With preparations for Easter underway in our parish communities, it’s expected many parishioners will take the plunge back into communal worship. Catholic Outlook spent some time with Deacon Matthew Dimian, who was involved in the recent ‘Return to Church’ campaign designed to encourage people to gather together to again worship as a community at their local church.
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Deacon Matthew grew up attending Sr Mark’s Coptic Catholic Church in Prospect, where he served as a sub-deacon, or altar server, for many years. Although he describes himself as being a bit of a “parish nomad” in his teens and early adulthood, attending Masses in various parishes, he’s always considered his Coptic Catholic parish home.
Since his ordination to the diaconate in 2021, Deacon Matthew has served at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta. It’s a place which, he says, is animated by love for God in the prayers of the people, the liturgy, music, and the generous gift of time and availability of the priests, staff, and volunteers. “This tangible spirit of love breathes life into the whole of the parish’s activity”, he says.
Love also motivates Deacon Matthew’s ministry as a deacon. It is a busy and very interactive life, which sees him preaching, teaching, serving at the altar, celebrating sacraments, praying, having conversations and simply getting to know people. He describes his involvement in parish life as “a joy and a great privilege”, with a particular highlight being assisting at the altar during Mass. It’s here that he especially prays for all those in his parish and beyond. “I try to remember the prayers of the People of God and unite them to the sufferings of Christ”, he says.
The community spirit of parish life, and the opportunity it provides for prayer and worship, is something Deacon Matthew deeply missed during the extended COVID-19 lockdown. “It was hard trying to maintain a prayer life on my own”, he says. “I missed spending time with other good Catholics, who encourage my prayer so much by their example, their insightful and inspiring conversations, and their friendship.” Deacon Matthew is particularly looking forward to the Holy Week and Easter services at the Cathedral. “The liturgies are so beautiful. The Bishop presides over all the liturgies, the cathedral schola will pull out all the stops, and an army of servers and volunteers will make sure that it all runs smoothly”, he says.
Deacon Matthew acknowledges there might be many people feeling reluctant to return to church, for many reasons. “I think some people found some comfort in a life without having to go to Mass, and believed they could have a relationship with God on their own”, he says. “I have tried this ‘solo’ relationship with God at various times in my life, and each time I found my relationship with God dwindled rather than grew. I had planned to spend time in prayer, read Scripture, and become more virtuous. But there were always more urgent things to do, Netflix was always more attractive, and without inspiration and accountability I became more complacent.”
Community worship at church, says Deacon Matthew, helps in taking the responsibility of relationship with God off our shoulders. “God wants to carry the majority of this responsibility”, he says, “and the Mass is a place where God pursues us and we can accept and receive his advances towards us. This is much easier than trying to find God on our own. It’s much easier to listen to Scripture proclaimed and explained than to try and read it and interpret it yourself, and pursuing virtue comes so naturally when you are surrounded by people on fire with love of God. The benefits of going to church far outweigh the risks.”
Watch the “Return to Church this Easter” video here.