The joy of every Catholic Priest is to wake up to celebrate the Eucharist with his community of faith on a daily basis. This has been my usual routine as a young Priest after my ordination a few years ago .
The ministry of a Priest is human-centred; the Priest does not work in isolation but with the People and for the People. The sight of both Priests and Parishioners is a beautiful thing to behold; it brings so much joy to the hearts of many, especially both Priest and his flock.
We have been used to being there for each other on a daily basis until the morning we woke up to news that there a deadly virus had reared its ugly head in Wuhan, China and was fast claiming lives. We continued to live our lives with no inkling that we would soon become victims and we would lose our loved ones to this virus. I did not see it coming, but it did come and I share with you my experience over the period.
Many a time, I have heard it being said that the Priesthood is for the people and the individual who is a Priest is only privileged to share in it. I have been used to seeing many people at Mass all the time. The sight of my parishioners is for me a sign of joy and fulfilment at every Mass. I have battled with low turnouts at Masses in the past.
I have not been able to accept that reality because I believe that the people of God must always make time for their God at all times.
The advent of the Coronavirus and the implementation of health protocols by our government gave me a different perspective to this. Thus, some have very good reasons for not being able to come to Church as and when I would want them to be there.
It’s also obvious that there are still some who would not come even if you move the celebration right to their doorstep. I say this based on experience with people in the past as a Seminarian.
This period of lockdown and restriction has really taught me very valuable lessons which I share with you my cherished reader. I have said that I have been used to very large or sizeable numbers at Mass and I hear the responses at Masses also. However, during this period of restriction, I celebrated Mass alone or with maximum five people.
My role as a Shepherd comes to nothing when I have no flock to shepherd. I was alone by myself throughout the period of celebrations and it afforded me the chance to pay particular attention to certain rubrics of the celebration.
I prayed the prayers of the Mass with particular attention to the words used and it spoke volumes to me. Though I had my parishioners in mind and at heart during every Mass, I believed the Lord wanted me to experience Him in those prayers. It was beautiful and it changed my perception of how the prayers are composed. Same can be said about the readings of each day, oftentimes, the preacher man takes himself out of the homily and speaks to the congregation. It was not the same during the period of restriction at my Masses, I realized the need for me to always situate myself in the pews and listen to myself. I actually saw myself seated before me and I spoke to myself just as I would do when there are other people present.
The usual exchange of pleasantries after each Mass was missing. The Sacristy was empty without Mass Servers, Lectors or Ushers. One thing which is usual of the Mass Servers in my parish is that they are always on the look out for you. Immediately they see you coming, you hear them telling their colleagues “Father is coming”. The Lectors would follow you to pray the prayer before Mass with the Mass Servers. All these were no more physically observed, and I walked to the Sacristy without hearing anything, neither Mass Servers nor Lectors; truth be told, I experienced loneliness during these times. The return of the Seminarians brought to me an experience of joy when they came around to help out and join me for Mass.
Before the onset of the virus, one thing that caught my attention was familiar faces of the elderly who I saw at Mass daily. Their dedication to Mass was a thing that brought me so much joy, as I thought of how long they have been attending Mass and what it meant for them. I missed them so much that I could not do anything than to call them on phone and check up on them. I told them how much I missed them and was looking forward to seeing them sooner than later. Unfortunately, they are unable to return because they fall within the group of vulnerable persons given by the government and the health services.
In summary, I have learnt that my life as a Priest finds its meaning and usefulness in the people I lead. This has informed my perception of the lay people and what role they hold and play in my life as Priest. In fact I am not only a Priest of God, I am also a Priest of the People. My priesthood finds its usefulness in the lives of the people and I am a Priest because of the People.
Source: Fr. Winfred Charles Lwanga Jr