importance at this time. Here is the most widely used one, by St Alphonsus of Ligouri.

My Jesus, I believe that thou art present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love thee above all things, and I desire to receive thee in my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace thee as if thou wert already there, and unite myself wholly to thee. Never permit me to be separated from thee. Amen.

Also to be considered, particularly if the lockdown continues for a long time, is the reception of Holy Communion outside Mass. A century ago it was the universal practice: Holy Communion was distributed between Masses, and on demand outside Mass, as Confession is often provided today.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a lovely poem about giving a First Holy Communion in this way to a little bugler boy:

Here he knelt then ín regimental red.
Forth Christ from cupboard fetched, how fain I of feet  
        To his youngster take his treat!
Low-latched in leaf-light housel his too huge godhead.

The law of the Church still gives the Faithful the right to receive Holy Communion outside Mass, and the current situation is one in which this right has an application which it would not normally have. While being sensitive to the extra demands being made on many of the clergy dealing with the sick, it is legitimate to ask if this can be arranged, with all necessary precautions. I know one priest who is making slots available for advance booking for Holy Communion. This should become widespread. The ritual to be followed for this in the Extraordinary Form has been made available by Una Voce Scotland in handy downloadable pdf format.

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  1. It’s a shame we can’t have Mass relayed on loudspeakers or a telly screen to a congregation outside the church, in our cathedrals, at least. What an opportunity to evangelise, apart from anything else! Have any of our bishops considered doing this?

    The official HMG advice is that “when you are outdoors (for example, on a walk) ensure that you stay at least 2 meters [sic] away [from other people, presumably]”. “Social mixing in the community” for those under 70 years is “Advised against” and for those over 70, "Strongly advised against". So, when I go to Tesco tomorrow there won't be anyone there buying toilet rolls and beans, then….

    Why doesn’t the Church put up any kind of a fight? Is the Mass not important?

    1. I think if it were announced that Mass would be relayed in the cathedral car park or whatever that would be tantamount to ancouraging a 'social gathering'...

  2. That's fair comment, Dr Shaw. The official Govt advice is to "Avoid large and small gatherings in public spaces". But then the advice goes on to suggest that the real problem is "closed spaces" where "infections spread easily". 2 metres apart in the open air is apparently deemed safe.

    It's a shame the Church has not apparently had a conversation with the secular authorities about this, that's my beef. Best wishes.

  3. Doc, I was looking online and thinking... confession? The sacrament of reconciliation seems to have been a silent victim of the current emergency. So I looked online for SSPX provision (which is licit of course, thanks to Pope Francis) and I then I thought.... if Mass isn't available in the the MSC (mainstream Church) would it be acceptable to attend an SSPX Mass (which it seems is going to be open to the public, subject to social distancing rules?

    Let me know. Grateful for your view.

    1. I think that must be left to you and your conscience. As for maintaining social distancing in churches, this will depend on the size of the church and the congregation.

    2. Thank you, I appreciate your candour. Timid as I am, I reckon I might 'go for it'.