Attending a Catholic primary school, we were encouraged from that age already to partake in Holy Mass during the week as well. It was instilled in us that just as what we do during the week comes from our Sunday celebration, so too what we do during the week must lead up to our Sunday celebration.
So whether it was as a little boy growing up in Beacon Valley attending Holy Mass on a Thursday evening in Tafelsig, as a youngster on a Tuesday evening in Bonteheuwel or an adult in Beijing, for our household Christian worship was never limited to a Sunday.
The beauty of these celebrations during the week was that we were often just a handful of people. For whatever socio-economic reasons, it was difficult for many to attend services during the week. At times, the number would not exceed ten.
The symbolism of this small group of people gathering for worship was deep. Our congregating, like that of the early Christians, was never about a building, for the early Christians met in their homes. The few of us meeting for worship was symbolic of the larger Christian community; past, present and future.
Up until now, during the lockdown, places of worship have even been closed for worship and prayer. While we may very well be able to pray in our homes and rooms, again for many Christians the symbolism of going to a church and praying in a church is extra special. As the masjid would be in Islam and the synagogue in Judaism, the building symbolises the larger faith community to whom we belong. Faith is never individualistic.
It would be irresponsible for churches to place the safety of their people at risk by allowing large numbers to attend and not taking the prescribed measures.
Yet while many have focussed on the weekly services which will entail large numbers of congregants, we must appreciate the opportunity for places of worship and meditation to be opened for the small numbers. We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
A number of churches will be able to have their daily liturgies which are in most cases attended by fifty people or less in any case. The faithful themselves will now have the chance to go into churches, by themselves, to take time to pray.
Throughout the lockdown period, many have complained about the serious limitations in poor households to implement social distancing measures. For many, poor people included, churches and mosques serve as the only quiet place where they can take time out to pray, to meditate, to feed their souls.
The lockdown also displayed for us starkly the hunger of our people. However, our people are not fed by bread alone. The food for their souls is just as important. Therefore places of worship or any place used as a place to feed the soul, no matter what the conviction, should be opened for the faithful to satisfy this hunger for Peace.
At the height of the outbreak of Covid-19 in Italy, Pope Francis in a glib suggested that churches should be closed for the safety of the faithful. Immediately his second in command in Rome went into action and notified that all churches in Rome were to be closed.
Ironically, one of the most vociferous opponents of the closing of churches in Rome was Konrad Krajewski who heads the pope’s fund looking after the poor. Shortly after this opposition, Pope Francis corrected the action of his second in command and the churches were re-opened.
Krajewski, who is known for his fervent work among Rome’s migrants, poor and destitute on behalf of the pope, understands that there are more ways than one of being poor.
As we address the hunger pleas of the poor during the lockdown, we must not shy away from the spiritual hunger of people either.
Wesley Seale writes from Beijing.