Yesterday and the day before, I celebrated the new Votive Mass "In Time of Pandemic," and I plan to do so again today, since it will not be possible to do so again for the next two weeks, because of the imminence of Holy Week and Easter Week.
There was, of course, a Votive Mass Pro Vitanda Mortalitate, in Pius V's Missal, but it did not make it into Paul VI's. Perhaps it was believed that in this brave new world, such old-time concerns like plagues no longer applied. In any case, the current crisis has warranted the composition of a new Mass, the addition of which is very appropriate as well as timely.
The Introit is Isaiah 53:4 -Truly the Lord has borne our infirmities, and he has carried our sorrows - which may seem especially fitting for this time of year, but which more importantly starts the liturgy on the confident note that the incarnation and redemption have a real relevance in our time and place.
The Collect is a bit wordy, as if it were trying to cover every conceivable need, but it reads and prays well. Almighty and eternal God, our refuge in every danger, to whom we turn in our distress; in faith we pray look with compassion on the afflicted, grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to mourners, healing to the sick, peace to the dying, strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to our leaders and the courage to reach out to all in love, so that together we may give glory to your holy name.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Maybe its wordiness is itself effective in highlighting the abundance of needs this crisis has created, the many varied ways we are afflicted, the many different people we need to pray for at this terrible time.
The scripture readings for this Mass are Lamentations 3:21-26 or Romans 8:31b-39 and Mark 4:35-41. I have used both sets, but I think I prefer Lamentations. It is one I have personally turned to in the past on particularly sad occasions. It acknowledges - and does not soft-pedal, as we so routinely do nowadays even in the liturgy - the genuine experience of sadness and mourning, before invoking a reason for hope.
Th Gospel is Mark's account of Jesus' calming the storm, which was the text for Pope Francis's prayer service in Saint Peter's Square last week. The disciples' plea, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing," acquires a new salience in the present circumstance, a feeling all can relate to.
The Prayer over the Gifts and the Prayer after Communion, on the contrary, are generic-sounding prayers that could fit in any Mass for any pressing need. Accept, O Lord, the gifts we offer in this time of peril. May they become for us, by your power, a source of healing and peace. The Postcommunion prayer does, however, highlight (by its mention of eternal medicine and heavenly healing) how desperately defenseless we now are against this disease for which we have as yet no human remedies. O God, from whose hand we have received the medicine of eternal life, grant that through this sacrament we may glory in the fullness of heavenly healing.
The Communion verse is Matthew 11:28 - Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you, says the Lord. One wonders whether the composers at this point just dusted off a standard familiar verse rather than looking for one that spoke more directly to this crisis and to the feelings it evokes.
The Prayer over the People, in contrast, is an excellent blessing text with which to complete such a celebration. O God, protector of all who hope in you, bless your people, keep them safe, defend them, prepare them, that, free from sin and safe from the enemy, they may persevere always in your love.
No one would have expected a composition reflecting our contemporary sensibility to be preoccupied, as its Pian predecessor was, with the terrors and scourge of God's wrath and our need to repent for our sins. That said, some sense that all was not well with the way we have managed our world hitherto and some recognition that this experience may rightly challenge us to rethink our personal and political priorities perhaps might also have been incorporated. If not there, then such considerations certainly ned to be somewhere in our thinking as we move forward. The challenges of rebuilding after this will be many, and will require some rethinking of what we have hitherto taken for granted.
All in all however, this makes a fine addition to the collection of Votive Masses. One hopes we will not need it much in the future. But, if and when we do need it, may we use it well, for our own good and that of the whole world.