communities of faith

The cost of a clericalised liturgy

The covid-19 crisis has been an overwhelming experience on many fronts. For Christians it has meant staying away from church. It seems like liturgy suddenly came to a halt, but has it really?

One of the difficult changes we have been living since the -19 began is the closure of liturgical spaces. As a result, all Christians found them­selves fasting from the nourishing experience of worship.

Many friends wrote to me describing how they missed the week­ly experience of gathering in community, listening to the Word and the partaking of the Body of Christ. It has been difficult to nourish ourselves spiritually while observing social distancing away from our communities of faith. The ordinary chores at home, going to work or keeping our children entertained at home are a far cry from we celebrate joyfully in our churches!

As in any emergency, our instinctive reactions kick in and we have found solace in following Masses online. For many of us the natural thing to do in this was to replicate what was taken away from us. However, like the exiled Jews in Babylon away from their temple, a mixture of anguish and desire lingered in us: how can we sing the song of the Lord on an alien soil? 

While Jesus’s discourse of the Good Shepherd sounds romantic and soothing, the religious leaders of his time sought to kill him for using the phrase “the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out of the sheep pen”. It is no coincidence that the word for ‘sheep pen’ is also used for the ‘sacred’ inner courts of the temple in Jerusalem. The reaction of the high priests was therefore not surprising.

This has providentially taken us out of our ‘sacred spaces’, not in order to leave us hanging out in the desert of our everyday life, but to discover that our life outside the physical parameters of our churches is an extension of the that we celebrate every week. Literally speaking, our life as baptised in Christ is a liturgy, all of it.

In its clericalised distortion, the faith is reduced to religious practices that feed into a natural need of sacrificial atonement. This natural need for religion is founded on a very clear distinction between the sacred and the profane.

Our present difficulty to appreciate and live our everyday life as might be a sign that this distinction still fragments our mentality. We cannot live without the because it is our nourishment but also because our whole life is slowly but hopefully becoming Eucharist; a joyful acknowledgement that everything we are and have comes from the Father as a gift. 

The difference between the clericalised priesthood, which needs to repeat its daily sacrifices to bring purity unto a profane world, and the priesthood of those who are baptised in Christ, is that the latter constantly work with the Holy Spirit for the only sacrifice pleasing to God: doing everything with love.

did not stop during this pandemic, and surely not because we started streaming Masses online. As we are given permission to gradually resume our gatherings as communities of faith, let us not forget that anything we do in love and a spirit of self-sacrifice is as eloquent a liturgy as our beautiful celebrations.

This article appeared on The Sunday Times of Malta, on 7th June 2020.

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