Britain is in lockdown except for “essential services;” these, apparently, do not include those of the Church of England and the Catholic Church. For many this is not only counter-intuitive, it runs contrary to the priestly duty to be with those in need; the result has been a good deal of criticism of the “leadership.” Knowing, in my own limited sphere, how easy it is to criticise “leadership,” I pause for thought before going in that direction.
I can imagine how hedged about with caution from “legal” and “HR” the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Nichols are. Imagine the outcry if a Church service led to the spreading of the Coronavirus, or even if a Church left open for private prayer were to do so? Unlikely? Perhaps. Impossible? Would you bet your life and reputation on it? Hence, I am sure, the advice offered to priests. But, even if one takes the harsh view that Church leaders have failed to lead, nothing should be allowed to detract from the efforts they, and all bishops, are making to ensure that the Churches are there, virtually, for people.
The former editor of the Catholic Herald, Luke Coppen, has a piece in the current edition of the Spectator on the subject of whether the closure of Churches will have an adverse effect on Christianity in this country. It is easy enough to imagine why it might.
Once out of the habit of going to Church, will people go back to it? Catholics, who have always been told that missing Mass is a sin may, seeing a dispensation granted so readily, decide that it can continue post Coronavirus. But, on the other hand, there has been an upsurge in online searches for “prayer,” and, not that you’d know it from the press, but the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Facebook page has an excellent series of talks on the subject, whilst he, Cardinal Nichols and Rabbi Mirvis have an excellent and thought-provoking discussion here. No doubt there will be those who will reach for the smelling salts at such news, but if they would stop and listen, they might learn something.
On this, a Maundy Thursday like no other, when we commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist, and when we remember Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles, we are drawn, ineluctably to His command of love and service. At this time, when our Churches are closed, we can still come together in prayer and remember, that for all Catholics, where Mass is celebrated Christ is present, and so is the community of believers.
So let us pray for all priests and religious, not least for our leaders whom it is easy to criticise. All do God’s work as they can. And I hope that a former Anglican might be forgiven for invoking the General Confession from the Book of Common Prayer:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father;
We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.