This site is an invitation to an experiment which began on Palm Sunday 2020, and which I propose to continue for as long as is necessary, but at least until the end of the Easter Season.
Many Christians of all denominations are unable to attend Church services for the moment, for reasons of COVID-19.
Rather than film myself celebrating Mass for my friends, and sharing the video, which seemed, to me at least, bizarrely clerical and pointless; or simply preparing video or audio of a homily for the Sunday readings, and posting that; I felt that it may be time to try something a little bolder.
Priesthood – the charge and ability to offer oneself in self-giving up to death for others – is conferred on us all who have undergone a Trinitarian Baptism. It marks the entirety of our Christian way of living together in public. Properly speaking there are no “laity” in Christianity, since every one of us conforms Jesus the Great High Priest.
So the liturgical priestly ability to give thanks for what the Lord is giving us, and to learn through prayer to be more conformed to what we are being given is something we all do in prayer whenever we participate in an Eucharist.
Those few of us who are ordained to the presbyterate (in common, but misleading, parlance: priests) are here to serve the priestly body by enabling an ordered response in its priestly worship. We are not one whit more or less priestly than any other member of the baptised, as Vatican II made clear in Lumen Gentium (10).
So it seemed to me that it might be worth putting my presbyteral orders at your service by offering a structure to enable a new way of praying eucharistically for any members of the priesthood (that’s all of us baptized, remember) who want to try it out. One especially tailored to the exigent circumstances of these days, where it is not possible for the vast majority of the faithful of any denomination to participate presentially in a liturgy with an ordained presbyter or pastor presiding. This new way of praying eucharistically will also, I hope, turn out to be a source of enrichment for whatever emerges when the exigent circumstances are past.
The structure will be of this sort: I will provide, each week, the basic – and I’ll keep it simple – text necessary for you (whether that is you singular, at home alone, or you plural, together with partner or family) to pray through the different steps of the Eucharist, from initial Blessing, through the readings, up to and including the consecration (yes, you’ll be doing that) and consumption of the gifts, and final thanksgiving. Along with suggestions for how to make appropriate use of time, and how to space these different moments, I will provide also a video reading of the Gospel for the day. And I will provide a video homily of no more than 10 minutes.
The point of the homily will be to open up the Word to make clear in what special way today the One who is going to share his self-giving up to death with us is making himself present to us as Body.
So you, like the disciples at Emmaus, will host and be hosted by the risen Christ in your own home, and you will also have material for prayer and meditation through the homily. I’m pretty sure that if this experiment proves successful (and it is only through your feedback that we will learn whether it is found to be so), in fairly short order we’ll have plenty of preachers offering ten-minute homilies. There are already many sites offering such material online, so, no need to be stuck with yours truly: you’ll have a wide choice of Interpreters of the Word from among whom to pick.
Thus, you will choose the time of day you wish to engage in praying eucharistically, choose the amount of time you wish to allocate to each moment of the ritual, and then you will go ahead and pray it.
All you will need, apart from the source (computer, tablet or ‘phone) from which you are going to receive the text to pray and the videos to hear or to watch, is a cup, a plate – dignified ones if you have them, but not to worry if not; then bread and wine. The bread, of wheat if possible, but certainly not if wheat is a source of ill-health for you. And wine, again, only if your circumstances don’t recommend against contact with alcohol. Don’t fear to be imaginative.
Some of you may want to put a stole, or scarf, around your shoulders, merely as a simple marker of putting yourself in the presence of the Lord. And, depending on what is allowed in your living space, some may want to have a lighted candle on the table. A crucifix facing you might help you remember that this is about Him doing something for you long before it is about you doing something for anyone else.
Above all: don’t be scrupulous. As any canonist will tell you, salus animarum, suprema lex – the salvation of souls outweighs all other laws. And, as any canonist will also tell you, we are in an emergency situation, where who knows which of the usual rules apply!
Although I strongly encourage ecumenical paticipation in this experiment, the texts I will be providing will straightforwardly follow the Roman Missal and the Catholic liturgical calendar. However, rather than using the over-latinate translation foisted on English-speakers from 2010 onwards, and which many have found difficult to pray, I’ll be using the ICEL translation of 1998 whose English “prays” much more easily. Those texts, approved by all the relevant Bishops’ Conferences throughout the world, were rejected by what it now seems reasonable to regard as a severely clericalist and culture-war tendency which had the upper hand in the Vatican of the time. The 1998 texts are freely available online, and in one or two places I’ve written some prayers of my own (which will be clearly marked as not-officially-approved, or n-o-a for short).
For the Bible texts, I will use either the RSV or the NRSV, though every now and then I will make the odd alteration (to which I will own up) where I have found the translation to be unhelpful. But you, of course, should use your favourite translation, the one which most helps you dwell in the Word.
This will be a learning exercise for me as least as much as it is for you, and as we go along, I’ll hope to make some short videos giving my take – and it is only my take, so just a suggestion, – on each one of the different moments of the Eucharist which we will be celebrating, with a view to enabling us to deepen our prayer as we perform the ritual.
My hope is that the apparently scattered atoms of the body of Christ will be united in celebrating the One who gives himself to us and makes us who we are, while hearing the Word and preparing in imagination, desire, and longing, for the ways in which we may serve each other with more presential attention when we are able to meet again.
To make this invitation work will then depend, after a few weeks, on those who have “done it” sharing their considered feedback. So we will have to find a way to organise that sharing beyond the e-mail address provided at the bottom of the page.
It may sound so shocking, or at least surprising, to some Catholics, that they can pray the words of institution, which they have been led to understand can only properly be pronounced by an ordained male, that I want to reassure you: Our Lord’s instruction “Do this in memory of me” is not restrictive to a time, a place, a gender, or an ethnicity, but universal. Historically we have structured obedience to it in varied ways over time, so it scarcely seems surprising that we have to re-structure our obedience at a time like this. What I am proposing and offering, for anyone who wants to take part, is simply an experimental re-structuring of our obedience in the present circumstances. Let’s see what we learn.
None of this is in opposition to Mass, or even instead of Mass. Think of this stretching-our-obedience as preparing us so that whatever is available afterwards will be richer for us, rather than further removed from our lives and interests. But with the hope that we will have learned to take more responsibility for praying eucharistically, rather than delegating that responsibility to a shrinking clerical caste.
I can imagine someone saying: “At least I know that when the priest says the words, then Jesus shows up; but who is to guarantee that Jesus will show up if little old me, all by myself, says the words?”. My answer would be this: “Jesus is desperately trying to show us how much he loves us, is trying to give himself away to us, and turn us into givers-of-ourselves-away like him. He already spends a great deal of energy giving himself to us both through, and often despite, the clergy, so don’t you think he’s going to take advantage of any opportunity you make available for him to give himself to you? Especially if you are manifestly wanting to do what the Church does in learning to pray eucharistically. And you will not be alone, you will be exercising priesthood alongside so many of your sisters and brothers all over the place, counting on the Spirit to enable the Real Presence to dwell in us, and us to dwell in the Real Presence”.
Well, that’s the invitation for the moment. I’ll upload the texts and the Gospel and Homily video prior to the weekend, since I am glad to say that we have participants in Australia, where Sunday comes much earlier than it does for most of us.
P.S. This will be no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I think it worth saying: This site, and many of the tools for worship involved, are the work of an openly gay Catholic priest and his friends. You can be guaranteed that you will hear no homophobic preaching on this site –I’ll even try my ecumenical best to be straight-friendly. I’m seeking to provide a safe space from which, among others, gay and lesbian Christians, may pray as we are. If however, it disturbs you to be worshipping in the company of sinners such as ourselves, then you may find other sites better suited to your needs.