People attend Mass at St. Matthew’s Church in Surrey, B.C. CCN photo/Matthew Furtado, The B.C. Catholic

Francis Campbell: Togetherness of Mass a necessity of our faith

  • January 16, 2021

The doors to our Catholic church swung open again on Sunday morning, weeks after in-person Masses were shut down for the second extended period of the coronavirus pandemic.

Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70-plus congregants assembled for the Mass, the first held in the church since well before Christmas. That’s when pandemic restrictions precluded gatherings that could support a regular Mass throughout the greater Halifax area, a region particularly hard hit in the Nova Scotia context of reported COVID cases.

Still, it begs the question about what church attendance will look like when the virus is finally contained and full complements of Catholics are welcomed back and feel comfortable in coming back to the pews. Will the congregants come back or will they maintain the practices adopted during the pandemic and catch Masses on live-stream, online or on television?

And should our Church hierarchy consider changing the way it disseminates the faith to previously regular churchgoers?

The circumstances and motivations are completely different but a move to bypass in-person Masses would mirror the long-standing argument among many Catholics and other Christians that they can practise and profess their faith in isolation, without congregating at buildings.

It seems hard to fathom that Jesus imagined a Church of isolated followers when He first promoted what is now known as Christianity.

A former pastor of ours once tackled that subject, saying that the community of church congregants was a necessity of the Catholic formation and existence. He said that ordinary Catholics who worshipped  only in solidarity could often find themselves overtaken by distractions without the strength of a like-minded congregation to bolster their focus.

In a blog posted on Faithworks Centre in April 2017, Darla Noble provided five reasons why we require a strong church community.

The first is a basic need for belonging, Noble wrote.

“Because our instincts cause us to crave and seek out relationships with other people, it is imperative that we look for and find these relationships in the right place. And there’s no righter place than the family of God.”

The second reason Noble offers is that the church community provides a place for congregants to be on the giving and receiving ends of discipleship. Being part of a strong church community requires active engagement, for people to go beyond just sitting in the pew.

The third reason Noble suggests is that a church community holds individual members accountable.

Noble said she has personally seen marriages saved, addictions confronted and addressed, money issues resolved and petty disagreements put to rest with love because the principles of accountability were applied.

The fourth reason Noble offers is that church community allows us to mature in our relationship with Jesus.

“Just like a seed cannot produce food or flowers without sun, water and soil, we cannot grow into the person God created us to be without the benefit of learning from, worshipping, praying, serving and fellowshipping with and sharing in the joys of God with others,” Noble said.

Just like a baby grows into a toddler with the proper care, we rely on the love and care of strong church community to grow beyond the stages of just knowing who Jesus is to knowing Him personally and intimately, she said.

Noble’s fifth reason is that God directed people to form a strong community church.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says “where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

And in his letter to the Hebrews, Paul exhorts people to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”

As the Church finally pulls away from the persistent pandemic and its necessary restrictions, the hope is that Catholics will again take to the pews and gain strength in their mission and their faith from the congregants who make up a supportive church community.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)

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