By Bishop Sylvester David OMI, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cape Town.
A reflection as to why many Local Ordinaries in the SACBC region have lifted the obligation to attend Mass during such a sacred time in our liturgical year.
The Church exists not so much for herself as she does for the salvation of the world. The Latin word for salvation actually refers to safety and welfare. Salvation is not an otherworldly reality lived in a vacuum but it is lived out in the concrete circumstances of human vulnerability and brokenness. That fact that in Cape Town, for example, there is no public Mass does not mean that Mass has been stopped. On the contrary every priest is expected to celebrate Mass (in private) and the Mass being a priestly prayer rather than a devotional one, is naturally other-centred. In other words the priest offers sacrifice for others. Laity, know that you are prayed for at this time. Trust in the priestly prayer of the Church.
That Bishops have dispensed people from attending Mass at this time as permitted by the Canon Law of the Church is in keeping with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 12:1-8 that the Sabbath is made for humanity and not the other way around. Using the example of King David, Jesus shows that human need is primary – and primary at this time is the need to love the neighbour by not opening him or her up to infections. St Paul reminds us that the whole of the law is summed up in “love of the neighbour” (Galatians 5:14). The word for “love” in this text means a self-sacrificial love.
South African dioceses are not the only ones where the obligation to attend Sunday Mass has been lifted. This is being done in many parts of the world. The call is for us to make a sacrifice for the good of the human community. Medical experts use the term social distancing. This refers to a physical distance. Spiritually we can say that rather than distance ourselves from human need, the Christian community is actually drawn together by showing solidarity with each other in a spirit of prayer, and indeed is doing it for the salus (latin word for “salvation”) of the world. When we embrace that motive, we show a oneness with Christ in his saving love for the world.
Of course, when the crisis is over, such measures will fall away – and then we will have the benefit of having discovered a new way of being Church – right where we live. This is the veritable body of Christ in our homes. If we look at it in the right way we will certainly be enriched and our Sunday worship will be an expression of togetherness with the wider family of God.