The lockdown continues ....
There were no surprises is the Taoiseach's announcement on Tuesday evening last, the level 5 lockdown is set to continue until April 5th when it will be reviewed. Businesses already stretched to the limit must now face weeks more of closed doors and no earning potential. Families already stretched financially must continue to try and make do on the special payments in place. At least our schools will partially reopen, and for Leaving Cert students this must surely be good news.
For the Churches of all denominations the extended lockdown will mean empty pews right through Lent Holy Week and Easter. We would all dearly love a return to normality but the common good has to take precedence over all other considerations. Until the numbers signal that it is safe to do so we simply have to be prudent and follow the scientific medical advice.
The arrival of the vaccines heralds hope on the horizon and we can only pray that as more and more of the vulnerable receive their dosage the numbers will continue to recede and the death rate fall, so that our gatherings will no longer pose a danger to one another. In the meantime, the churches have their Internet presence, which while no substitute for our gathering in faith physically, does at least provide a point of contact for us all. In fact this week the clergy of the four main denominations in Lucan Village had a Zoom meeting to chat and pray together as we face the future.
In many ways these are stressful times which will undoubtedly have long term consequences in every area of our lives. It's unlikely that everything will return to the way it was, and that will mean some uncomfortable adjustment to the new realities that will inevitably emerge.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg has written that the pandemic may have accelerated the secularization of Europe by 10 years. In an interview with the Vatican Newspaper L'Osservatore Romano the Cardinal said he believed that the number of Catholics going to church would decrease as a result of COVID-19.
Asked whether he thought the Church in Europe would emerge stronger or weaker from the pandemic, he said: 'I think about my country: we will be reduced in number. Because all those who no longer came to Mass, because they came only for cultural reasons, these 'cultural Catholics,' left and right, no longer come. They have seen that life is very comfortable. They can live very well without having to come to church. Even First Communions, the catechism for children, all this will decrease in number, I am almost certain.' 'But it's not a complaint on my part. We would have had this process even without a pandemic. Perhaps it would have taken us 10 years longer.'
It's difficult to know with any certainty the long-term effects of what we're going through on the life of the churches; but it does seem certain that it won't simply be a case of 'As you were.' It will be down to the choices of individuals.
St. Mary's Lucan