Will you say a mass please Fr.?
We were all I’m sure, both shocked and horrified by the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel during mass in his Church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Rouen. An elderly priest celebrating mass with a small congregation of three nuns and two other parishioners on a Tuesday morning at 9.00am… we can’t but draw the similarity along with thousands of other communities, doing exactly the same thing at the same time on the same day and as such we feel the reality of the atrocity more tangibly because of it. The violation and brutality of what happened is unthinkable. Yet it happened and we have to confront it, but I’m not going to pass any opinion on what it was that drove the two assailants to do what they did; this piece in the Parish bulletin is not the forum for that. Rather I want to ask that we think about those aspects of our Christian life, to which the mass, in its very essence directs us, so that we can better understand how precious and important the mass is for us and for our communities.
The mass is an encounter, one which happens at a particular place and at a particular time. In this respect the mass establishes a unity of prayer within the community and amongst communities. The fact that mass was celebrated at 9.00am on Tuesday in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray as well as at St Thomas More Wollaton and likewise in thousands of other Churches around the world, conveyed a moment of powerful witness to our faith and our love of Jesus Christ. Even if each congregation in each Church numbers only in the tens or teens, the combined size of all those tens and teens generates a palpable dynamic.
In reality no matter how often the mass is celebrated, each time is an new encounter. Even if the same people are present, it is important that we appreciate that we as individuals and as communities are changed by what we experience. At each celebration we bring thoughts and aspects of our lives that are different from those before. Even though the words and the prayers may seem so familiar to us, they nevertheless throw new light onto our situation and thereby change our outlook. They achieve this because the Word of God as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews is something alive and active directing our thoughts and deeds. So let us try to apply what we hear and read, to our own personal circumstances, and actually listen to what the prayers convey.
As well as encountering one another, the mass is of course, an encounter with the risen Christ. His living presence amongst us enables us to experience his love and his care for us. His words to us wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there in your midst makes plain that in the sacrament of the eucharist we receive him into our own experiences. The risen Christ therefore constantly renews us and restores us, enabling us to meet the challenges of the world, challenges which in whatever shape or form they come, are bound to be overcome because of his victory over death. This means that we should never lose hope in the ultimate truth that good will prevail over evil.
There was once a parishioner who in the aftermath of another tragic event, angrily confronted his parish priest with the question: and what Father are you doing about the terrible state of affairs we’re in, just what are you doing to put the world to right? His answer – I’m offering the 9.00 o’clock mass every Tuesday morning.
I don’t know if it satisfied the parishioner’s demand but the point was being made that the making present of the risen Jesus in and among that particular community was a powerful witness to love, to service, to peace, to reconciliation and to encountering in our lives, the means through which Christ is made known.
Tragically and sadly for the community of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Fr Jacques is no longer able to undertake this privilege. Let us pray for him and for the repose of his soul but also let us pray for vocations to the priesthood.