Archbishop Tartaglia: “The Church has a special word to say about death and only the Church can say it. Coronavirus or not, death is 100%. We will all die.”
“Deaths from the coronavirus have accentuated our sense of mortality and it would be difficult not to feel disturbed by that. I have put it to myself that I may not survive this time… In this context, the Church has a message of glorious hope.”
1. My dear brothers and sisters, I am glad that I am able to celebrate Mass for you in St Andrew’s Cathedral in this time of the Covid-19 emergency when our churches are closed and all public Masses are suspended. I am glad that you are able to participate with me in this Mass, in prayer and in faith. I bring before God and before his holy altar today you, our Church, our country and the whole world that the Lord may yet free us from the harm that this virus is doing to people, to their health, to the fabric of their lives, and to their livelihoods and well-being.
2. Like you, my dear friends, I am in lockdown. I can only come to this Cathedral because government has allowed ministers of religion to travel to their churches to live-stream acts of worship for their people, and I hope to be able to continue to do that while these restrictions are in place. I have said before that it was a great sadness to have to suspend public Mass and to close churches, and it worries me still. I think you could see that sadness and worry on the face of Pope Francis on Friday’s live-streamed and televised very moving Urbi et Orbi Blessing from an empty St Peter’s Basilica and Square, as he prayed for the Church and the world to be spared further harm. If I worry for a diocese, he is worrying for the whole Church and whole world. We send him our love ad our prayer.
3. Pope Francis made the point that the virus spares no one and that we are all in the same boat when it comes the possibility of infection. The news that even the Prime Minister has tested positive for the virus surely brings this home to us. We are all in the same boat as regards possible infection and, as the Pope also said, we are all in the same boat in our efforts to combat the virus. This should impel us to continue to do everything possible to keep the virus at arms’ length and to persevere with the restrictions that have been put in place, even if they are greatly changing and limiting our lives. We have to give this strategy of stay-at-home and social distancing a chance to work. We applaud Government’s efforts to give every assistance to doctors, nurses and healthcare workers, to help those whose livelihoods are most threatened, and to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. We are all in the same boat, but, as the Holy Father also said, Jesus is in that boat with us, and He is asking us to believe in Him.
4. My dear brothers and sisters, we have been told that the vast majority of those who will contract Covid-19 will have only light symptoms and will recover within a week or so. Thank God for that! At the same time, we have also been told to expect that a number of people will become more seriously ill and some of them will die. The number of fatalities has been rising day on day and the experts have told us to expect more before we can expect fewer. This is unsettling. It is very sad and we mourn the dead and pray for the bereaved, especially as funerals are so limited just now.
5. The Church has a special word to say about death and only the Church can say it. Coronavirus or not, death is 100%. We will all die. Deaths from the coronavirus have accentuated our sense of mortality and it would be difficult not to feel disturbed by that. I have put it to myself when I come before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in prayer, that I may not survive this time. In this context, the Church has a message of glorious hope. In today’s Gospel, Jesus brings his friend Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, back to life, calls him from the tomb and gives him back to his family.
6. As we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, the raising of Lazarus is a sign for us of the resurrection. It was a sign that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that those who believe in him will never die. It was a sign that death, whether from the coronavirus or from another illness, or from natural causes or from an accident or tragedy, will not have the last word because Jesus rose from the dead breaking the dominion of death over the human race.
7. This is a message that is preached at every funeral. This is what gives people of faith some hope and peace in their sadness when they are bereaved. I want to say that this is a message of hope and consolation for this time too. Jesus said to Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha’s answer became the answer of the whole Church. “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.” As we go forward in facing the daily threat and challenge presented by this pandemic, our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God is what inspires us to do what we must do for our brothers and sisters and for the common good and for our own safety. He is our hope of victory.
8. Since you are sharing in this Mass remotely and will not be able to receive the Lord sacramentally in Holy Communion, please join with me as I pronounce this prayer of Spiritual Communion:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
Most Rev Philip Tartaglia PhB STD is the Archbishop of Glasgow.
With thanks to the Archdiocese of Glasgow.