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Celebrating sacraments under COVID-19

Michael McVeigh  |  23 August 2020

The baptism of our first child, back in 2018, was a special celebration.  

My wife and I saw it not just as a moment for our son and immediate family, but for our Catholic friends as well. We invited our faith community to be part of the celebration – bringing together my wife’s Marist friends, with my own friends in the Jesuit Province.

It was a special occasion, as people young and old, lay and religious, came together to celebrate our son becoming part of the Catholic community.

Our second child, a daughter, was born just before Christmas last year. Our plan was to have a similar event for her. However, the coronavirus this year has put those plans on hold.

At the time of writing this article, we’re again facing stage 3 restrictions in Melbourne – and unfortunately baptising a child isn’t one of the four reasons we’re allowed to leave the home. At the present time, we’re not sure when we’ll be able to hold the baptism, or what the celebration might look like.

The impression that many people have these days is that religion should be a personal thing, something kept private. However, those within the Church know that this isn’t how faith is lived in practice. God befriends us not just directly through our prayers, but also through the relationships we have with our fellow Christians, and our broader relationships as well.

So the coronavirus has created some issues for Catholics, particularly those wanting to celebrate the sacraments. Online Mass may, for a time, be adequate for sustaining our day-to-day faith. But what about those other special celebrations that usually involve the whole community?

Adapting to new circumstances

In July, Broken Bay Bishop Anthony Randazzo announced that there would be no celebrations of the Sacrament of Confirmation in the diocese this year.

The pandemic had prevented him from visiting parishes across the dioceses, and due to the ongoing uncertainty and for the sake of clarity for parents and families, the diocese would delay the sacrament until 2021. While the situation varies around the country, other dioceses have also suspended confirmations, except in exceptional cases.

Some celebrations are moving forward. Baptisms, marriages and funerals are all being celebrated where restrictions allow. However the nature of those celebrations has changed. In some ways the changes are good – allowing a greater sense of the sacred, and a greater intimacy with God. But the loss of the community aspects of the celebration is hard for many. 

Catholic couples wanting to embark on the next stage of their lives are still getting married, even if it’s not the event they might have dreamed about.

‘The sacrament is so important to us, and our nuptial Mass was something we had been planning and looking forward to for a long time’, Joseph McDonald told The Catholic Voice after his marriage to Mystique Nelis in Canberra in April. ‘We love each other and felt called to go ahead.’

Another couple, Tom Kenyon and Emily Tighe, joked that the changed circumstances meant they didn’t have to worry about the invitation list. ‘Scott Morrison did the choosing for us’, Tom said.

Weddings, having for years become more and more commercialised, might actually benefit from a some downsizing. But as well as opportunities to celebrate in a community, these events are opportunities for Catholics to share their faith with others – to invite people in their broader network to understand the importance of God in their lives.

For young people waiting to receive the sacraments, particularly communion and reconciliation, dealing with the ongoing uncertainty may be more difficult. While parents are being involved in doing sacramental preparation in the home, finding ways to hold safe, socially-distanced, first Reconcilation and Communion ceremonies in parishes presents a challenge. Some are hoping to hold them later in the year, but it’s impossible to know when and if restrictions might allow whole congregations to gather.

Following where God leads

One thing that can be helpful is understanding that God’s still accompanying us, even if we don’t quite see how in the present moment.

Eka Tanaya SJ was due to be ordained to the priesthood this year. The coronavirus has seen the date postponed and rescheduled on several occasions. He is due to be ordained at St Ignatius’ Church in Richmond on 22 August – with friends and family joining via livestream rather than in person.

‘This is God’s project, not mine’, he says. ‘I just need to go along.’

This isn’t the first time that Christians have had to overcome challenges in celebrating the sacramental aspects of their faith. It’s here that wisdom, creativity and – importantly – humour comes into play. It’s also a reminder that God wants us focused not just on our own journey and needs, but also the needs of others.

‘The impossibility of gathering as a church to celebrate the Eucharist has led us to share the experience of many Christian communities that cannot celebrate Mass every Sunday’, Pope Francis wrote in a message for World Mission Sunday this year.

‘In all of this, God’s question: “Whom shall I send?” is addressed once more to us and awaits a generous and convincing respond: “Here am I, send me.”’

 

 

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