Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 09 April 2021
The reality – and gravity – of the lockdown hit me most that Wednesday morning when I celebrated Mass alone. Without the usual faces and voices of our regular Mass goers who greeted me daily upon opening our church door since I came to my former parish in 2011, I just felt something so unique.
It was as if Jesus was making some “lambing” (tender moments) with me as his priest.
For so long, I have been celebrating Mass on weekdays with at least five people present that there were times it had become mechanical like a routine, sometimes even like a “show” that it has to be good so that I look good, sound good, and everybody feels good.
But on that first day of the lockdown, as I prepared everything from removing the altar cover to bringing out the books and sacred vessels to celebrating “alone” with some birds keeping me company, I somehow felt Jesus most truly present.
Just him and me, at his altar, in his church.
That was how I realized deep within me the beauty and sanctity of the Holy Mass not in the external things we see and hear but most of all in my intimacy and union with Jesus Christ as his priest.
With or without the congregation, every Holy Mass is the summit of the priest’s life and very existence because that is where his union in Jesus Christ our Eternal Priest is most true.
The way the priest celebrates the Mass – his disposition, his attitude, the way he looks and keep things in order – all indicate his oneness with Jesus Christ. Liturgy flows from the heart of the priest and from that springs our social action and involvement.
How sad when some priests has made the lockdown an excuse not to celebrate the Mass at all.
In depriving himself of the essential union with the Lord and Master, in effect he has deprived his flock the much needed strength from the Good Shepherd.
Even without the pictures and videos of the priest celebrating the Mass sine populo (without the people), that is the most wonderful and most treasured image of COVID-19 only God sees because it is the most sublime image of his Son Jesus Christ present amid this pandemic.
Every word in the Lectionary and the Sacramentary, every moment of that private Mass during the lockdown was like a “cosmic experience” where the eternal and the temporal converge as if time stands still, with these words echoing in the silence of the universe within me:
"...you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name." (Eucharistic Prayer III)
Images of COVID-19, Images of Hope, Images of Christ
Two Sundays after the lockdown last year came the Holy Week ushered in by Palm Sunday when we went around the parish blessing the palms and fronds of people who have gathered on the streets after our announcement in Facebook and online Mass.
Skies were overcast that morning that we decided to visit first the other end of our parish, Purok Gulod, where we experienced rains and saw the beautiful rainbow the other Sunday.
Nobody saw the lockdown coming. Most of the people did not have the ready-made palms and instead had branches of leaves and fronds available in their surroundings which we blessed while on board our borrowed Ford F-150 after the Mass that morning attended by a few parish volunteers.
But the most touching images of COVID-19 that Holy Week last year happened on the Good Friday procession of the Santo Entierro we have mounted on a truck, brought around the parish after the Veneration of the Cross at 3PM.
From images of COVID-19 as images of hope, the sights have transformed into images of Christ suffering and dead among the people who knelt and prayed while others cried on the streets during procession.
Since it was a Good Friday when there was no holy water, I brought the crucifix with which to bless the people not only on the streets but also those in their vehicles passing by during the procession.
It was very edifying.
How I felt Jesus described in the gospel while going around preaching the good news to all towns and villages:
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
I can still remember my short homily during that Good Friday’s Veneration of the Cross: I told the people that while we were so sad with what was happening due to the pandemic, Jesus was surely more sad with what was going on in the world, in our parish community.
It was a very meaningful Good Friday after all when as the sun set, God reassured me anew and I think everybody else in our parish that we were not alone. We have him as company, consoling us in this time of the pandemic with the beautiful sights of everyone out in the streets praying.
Yes, they are images of COVID-19 but also images of hope.
Most of all, images of Christ among us, suffering and dying first among us in our community during the pandemic.
Join us again on Monday with more images of COVID-19 as images of hope and images of Christ risen among us!
Have a blessed weekend, everyone!
*Photos by Ms. Ria de Vera and Ms. Anne Ramos.