New Zealand’s bishops have released a set of guidelines for parishes for living, caring, worshipping and ministering when the “traffic light” Covid-19 protection framework comes into effect.
Within the limits set by the Government, the bishops have tried to balance public health imperatives with respect for conscience. Hopefully the pandemic will subside in due course, and the nation can return to life without vaccine mandates. Modifications may be made in the future that make more use of testing for Covid. As the bishops state, mandates that restrict human rights should be scrutinised and critiqued going forward.
But for the time being, the Church has to operate within the traffic light boundaries and its divisions and rules. At least these boundaries and rules are not there in “odeum fidei”, in hatred of the faith. Catholic Masses are in the same category of a whole host of other “gatherings”, ranging from meetings on marae to weddings.
For some, the introduction of the traffic light system will seem like a welcome oasis. In Auckland, Catholics have been in a eucharistic desert for 14 weeks. Desire for the Eucharist is like a great thirst in a dry, weary land without water (Psalm 63).
But beside the desire to feast once again at the table of the Lord, there is a profound sadness that some familiar faces from Sunday Mass congregations will be elsewhere, by dint of the mandate. These are not some opposing group who have to be exiled and denied fire and water, as in ancient times. These are beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. Their absence at vaccine pass Masses, to which the majority of Catholics will be able to go under the orange and green settings, will be keenly felt.
But these Catholics are not beyond the love, care and solicitude of the Church. This has been shown by the provisions made by the bishops. Yet, the opportunities available will more limited. For many, their eucharistic thirst will be prolonged or reimposed. Watching live-streamed liturgies is beneficial, but it is not the same as being there.
Bearing in mind public health precautions, as advised by the bishops, it is to be hoped that Communion can be taken to homes, wherever possible. Those who cannot be at vaccine pass Masses because of the mandate should be prayed for at every one of these Masses. Again, bearing in mind public health precautions, and showing due prudence, social ties should be maintained wherever possible. Vaccinated parishioners should redouble efforts to visit, or otherwise maintain friendly contact with, those who cannot go to vaccine pass Masses. “For I was in prison, and you visited me . . . . Insofar as you did it to the least of my brethren, so you did it unto me.”
For we are all part of a greater whole, the Body of Christ. And our acts of love have a great reach.
In his encyclical Spe Salvi, writing about Purgatory, Benedict XVI referred to the incredible reach of love: “The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death — this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. (SS48)”
Benedict added: “. . . [W]e should recall that no [one] is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death.”
All Catholics, vaccinated or not, stand under the mercy of God. Let that mercy be shown by us all in the days ahead.