“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” -Matthew 18:20
Jesus’ promise holds true, now as ever. It’s just trickier to gather in His name this Easter.
As Partnership Schools begin an abbreviated Easter break today through Monday, without being able to look forward to the usual routines of church and celebration for this time of year, we have a rare opportunity to explore two wildly opposite elements of Catholicism: the breadth of its community and its potential for intimate observance.
As many are doing these days, Partnership Schools families are finding new kinds of faith community online. Many from our schools joined the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi blessing two weeks ago, followed by a video message from our very own Cardinal Dolan–making us part of the blessing of two cities and the world. The twin forces of technology and this crisis have helped us experience, as perhaps never before, what it is to be a universal church.
And today, thanks to Fr. Nate Wills, CSC, from Notre Dame, we are having our first Partnership-wide online family Mass (look for highlights on our Instagram and Facebook). So while we can’t step through the doors of our parishes or participate in school-based liturgies, we do have the opportunity to be less parochial and more wide-ranging in who we join for worship.
Yet for Catholics, even well-intentioned worship through a video screen poses challenges. We are an incarnational faith. We believe holiness isn’t an abstraction; it is embodied. Indeed, one of the aspects of Catholic culture that can be really striking to observers is the physicality of it. We’re into everything from the bones of saints to holy water to incense, because they remind us that holiness shows up mostly in the elemental stuff of life. That’s part of why we don’t just sit in church and watch; we sit, and stand, and kneel and stand…because we worship and live out our faith physically as well as intellectually and emotionally.
So what are we to do when physical distancing separates us from this embodied form of worship?
It is a question Catholics all over the world are asking. And it is a chance to explore rituals both old and new that can take place in what Vatican II calls “the domestic church”–namely, our families.
We’re sharing with Partnership families some curated resources–in English from Liturgical Press and in Spanish from the Diocese of Monterey, among others–that provide options for at-home prayer services during Holy Week. We are tremendously grateful to V Encuentro, the national process of discernment for serving Latinx Catholics, for taking the lead weeks ago identifying these kinds of resources.
Whether it means literally washing each other’s feet or gathering around a Bible and candle to read scripture together, this Holy Week gives our students an unprecedented chance to be formed in faith by the people whose influence matters the most, crisis or not: their own families.
It can be intimidating to lead prayer with our kids, particularly for those of us who are used to letting priests do most of the work of worship. Prayer services like these–simple, short, and child-friendly–can help renew our own faith, though, and spark it in our children. It is the faith that God isn’t only in St. Peter’s Square, or waiting for us in the silent tabernacles of thousands of darkened churches. He is in the face of the principal who prays with us via Instagram; in the hands of the grandmother who fingers a rosary next to us; in the parent who prays with his children; and in the children who show us that the miracle of life, of hope, is as close as the people across the living room from us.
Beth Blaufuss is Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at Partnership Schools.