My second year of undergraduate studies wrapped up last Friday with my last final assessment (a.k.a. exams). It was not a year any undergraduate University of Toronto (UofT) student, either first-year or fourth-year would have expected, with a full year of online learning. As a second-year undergrad student, I gratefully have had some experience on campus prior to the pandemic in March 2020 and had my share of campus life. I look back at this year with mixed emotions… not only because of the downs of online class, but also to the ups of the online university experience. Today I want to share five things I learned, a mix of pros and cons of this past online school year – a school year to remember.
We once again arrive at the Paschal Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We still have the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic looming over us, at least here in Toronto, and things do not seem to be getting any better, but rather, worse with the variants.
I think during the past year, we have heard so much of lockdowns, masks, social distancing… This pandemic rhetoric is making people sick of hearing it, including myself. However, we observe this safety protocols out of charity for our brothers and sisters in society. It is this charity that I wish to reflect on in light of today’s Gospel, today’s commemoration and the ongoing pandemic.
Holy Week has once again come to the Catholic Church with the Liturgy of Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord. For many, this Holy Week will be memorable because it may mark as Lent that has been dragging on for more than a year, particularly because of the absence of Holy Week Liturgies. However, I share in the pain with those who cannot partake in in-person liturgies either because of health risks, or because churches are closed in their respective dioceses. We pray that this pandemic will soon end so that we may soon be able to safely gather for public worship, because Catholic Liturgy is not meant to be celebrated virtually, but physically, with the people, because the sacraments are not meant to celebrated virtually, but physically, just as Christ makes Himself physically present among His people in the Eucharist.
Who do we want to live for? I think these are questions that have been scattered throughout the themes of Lent this year, particularly with this year’s Lectionary cycle. The First Sunday of Lent, we hear the call to “repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1:15) On the Second Sunday of Lent, we read of the transfiguration of our Lord, a sign of the Divinity of Christ was revealed. The Sunday after, we read of the cleansing of the temple and we pondered upon the notion of the Temple, as a place of Worship, the Lord’s dwelling, not meant for profanity. Last week, we read of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus and are reminded of God’s eternal love for every one of us.
This Sunday, the priest will wear rose vestments for Laetare Sunday, the Sunday of Joy which marks the midpoint of Lent. However, this year’s Laetare Sunday for me, is different than most years. Yesterday, it was announced by the government of Ontario, where I live, that places of worship will be able to reopen at 15% capacity. That means that starting Monday March 15, 2021, public worship will be able to return, and Masses with the presence of the faithful will make a return just in time for the last weeks of Lent, and thankfully, in time for Holy Week.
At the end of last week’s Gospel, we read, “As they [Jesus, Peter, James and John] were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.” (Mk 9:9-10) I think the Peter, James and John finally received the answer that they were looking for in today’s Gospel “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn 2:19) Jesus at the of last Sunday’s Gospel and this week’s Gospel foretells of His death and resurrection.
Have you ever been up a mountain either on foot or on vehicle and simply enjoy the views from up top? I recall my grade 10 trip to Algonquin Park and hiking was one of the activities and the small group of us young men with the teachers went up Booth’s Rock. Even though the journey was tiresome up hill, the view up top was worth it, especially on a cool autumn day where you would see trees down below with red, orange, yellow and some green leaves. Nearly two years ago, I recall the time I spent in Europe within the short 12-days journeying through Spain, Southern France and Italy. Specifically, I recall a day in France visiting Les Baux-de-Provence. It was cold a morning and I only wore a hoodie. However, I enjoyed the views from the top just looking down. The last instance I would like to speak was that of Assisi. Assisi, indeed a “city on the hilltop,” looking down to the green valleys down below… simply breathtaking.
My favourite celebration of the Liturgical Year is no doubt the Easter Vigil and even if it must be celebrated in less exterior solemnity, it will still be my favourite Liturgical celebration of the year. Am I sense a “Liturgy Geek?” Maybe, but I think it is so much more than just signs and symbols, but rather, because of the journey that leads to this very celebration.
Our journey to Easter formally began with the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday this past Wednesday with the blessing and imposition of ashes on our heads. It is with this act that we begin a forty-day period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But why? The First Sunday of Lent in either cycle A, B, or C will make reference to the temptation of Jesus in the desert. I think the storyline is so familiar to many of us. I remember listening to this story over and over again during the Lenten season back in my years of elementary school. However, in this Year B, the cycle of Mark, there is only a one short paragraph merely mentioning the temptation of Jesus. However, we are reminded at the end of the Gospel, to “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk 1:16) Does this sound familiar? It might, because this is one of the two formulae used in the imposition of ashes this past Wednesday and it is with this line that concludes today’s Gospel.
We once again reach the liturgy of Ash Wednesday again this February 17, 2021. Despite the modifications to the Ash Wednesday distribution of the ashes this year due to the ongoing pandemic throughout the world, the Lectionary readings of Ash Wednesday is not changing. If you pay close attention to the readings, they remain the same every year. Yet, we must not let these Lectionary readings be repeated as if it were a broken record. Like any other Biblical readings, we must find a sense of renewed mission from these readings.
Monday January 25, 2021, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, apostle will be a special day in the Archdiocese of Toronto. No, the Pope is not coming to Toronto. There will be no members of the Knights of Columbus with their iconic swords forming an honour guard. No, there will not be many priests of the Archdiocese gathering at the Cathedral. However, some ‘successors of the apostles’ will be present. And yes, a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto will be ordained a bishop and become a ‘successor of the apostles’ through the laying on of hands. This day will be a ten-person episcopal ordination at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica for the Most Reverend, Ivan Camilleri. Nevertheless, this will just be one of many signs that Christ, the “Chief Shepherd” was, is, and will continue to be present among His people.
Vincent Pham, known as The Catholic Man by many of his friends, is a student at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science pursuing a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy along with a minor in Christianity and Culture. Vincent is an alumni of Chaminade College School in Toronto (Class of 2019). He has a great love for all things Catholic, especially Catholic liturgy.