How has it impacted our relationship with Christ?
The decision by the Archdiocese of Singapore to suspend Masses on February 15 hit the Catholic faithful here hard. Many who were used to attending daily Mass and receiving the Sacraments regularly were left with a void they struggled to fill. Alternatives like the online Mass and other online prayer sessions helped, but most would agree it was different compared to being physically present with the Eucharist.
For William Bernard, a parishioner at the Church of Christ the King, “It was a challenge from the start”. However, the suspension of Mass “made me realise that I had been taking it for granted … it really did hit me how fortunate I had been to be able to attend Mass physically for so many years.”
Joey Goh, another Christ the King parishioner, said she felt “less grounded and motivated in my faith. Not being able to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation also made me a lot less motivated to confess my sins, resulting in a spiritual choke within me,” adding that she missed Mass and visiting the adoration room for quiet time with the Lord.
Samuel Chua from the Church of the Holy Spirit echoed Joey’s thoughts. “I felt empty very quickly and it was challenging to rely on the online material on certain days when I needed Christ.” Before he knew it, his faith became an afterthought and the guilt he felt further prevented him from praying or turning to Christ.
Nonetheless many faithful relied on and rallied around friends, family and their communities on online platforms for prayer meetings, Bible studies, retreats and of course, Masses. Janet Chee of the Church of the Divine Mercy said, “Online Masses were a God-send for my elderly parents who have mobility issues and could not attend Mass in church regularly. Now, they can attend Mass many times a week, and even together with our extended family when we find a time convenient for all of us.”
In July, after three arduous months, almost 2,000 Catholics celebrated Mass for the first time across eight parishes. Since then, more parishes have slowly and safely re-opened their doors.
Joey’s first experience of the resumption of Masses was very present and personal. William said sitting in the pew brought him great joy, and he cherished every moment of the celebration to the fullest. However, the numerous safety measures provided a stark reminder that the new arrangement of limiting 50 congregants per Mass during Phase 2 would not be going anywhere anytime soon. Other measures such as safe-distancing and temperature checks reminded Samuel that he should not take the privilege of attending Mass for granted. “Even before Covid-19 began, many people in less fortunate countries had no churches close to their homes, or they had to walk miles to receive the Eucharist. Instead of looking at the negatives, we need to be grateful and continue to support each other and our Archdiocese.”
There were certainly many positives to look at.
Janet said, “I was so excited and happy to return to Mass – there is nothing like being immersed body and spirit in the presence of Christ, not only in the Holy Eucharist but also in the proclamation of the Word of God and in the People of God amongst whom I sit. As a volunteer helping out with Safe-entry scanning, Mass registration, temperature-taking, pew scanning and sanitising, I find that with all these measures in place, attending Mass is far safer than going to the supermarket or to the hawker centre, so people should not be afraid of coming back to Jesus at all. Now, even our daily weekday Masses are very well-attended. Perhaps it’s because all of us are very socially responsible and understanding. When we first asked Mass attendees to please take a cloth and sanitiser and disinfect their own pews after Mass, they were very obliging – so now, we have more hands, less work and great community spirit!”
In the past few months, God has slowed us down to give us time to ask ourselves: What have I learned about myself and my relationship with God? How has my faith grown? What can I be grateful for?
Janet’s sentiments probably mirror many of ours. “My faith has actually grown stronger! I am more determined than ever that Covid-19 will not drag me down into fear or hopelessness. I fully trust that God has not abandoned us and will see us through this storm. But we cannot depend on God alone – we all must do our part to work for the common good of everyone.”
Archbishop William Goh in his National Day Message this year reminds us that “we are all one people, regardless of who we are, whatever strata of society or profession we belong to” and that Covid-19 has shown us that, “we are indeed truly not just individuals but communitiarian, not just pure spirit but body.” This so-called “New Normal” is merely temporary – one day, we will return to the “Old Normal” of worshipping and singing the praises of God with our friends and loved ones as one. If ever we feel troubled and alone, Archbishop Goh in his Message encourages us to rely on our faith and love for God. “A strong and peaceful interior that comes from God allows [us] to be able to face challenges in life, especially during these trying times of the Covid-19 pandemic. May we become a more united people in love, charity and compassion.”