Tomorrow, the entire Church celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the founders of the Church of Rome. Though different in many ways, both of these men were strong in faith and in their love and service of the Lord – even to the point of martyrdom. They suffered many trials in their mission to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to people in various locations and to the wider world.
It is appropriate therefore that it is on that Feast that we return to the public celebration of Mass and the Sacraments in our country. The past few months have been very challenging and stressful for us all. As priests we were ordained to celebrate the Sacraments with and for the People of God. These last few months have forced us to celebrate in empty churches, and many of our priests were also cocooning and unable to celebrate publicly. These months have been difficult for the faithful who have had to endure lockdown and lack of access to the Sacraments. These times have been especially difficult for families who have lost loved ones and who could not celebrate funeral liturgies in the normal way. As we return to a more normal form of Church life, let us remember all of them and pray especially for the repose of the souls of their loved ones.
But as we return let us be careful; let us not rush back into trying to have things as they were. Our ways of gathering, our ways of interacting with each other will be different now. We all need to observe social distancing and hygiene regulations. We must all look out for each other, to ensure that we stay safe.
I wish to remind all parishioners that the Sunday and Holy Day obligations are dispensed with for the time being. That means that you can go to Mass on any day of the week. This is important. It is important because it means that people need to spread out their attendances so that everyone gets a chance to partake in the sacred mysteries. I ask that everybody inform themselves of what the local parish has arranged and planned for the return to public celebrations of Mass.
Also, I urge people who are vulnerable or with underlying conditions, people who suspect they may have Covid-19 or those who have been close to someone who has, not to come to Mass just yet, in the interests of the health and safety of all.
I wish to thank and acknowledge the tremendous work being done by volunteers, many of them young people, in helping to get our churches prepared for the return to worship and for assisting with cleaning and stewarding. Your service is not only appreciated, it is a valued sign of the living Church in your parish and diocese now and into the future. We are blessed with great communities across our diocese and it is important that, just as we looked out for each other during the pandemic, we continue to do that now and into the future.
The pandemic has not passed; we have made great progress; but we need to be careful. That is why I ask that you support the clergy and each other in abiding by the protocols and the common-sense requirements that are in place to make sure that everyone is able to give glory to God in a safe environment.
Let us thank God for bringing us through to this day. As the psalm puts it ‘From all my terrors the Lord set me free’ (Ps 33:5). Like Saints Peter and Paul, may we be strengthened by the trials we endure and proclaim the message of Christ anew in our lives. May all of us, whether we are in the church building or still watching online from home or work, be in communion with Christ and with each other. May we be renewed so that ‘through the breaking of the Bread and the teaching of the Apostles, we may be one heart and one soul, made steadfast’ in the love of the Lord. (cf. Prayer after Communion, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul)
May Mary, Mother of the Church, health of the sick, pray for us and accompany us on our way. Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.