Twelve weeks ago, as Saint Patrick‘s Day was approaching, we had to suspend the public celebration of Mass and the sacraments in order to protect life and health. It was the beginning of a time of great uncertainty and anxiety in our country. Workplaces, shops, businesses and schools were closing, and we were anticipating the worst. We were in the middle of the Season of Lent. Together the people of this country – north and south – chose to make great sacrifices and to practice self-denial in favour of the Common Good. We prayed Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, asking for God’s protection:
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left
On Saint Patrick’s Day we began a novena of prayer leading to the Feast of the Annunciation, when bishops and priests all over the country joined on 25 March in the consecration of Ireland and her people to the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Today, on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I thank God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for guiding and protecting us to the point where we are able to begin easing the restrictions and prepare in earnest for a return to public Mass and the Sacraments. I thank Mary, our Blessed Mother, Queen of Ireland and Queen of the May, for obtaining for us the gift of beautiful spring weather which has helped to sustain so many of us during these three difficult months.
Of course we know that we must all remain responsible in helping to keep the virus suppressed by practising physical distancing, good hygiene and by continuing to respect health guidelines on movement and gatherings. We are advised that the easing of lockdown is a fragile process and it is only if we all continue to work together that the number of cases can be reduced or kept at a level which is manageable for our frontline health services and carers. Like everyone, I am so grateful and thank God for our healthcare workers and their backup teams who have tirelessly and selflessly served us, and witnessed so powerfully to the tenderness and compassion of God. We are deeply conscious that the virus has devastated the economy, destroyed livelihoods and brought untold grief to those families whose loved ones have died, in many cases without the usual physical closeness that we would have wanted to provide for them.
Over the next few weeks our parishes will prepare for the reopening of churches to public worship. We realise that this will happen slowly and tentatively at first. Some people may prefer, for a while, to continue to join us virtually from home over webcam, because of their vulnerability or because of nervousness about going out immediately into gatherings. Some of our priests are cocooning and will be unable, at first, to provide their usual services and ministry. Because of recommendations on physical distancing and hygiene, it will be necessary to reduce considerably the number of people who can gather inside church buildings at any one time. A small number of our liturgical customs may have to be adjusted to take account of health recommendations. I appeal to our congregations to be patient and understanding, and to cooperate in helping us fulfil our Church guidelines. I also call on the younger members of our parishes to step forward in helping us manage the transition back to full parish life and celebration of the sacraments. We will need volunteers to assist with cleaning, stewarding, reading, ministering the Eucharist and other roles and responsibilities which some of our older members may be unable to fulfil at this time.
On Trinity Sunday I am reminded of how often the Holy Trinity is invoked in the celebration of the sacraments. We were baptised in the name of the Blessed Trinity; in the sacrament of reconciliation we are absolved from our sins in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Those getting married invoke the Trinity as they exchange rings; and, at the moment of death we are anointed with Trinitarian words of farewell: “Go forth Christian soul in the name of the Father who created you, in the name of the Son who redeemed you and in the name of the Spirit who sanctified you’.
Tradition tells us that our patron saint Patrick lived every day with a strong faith in the Holy Trinity, believing that he was surrounded by the protection of God. He prayed “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation if the same – the Three in One and One in Three“.
God is a Trinity of Love. Some spiritual writers speak of God as “love”, “lover” and “beloved”. The Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved and the Spirit is the love that they share.
As we continue to ease our way out of lockdown and back into what they are calling the “new normal”, let us turn, as Saint Patrick did, to the God of Love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is still so much to be done, and many more sacrifices to make in order to keep Covid19 suppressed and to chart a recovery back from the calamitous impact that it has had on so many lives and families.
Today, and in the weeks and months that lie ahead, we approach God in love, daring to call God our Father, Jesus our Friend and the Holy Spirit our comforter and our guide. Amen.
· Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. This Mass was celebrated today in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.
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