Updating #ChurchAtHome

Who would have anticipated that we will be at this pandemic for 14 months and more?

By now, the novelty of watching Mass at home has worn out. In the beginning, it was interesting to see how different parishes put Mass online. Facebook Live?  Zoom gatherings? YouTube videos?  Basic cellphone video recording?  Professional multi-angle videos footage with editing?  Online screen prompts or display of responses and readings?  With all activities came to a halt at the beginning of the pandemic, there were plenty of time to think about baking interesting home “communion bread”. By the time the second lockdown came about, most “work”, but our social life, resumed.  Work might just took on a different form.  Some baking is still going on, but I am now baking the “essentials”.  Literally…bread. And then…my family started having lower tolerance for terrible music at online mass. Perhaps, it would have been easier if the hymns were on screen or made available before mass for people to sing along to hymns or Psalm response.  Unfortunately, I have only seen one parish that values parishioners’ participation at online mass this way. So, with the convenience of the mute button on laptops for live-streamed mass and the fast-forwarding mouse click for the pre-recorded ones, we watched mass online with less agitation. Click…problem solved.  

Needless to say, Sunday worship is now a passive activity. It has now been diminished to watching an ordained person worshipping at the altar. The most active work on our part is really to scout for the online mass with homily that speaks to us best. We have a choice! Some live streamed mass allows parishioners to greet and chat with one another. Although this allows some sense of community, the chats online during the live stream are also distractions to our worship.

I am writing all the above not to dismiss the genuine efforts of many clergies trying their best to keep the parish alive and to serve the parishioners. They have been trying and working very hard…and without technical training or formation for Online Ministry.  The reality is that this challenging time prompts us to constantly re-examine how the baptized worship and why we worship in a certain way.

I was reading Robert Johnson’s book on Inner Work and there was a passage that talked about rituals.

It led me to remember the times when I was fully engaged in playing a piano piece.  The last time I played the melancholy Brahms’ Intermezzo, Op. 118 No. 2 for friends after dinner, there was a long moment of silence, and I had goosebumps all over. It was a transcendental moment. I neither remembered the mechanical notes while I was playing them, nor did I remember my own actions/performance.  That was an experience of my body and my emotions feeling all the symbols on the paper! This memory made me realized how important it is for me to sing hymns as rituals.

For many years, I enjoyed the experience as a cantor at church.  I was excited about the words that jumped out at me as I sang.  I had talked about how the hymn lyrics were my first lessons in Theology.  However, I have never considered how the rest of my body, other than the brain, understood those words and experienced those words. After reading the quoted words of Johnson, I now understand why I would shed a tear every time I sing the choral piece “Pray One Hour” by Paul K. McKay during Lent. A piece on Jesus praying in Gethsemane, asking the disciples to pray one hour with Him, for tomorrow He must die. Every time. And… that piece “The Summons” by John L. Bell? Every time after leading that hymn at church, I felt compelled to think of my works of charity and act accordingly. Will you let my love be shown…Will you let me answer pray’r in you and you in me?… Perhaps, this is the effect of muscle memory that we talked about in piano practice when you practised to the point that the fingers just move to the right keys even when your memory fail you.  The body cells know what to do

For me, singing the hymns rather than passively listening to the hymns mean that my body cells get to know and fully engaged in the hymn lyrics. That is the effect of a good ritual.  Hymn singing is my ritual that allows me to have full participation in worship. This is something that I can do for #ChurchAtHome. For others, it may be dramatizing Scripture or taking an Awe Walk to have a transcendental experience. I am sure there are many rituals that can lead us to God.  After all, God wants to reach all of us! It will be silly for us to think that there is only one way for the baptized to worship.

I am so glad that I still have all the hymn books with me after retiring from music ministry. I think I am going to try the ritual of meditating on the daily readings and singing hymns on my own for the while.  Together with the experience of online faith sharing groups, I believe I get to worship and feel the love of the church community in the best way possible during this unusual time.  I shall update you on my #ChurchAt Home experience if the pandemic lingers on.

When did you last see the face of God?

Seek His Face Always

Last weekend, my family took the time to watch the Tom Hanks’ movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  The movie is about the encounters between the popular children’s show host Fred Rogers and the magazine journalist Lloyd Vogel, who was assigned to interview Mr. Rogers. Those encounters ended up being opportunities for Fred Rogers to help Lloyd heal an old wound.   Prior to watching the movie, I did not have much expectation on the movie, and simply looked forward to a relaxing evening. However, I was pleasantly surprised at one scene in the movie. During the scene, Lloyd, troubled by his father’s hospitalization, looked for Fred Rogers. Fred took Lloyd to a diner and asked him to join him for a minute of silence, to think about the people in their lives who helped shape them to become who they are now. Mr. Rogers assured him that the faces of those people would come to mind.

Sure enough, I took the opportunity to try the exercise…and many unexpected faces floated into my mind.  For sure, I saw the faces of many family members, teachers, and close friends.  However, there were also faces of the odd acquaintances, whom I realized only at that moment, who had starring roles in my life.  Some of them went through events of their own and I found their reactions to those events admirable.  Others had randomly made a comment to me or asked me a question at some point that greatly impacted me. All those people in my mind cannot be more different from one another.  They have different personalities, belong to a wide range of age groups, and they have different cultural backgrounds and beliefs.  However, it was clear to me towards the end of the exercise that all of them played a role in shaping me.

We often read about seeing “the face of God” in the Bible as knowing God. We are often reminded to see the face of God in others when we serve them. However, it seems that God also seek us and shape us through others! There are no random happenings in life and Jeremiah reminded us of that. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” (Jer 29:11)  The people in our lives who shaped us, including acquaintances, are divine instruments, and their words and actions were sent our way as we need them.

Well, when do you think you last saw the face of God?

Just be silent for one minute and think about the people who came into your life and helped shape you. The many faces of God will float in your mind.

 

 

When the Domestic Church practices Church at home…

 

The first weekend when the churches were closed because of the pandemic, my family decided to sing a few hymns prior to watching Mass online. My daughter later put up a short video on Twitter with the hashtag #ChurchAtHome.

That was the beginning of my domestic church practicing Church at home.

We often hear about the domestic church, that family whose members live their faith at home, makes the community of faith, the parishes, and the Church. Indeed, everything that happens at Church is strengthened by the support of the faithful families. Church events are often the result of the assistance offered by volunteers and their families. Preparation of sacraments, especially those involving children, rely on the support of the families. Really, the families are the future of the Church. The Church grows as the families grow. The families are where the history and traditions of the Church are passed on to the younger members of the church. So, if the domestic church makes the Church, what happens when the Church gets domestic? That is, when the family tries to practice Church at home?

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These past weeks, as the churches are closed, we encounter this new scenario where we first attempted to keep the idea of the church within our own homes. We are fortunate to have so many Masses online, pre-recorded or live-streamed, with the readings and homilies, trying to fill our spiritual needs. Seeing our familiar church settings on our TV or computer screens at home help remind us of our last church experience. Those warm, spiritual moments are kept alive until we can meet again at church and participate in the sacraments. How far would those memories serve us? To truly live the life of church, should we not create new church experiences at home? If the early Christians could worship God and built communities within their own homes, so can we. Right? The Pandemic should not interfere with our relationship with God and the growth of our faith at home.

When the social distancing protocol commenced, #ChurchAtHome officially began for my family. Since all of us in the family were serving in some church Music Ministry, the singing of hymns has always been a favourite activity in this household. Now, it is so much more important to establish that sacred space within our domestic space by filling it with the sounds that echo well with the saints and angels, prior to our viewing of the online Mass. Next, comes the tradition of communion… What can be better than sharing a treat? Baking mini bite-size muffins or cookies for the sake of joining in the “communion” on screen seems to be a natural development. Sure, we are not having the Sacrament, but Christ is in each of us and we are having a family moment!

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On Palm Sunday, in anticipation of the long Gospel reading that we would be passively watching on screen, my family took the script and split the roles among ourselves earlier in the day, and made up a short Liturgy of the Word with it. That was fun! We were quite surprised when the quiet one in the family performed her role with great animation. Having participated at the Easter Vigils for over a decade, I thought we should probably have one that evening on Holy Saturday. There were no reasons why we could not bring the Light of Christ into the darkness at home. After all, we were all feeling the darkness of the pandemic and we needed that Light! So, we searched for those baptismal candles that were tucked neatly in boxes somewhere in a closet. I found the biggest candle in the house and used that as the “Paschal candle.”

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That evening, we sat in darkness and lit our candles. My husband and I sang the Exsultet. We said a prayer, blew out the candles, and switched on the lights. Next, we sang the Litany of Saints. We used a setting that we had not sung for years. The organist in the house volunteered to accompany us on the piano. As we sang, the names of the saints got caught in our mouths, rhythms were off at times, but we treaded on. It was the most chaotic Litany ever sung, but we had the feeling that we generated a lot of laughter among the angels and saints. Following that hilarious episode, we read the Gospel reading together, said prayer of Intentions, and ended the service with the recitation of the Our Father and an exchange of the Sign of Peace. Sure, this Easter Vigil did not have the same kind of sacred reverence as the Easter Vigil at church, but it brought the Light of Christ into our home and we experienced Easter joy! Now, came the interesting part after the Vigil when my family really needed a snack, just like the reception that we always had at church after the Holy Saturday Vigil. That part alone…was pure Church doing!

I do not think there is one set formula on how #ChurchAtHome can be done. By definition, practising #ChurchAtHome needs some understanding of what we normally do at church and ideas on how the elements might work within the individual family. After our Easter Vigil experience, one of us asked about why we would only light our candles once, instead of two times at church. It took a little bit of thinking to remember that we lit the candles the second time with the newly baptized members and renewed our baptismal promises at church. We had neither newly baptized among us, nor did we have Holy Water in the house! That was a good occasion to reflect on why we do what we do at church. A lot of goodness would probably happen from #ChurchAtHome by trial and error, with the best roaring laughter. That is, perhaps, the domestic way of promoting growth of faith within the family? I believe that my family’s #ChurchAtHome experience during this time of pandemic would make our domestic church grow. It will be interesting to see if this contributes to new church experience when we are able to meet others again at the physical church building.