A Name on Every Seat in the Pews
Parishes everywhere are trying to find solutions to the suspension of Mass in this time of lockdown. Fr Francis Onyango Imc of Kwaluseni in Eswatini shares his experience.
For many of us, church is like our second home, a place where we visit for solace when times are hard, a place where we feel free and comfortable to spend time and interact with fellow Christians, and sometimes even just to enjoy hanging around after Mass, bonding with each other as we nurture our family spirit. Sunday is our day of obligation, a day set apart for the worship of God, and we naturally wake up geared for church.
But then the coronavirus came, and our church services were suspended; government placed restriction on gatherings and travels, and God’s people were left unsure of what to do. Breaking a long-held tradition isn’t always easy, and going to Sunday Mass is one such tradition. We never needed to wake up on a Sunday morning without a clue of what to do or where to go or how to spend the day.
Priests were hit hard by the suspension of Masses, and so were the faithful. In our parish we started to think of possible ways of how best to minister to our people in these, for us, unprecedented circumstances.
Many dioceses and individual parishes are trying ways of how to stay in touch with their people during this time of separation, so that the faithful are not spiritually starved. At our parish of Ss Peter and Paul in Kwaluseni in Eswatini, we decided to define ways of staying and remaining connected to the People of God, to continue journeying together with them during this difficult time.
Collecting names For a start, we requested all our parishioners to send us their names; we asked for the names of every soul in our parish from the youngest infant to the most senior citizen of the community. Within four days, almost all the names had been submitted. By Saturday, a total of 405 names were pinned on our church’s benches.
The idea was to let our people know that they are not forgotten; that even though they will not be able to sit in their favourite pews on Sunday, their names will be there in their place, and that Mass will still be offered for them.
The presence of these names pinned on the benches is a sign of the longing of our people to be part of the celebration which, due to the circumstances we find ourselves in, they can be present only in spirit.
We therefore asked them to keep our Sunday time for Mass sacred without substituting it with anything else. As a result, every Sunday between 9:00 and 10:00, all our parishioners are called to join together in the celebration from their respective homes. A guideline was sent to them on how to go about the service on their own.
The joy with this is that members feel that they are not just alone, but they are together with their priests and the whole community as they worship God; that even though we may not be gathered together as a family in one physical place, we do remain united in spirit in our different locations.
As they pray at home, they are united with many other parishioners, and in their prayers they are also united in the celebration of the Mass which the priests offer for them at the parish where their names are pinned on to the pews.
Weekly adoration In addition to the Sunday moment of prayer, we have also increased our moments of adoration from monthly to weekly. Now every Thursday from 19:00 to 20:00, the parish community comes together again, not physically but united in a spirit to prayer.
During this moment, as people pray back at home, the priests move from bench to bench, mentioning the names of the parishioners one by one and offering them to the Lord in the Eucharist. Our parishioners are encouraged to be united with their priests at this moment of adoration, to offer their prayers since at that very moment the priests will be offering them individually and in a very special way to the Lord in the Eucharist.
A guideline on how to go about this session of adoration has also been sent to them. Other than the Sunday Mass and the Thursday adoration, we have also decided to send reflections to our community every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. These reflections are based on the readings of the day. They are meant to help the faithful in their spiritual journey.
We hope this period of “Staying Away” will help us find more time to be with God in prayer and in his Word. Even though this may seem to work, for now the challenge remains of how to reach our parishioners who are not on social media, for they too need spiritual accompaniment. We live in hope and trust that this crisis will soon pass, and the people of God will get back to occupy their benches where for now only their names are pinned.
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