Underground Church in the Time of the Cloud

This is the new generation of a Church underground. Thanks to a new, global virus pandemic, we all find the doors to our spiritual home locked. We have all entered a kind of cloister that has us separated from friends, neighbors, Church, office, even the simple kind of stranger-camaraderie we experience in any restaurant on any given occasion. 

Owing to the need for constructing spatial boundaries that have never been a real part of our cultural social consciousness, the gatherings of our Church-family have been suspended more or less indefinitely.

For me, it calls to mind those times and places wherein the Church was truly an “underground Church.” It was not disease that threatened the lives of the faithful, but violence and active persecution in their day. So, our plight is a sad journey in a kind of darkness, but we do not face the terror some of our ancestors in faith endured.

I’m not, by any stretch, making the ridiculous claim that our suffering is comparable to that of the Holy martyrs, but, that like them, we cannot openly and publicly practice the faith we hold dear, for the timing being.

However, we have tools at our disposal that would never have entered the wildest imagination of those who have lived without the Eucharist in ages past. We can attend the Mass and participate in Eucharistic Adoration and contemplation, through virtual means that allow us to be present to the sacramental realities we know, need, and love while deprived of the ability to be present in that location.

There are some more traditional devotions that have never been more available as well, such as the Liturgy of the Hours (long known as THE prayer of the Church), which can be found for free or via some really well done apps for your phone—in these cases, you can carry the entirety of the four large volumes in your pocket.

My own family has taken up the weekly family Rosary, and a daily litany we found on Facebook (you can join by listening to Relevant Radio 1330 AM as Archbishop Hebda leads it at 11:05 a.m.), as well as attending the Mass virtually, by participating in the livestream from our own Main Church. 

I’d like to present two realities that we must face in our present situation: the real spiritual challenge of what is and the real spiritual consolation of what will be.

As for what is, we have before us the challenge of following Christ, the Good Shepherd without the support of well-worn routine and comforting repetition.

Among the questions we need to—we must—ask ourselves is: Is our adherence to Christ based solely on doing “Catholic” things?

There is an interesting tension in the ecclesiology of Catholicism between the fact that “going through the motions” has meaning and is fruitful for our good and that of souls and the witness of the Scripture that warns against emptying ritual of genuine devotion. We should never feel security merely because of the rites upon which we often depend. Instead, we should find security in the personal love and mercy in the heart of Jesus that are poured out on us through those very same rites.

This very personal love and mercy is what brings us to the second reality—that which lies beyond this period of caution and distancing. This reality is attested in all the Scripture we hear this week.

Cutting to the chase, the readings for this week thrill us with the promise of resurrection.

Our hope can wane because of the current hardship necessitated by the COVID-19 scourge, but the Word of God is pointing us toward a bright reality that lies at the end of this dark tunnel. I might suggest, also, that one way of realizing that vision is in the second reading.

We may not be able to attend the celebration of the Mass in the flesh, but attending merely in the flesh doesn’t bring joy to the heart of God. Rather, this time gives us a brilliant opportunity to learn to truly attend the Mass, that is, in spirit, for it is truly the Spirit that gives life. Can you and I learn to be even more warmed by the fire of love in Christ, precisely by being deprived of that Communion which is mere foretaste of the holy, unveiled union we ache to enjoy with God in heaven?

Can we let the lifeless repetition of the flesh suffer death so as to be untied and set free like Lazarus, through the Spirit that gives us life? If we so enter into this grave, the Lord will have us rise from it by the Spirit he will place within us. He has promised it, and he will do it.

Boy, I love it when God says that!

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy

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