Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 27 January 2021, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
I wish you peace and blessings as we begin this reflection. No matter what happens in our lives, and whatever we encounter, may the Risen Christ always gives us inner peace and trust in him. In the First Reading of today’s Mass (Hebrews 10:11-18) we hear the writer speaking of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, comparing it with the sacrifices of Old.
Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God
Today we shall pray for those suffering from Covid 19. Let us pray:
Merciful God, hear our fervent prayer for all who suffer from the coronavirus. May those who are infected receive the proper treatment and the comfort of your healing presence. May their caregivers, families and neighbours be shielded from the onslaught of the virus. Give solace to those who grieve the loss of loved ones, and grant eternal rest to those who have died. Protect and guide those who strive to find a cure, that their work may conquer the disease and restore communities to wholeness and health. Help us to rise above fear and to face with courage the uncertainty and anxieties of the future. We ask all this through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, and in the name of your Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (cf. Chausa.org)
One of the most painful aspects of the pandemic, and one which rebels against human nature, is that we have not been able to visit loved ones in hospital even if they are on their death-bed. It is important to us to be with those we love when they are suffering, even if we cannot relieve their suffering and even when we cannot find the words to comfort them. Simply being present, holding a hand, wiping the brow, are important to us and of great solace and comfort to the one who is ill. “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main”, wrote the poet John Donne. Human beings are connected to each other, inter-dependent, even if we don’t recognize it at times.
During the pandemic we have been prevented from meeting and interacting with people as we would usually do. So many meetings are conducted on such platforms as Zoom which can with ease bring people together even if they are living on different continents. It is convenient, cheap and efficient. But it is not the same as being with people at a physical meeting. We miss out on other cues which help human interaction, body language for example. We miss out on the small talk which enable us to get to know people better and to exchange information informally. Physical presence, ultimately, is essential for human well-being and balance. This is true for our relationship with God, as well. From the earliest times in the Scriptures we read of the principle of presence.
In the Old testament God was present in the Exodus as a flame by night and a cloud by day. Mary, after the Annunciation, travelled a long and arduous journey to be present to Elizabeth. St Paul travelled to many places to personally proclaim the Gospel and frequently longed to visit and be present to Christian communities when he was prevented from doing so. Most importantly and earth shatteringly, God became visibly and physically present in the person of Jesus Christ. These are just some examples. Last week I mentioned that the most important part of prayer is to make ourselves present to God and allow him to be present to us. This is communion with God.
The celebration of the Eucharist, by its very nature, requires our physical presence. In the celebration of Mass we make ourselves physically and spiritually present to God, just as Christ makes himself sacramentally present to us in the form of bread and wine. The Eucharist is both a deeply personal encounter with Christ as well as a communal encounter. He comes to each of us deep within ourselves but also communally as the People of God. Christian writers in the early Church referred to this as the many grains of wheat united in the one Bread. Sadly, we cannot be physically present to God at Mass during this time of pandemic, due to the lockdown and the need to keep people safe. Because of this we use other ways to express our desire and longing to be present at the Eucharist, such as by participating in a live-streamed Mass and by making a spiritual Communion. It is the best we can do at this time but we must remember it is an imperfect situation and should not be regarded as normal. At Mass we make a total offering to God of ourselves – body, spirit and soul. Just think of the offertory hymn we often sing: All that I am, all that I do, All that I’ll ever have, I offer now to you. All that I dream, all that I pray, All that I’ll ever make, I give to you today. We unite our self-offering with Christ’s sacrificial offering on the Cross, our humble and imperfect offering united the perfect and sinless offering which is pleasing to the Father. We should never see Mass as simply receiving Communion – the whole of the Mass is a great liturgical movement of praise, thanksgiving, petition and intercession. It is participation in the memory, the living memory, of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, which not only recalls the history of those events, but includes us in their continuing reality of Jesus’ self-giving for the salvation of the world. We can – and must – at this time watch and pray with a live-streamed Mass. We know that this is the best we can do at this time but we hunger and thirst for that time when we can – with our brothers and sisters – meet at the altar of the Lord and make ourselves physically present to God in the Celebration of the Eucharist. Let us pray deeply within our hearts that the day that can happen will not be delayed.
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your spirit
Merciful Father, splendour of the Church and crown of all saints, give to your people that firm faith which begets wisdom and nourish them with a love and desire for the heavenly bread until we can once again be re-united around your table of Eucharist. Through Christ our Lord, amen. And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.