Cardinal Vincent Nichols looks back on the first Sunday in which there were no public Masses in Westminster Cathedral as a result of the COVID-19 social distancing directive.
Well it’s coming to the end of Sunday morning and I’m here at Westminster Cathedral… what a strange day. What a strange, strange Sunday. The first Sunday when we’ve not been able to gather to celebrate Mass together. I’ve spent some time in the cathedral. It’s quiet. In fact, it’s rather beautifully quiet. It’s deeply peaceful.
There are some people there. They’re well, well spaced out. They’re observing the social distancing and they’re all resting in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Praying, resting. Finding peace. And there’s something lovely about that. But I know also there have been Masses celebrated by the priest and streamed online from quite a few of our churches. And I hope people have been able to join in those and join in their prayer and make a spiritual communion. What is so important is we must not be drawing people together, gathering people to physical proximity at this dangerous time.
We must not do that in any way. And if we find maybe on Sunday morning too many people come, then we’ll have to either turn them away or slow things right down. But today here in Westminster Cathedral, there’s been a very, very strange but rather reassuring atmosphere and activity measured with plenty of distance between people. And yet all of us turning to the Lord. So we’ll have to see how these weeks develop. And I thank all the priests for their care.
And I ask them again to make sure that we do nothing, which gives the impression that we’re inviting people to come together in the church. We have to leave it so that people can come and go as they please. But without any invitation or suggestions on our part – that is our grave responsibility.
So I hope today that many of you listening to this have found ways of creating in the day a time of prayer. A time of prayer may be linked to a streamed celebration of Mass; a time of prayer together in your family.
What’s important these days is that we give our life at home a rhythm, a timetable, a regular pattern. So we don’t just watch telly all day or sit on the sofa all day. But we have things that we do at certain times of the day. And one of those should be to have a time of deep silence together. We might fall asleep, we might read, might say a decade of the rosary together. But it’s important that we leave that space so that God finds our hearts more open to him. So he can give us his peace and his compassion. Then we’ll offer that compassion to those around us and be more attentive to those in need.
So may God bless us on this first Sunday of this oh, so strange way of Catholic life. But we’ll adapt and we will find our ways of being together spiritually. And God will guide us through this time – a bit like being in a desert – and yet we know it will come to an end.
And then we will rejoice ever more fully to be back together again as a physical community, drawing together to praise God. So God bless you all today. And stay safe.
Cardinal Nichols also had a special message for mothers on a very different Mothering Sunday.