“I feel like we are entering into another type of Lent.”
This was Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley’s reflection in his pastoral letter on March 22 as the New Zealand bishops made the painful decision to cancel all Masses – starting on March 20 and until further notice.
The bishops had to make another “heartbreaking decision” to close churches after the Government advised it was putting the country into lockdown from 11.59pm on March 25 to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus/Covid-19.
The lockdown put a halt to planned first confessions and communions throughout the country as well as to weddings and funerals.
“Reluctantly, we are ‘fasting’ from the Eucharist, but this can be a chance to appreciate the gift of it more fully,” Bishop Dooley said.
The bishops earlier gave people in their dioceses dispensation from their obligation to attend Sunday Masses and holy days of obligation in accordance with Canon 1248.
Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe suggested “spiritual communion, which is a rich part of the Church’s spiritual wealth for those who cannot receive Holy Communion”.
He also asked people to be “sensible and flexible”.
“I ask you, please do not make this a ‘political’ issue, but rather, reading the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel, look at this time as an opportunity to grow in your own spiritual life and holiness,” he said in his pastoral letter.
Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, SM, also called on people to deepen their spiritual life.
“This will certainly be a different Lent than we have ever experienced before. But we are people who believe in a God who loves us and in whom we trust, through all the stages of life and whatever might happen. Let us place our trust in him, pray for strength and courage as we face these challenges and not let fear rule our heart,” he said.
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn encouraged families to celebrate Sunday “as a domestic Church”.
“Moving to Alert 4 sees all of us self-isolating. Not just to keep ourselves safe, but those about us. This requires our church buildings to close. But not the Living Church. We, the people of God, are still missionary disciples, praying for and supporting one another,” he said.
With available technology, the different dioceses put links to streamed Masses on their websites. More prayer and reflection resources had been made available online.
Bishops Dunn, Lowe and Martin celebrated online Sunday Masses, the links to which were posted on their Facebook pages as well as on websites. Different priests also celebrated daily Masses across the country.
Bishop Lowe celebrated a Votive Mass, a Mass celebrated for a particular need which, in this case, was protection from the pandemic.
“It’s bizarre for me to be preaching before a camera. Whenever I preach, I get engaged with people sitting in front of me and their reaction. Perhaps for you, it’s bizarre watching a homily from home, on a laptop or computer or a phone. But this again is a time for us experiencing something new, something new coming to birth within us. It is my hope that, at this time, as we pray the Mass together, me here in my chapel and you, wherever you may be, that we’ll enter into the mystery of the Mass more deeply, and the prayers,” he said.
Bishop Martin, in his homily on March 20, warned against seeing the pandemic as God’s punishment.
“It’s a really dangerous way to see God, and not one that measures up to what Jesus Christ revealed to us about the nature and the way that God operates. Indeed, in the event of the man who was blind, the Pharisees asked Jesus, who [it was that] sinned – this man or his parents, because they considered that his blindness was a punishment from God. Neither, says Jesus. This man’s [blindness] is so that the works of God may be made visible through him,” Bishop Martin stressed.
Bishop Dunn reflected on how the blind man came to see, while the Pharisees became more and more blind.
“The big issue is, for the Pharisees, did Jesus heal on the Sabbath day? For the blind man, and for us, the issue is, did he help a man born blind to see again, whatever day of the week it happened,” Bishop Dunn said.
“If that is the case, who is Jesus? And that’s the question that is in our hearts as we journey towards Easter.
“As we continue our lenten journey, we pray for the gift of sight that we can see Jesus in our day to day life . . . and you might even say in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Church is posting online Mass links on its National Liturgy Office website. The page has regular updates of links in New Zealand and overseas, including to the Pope’s daily Mass, held at 7pm New Zealand time.
Wellington Cardinal John Dew, in his reflection on March 26, called on the faithful to show “unusual kindness”.
“These unusual times call us to respond with unusual kindness, to go out of our way to be kind to those who are isolated, anxious, lonely, ill or suffering a bereavement. It is good to look after our fellow parishioners, but we are people called to mission. The people in our street, workmates, extended family and especially those who are struggling, all need ‘unusual kindness’.”
He also suggested Catholics donate financially, if not in goods, to foodbanks and community organisations.