In the Bible, there is no hard and fast distinction between public worship and private prayer. In the Gospels, Our Lord, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, condemns those who honour God with their lips, but whose hearts are far from Him. In other words, engagement in external ritual without an inward dedication of heart is of no use spiritually. Equally, the Bible makes it clear in places too numerous to mention that Ancient Israel and the Church are both communities whose primary purpose is the public worship of God through prescribed rituals. The public worship offered to Almighty God is an expression of our love of Him, not a substitute for it, and it is in our private prayer that we nourish this love.
Nevertheless, the distinction between public worship and private prayer is one which we have had to think about carefully over the past couple of weeks, since from tomorrow, the law will allow us to open the Oratory Church for the latter, but not the former. I want to say something this morning about what we are going to do.
- The Church will be open from 12:00pm to 5:00pm daily for private prayer only. The reason for these times is to avoid clashing with the live streamed masses at 9:00am and 11:00am and with the Rosary and Spiritual Communion at 6:00pm.
- The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed from 2:00pm to 5:00pm daily (except Wednesday). This is for individual adoration only, which means that we can’t have Benediction, public recitation of the Rosary, or any other devotions.
- Confessions will be heard from 12:00pm to 1:00pm, and from 4:30pm to 5:30pm every day (except Sunday) in the open air confessional which we have set in the cloister. If you wish to go to confession outside of these times, please speak to one of the wardens of to one of the Fathers or Brothers.
- We have put in place a number of measures to enforce (the Orwellian concept of) “social distancing” and to prevent the (possible) spread of infection. Church wardens will be on duty to see that these are enforced, and we ask that you co-operate with their guidance. Please note that we are currently unable to allow the use of our public lavatories or to open the piety stall.
- Public Masses remain suspended, as is the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays.
- Baptisms cannot legally be conducted under the current restrictions and will have to be delayed until these are ended. In an emergency, anyone can carry out a Baptism, by pouring water over the child’s head three times whilst saying “I baptise you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
- If anyone needs the Last Rites, please phone the Oratory House and/or speak to one of the Fathers. Out of hours, there is an emergency phone option on the switchboard.
These restrictions are extremely irksome. The distinction between private prayer and public worship is not, as I say, one which is recognised in Sacred Scripture, and it seems that if you are Government Minister or Adviser, a Member of Parliament, or a protester, you can break the lockdown rules with impunity. The humbug that permeates our public life at the moment is quite breathtaking. However, these restrictions are the price we have to pay for having the Church open at all, and it is, we think, a price worth paying. I cannot tell you how long it is going to be before we are able to celebrate public Masses again. It may be that the next stage will be that we are allowed to celebrate Mass, but without the distribution of Holy Communion and with a limit set on the number of people present. And it may be that only after that, that we will be able to return the situation as it was before the end of March. But that is speculation on my part, and you shouldn’t take it as Gospel. You can rest assured, however, that as soon as we are allowed to do more, we will.
The situation we face is urgent because our SPIRITUAL LIVES MATTER. The Catholic Church never sees anything at all without seeing the face of reality. God infinite and eternal, Trinity, Unity; humanity, finite, created in time, fallen and redeemed by Christ; the individual man born into the life of nature, reborn into the life of grace, united with Christ in the Church which is His Mystical Body, aided by angels, hindered by devils, destined for heaven, in peril of hell. These realities, unlike our public worship, haven’t been suspended, and can’t be suspended. It is tragic in this context to recall the words of Pope Pius XI in establishing the Feast of Christ the King:
If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. What We said at the beginning of Our Pontificate concerning the decline of public authority, and the lack of respect for the same, is equally true at the present day. “With God and Jesus Christ,” we said, “excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.”
Those words were written nearly a hundred years ago. And it precisely because our SPIRITUAL LIVES MATTER that we can only hope and pray that it will not be another hundred years before they are heeded and acted upon.