Today, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi – the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. While Ordinary Time (part 2) started nearly two weeks ago, for me, this Solemnity closes the Easter celebrations as we return to green vestments on Sunday all the way till the Solemnity of Christ the King in November. We have been through much this year due to the effects and restrictions of COVID-19 Pandemic. However, it was was with these thoughts in mind that I composed the following reflection for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement Kateri League-of-Chapter’s second issue of HIGHWAY magazine. I wish to share it on this site as well.
I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that over a year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Toronto has been under a lockdown that has technically lasted nearly six-months long, meanwhile some dioceses south of the Canadian border have in recent weeks been able to take off signs and ropes on pews, restore hymnals back in the pews, fill the Holy Water stoups and most significantly, attend Mass in a back-to-near-normal manner. Churches throughout the dioceses in the province of Ontario are still locked as cases continue to hover around in this third-wave. While I honestly do speak much about this insane reality, it is reality, and we must face it. This narrative of “reality” is probably by now too familiar to us.
Amid all this “doom and gloom,” we often forget to count our blessings. The City of Toronto has been in lockdown for nearly six-months. Many Torontonians went without Mass all the way through Advent, Christmas, the first part of Ordinary Time and most of Lent. It was through the advocacy work promoted by Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto and that of the thousands of the faithful through the A Place to Worship made worship possible at the very least for the last weeks of Lent and first weeks of Easter.
The faithful in Toronto have been deprived of Mass since Advent and by the point of mid-Lent, with a gradual reopening, I was getting frustrated with how long we have been without Mass. Live-streamed Mass is just not the same as in-person Mass, despite what some might think. Mid-Lent of this year, I thought of the possible reality of another “live-streamed” Holy Week. As the clock kept ticking, time was running out. My pastor, Cha Giu-se Trần Tập already asked me at the beginning of March that even if it were a 10-person Holy Week to be present to be Liturgical Master of Ceremonies (MC) for the celebrations. Though I knew that it would be a privilege to have some form of in-person worship during Holy Week, my heart yearned that others might be able to partake in the liturgies as well. The third to the eleventh of each month for the devotees to Bl. Carlo Acutis, are days of Novena. I made the Novena that through the intercession of Blessed Carlo Acutis, that all the Archdiocese of Toronto would have Mass to some extent, even if it were 10% capacity. It was during these days coincidentally that the A Place to Worship campaign was launched by the Archdiocese of Toronto. God answered my prayers and I am sure, those of so many other people. Upon the conclusion of the Novena to Bl. Carlo Acutis, on March 12, the announcement was made to allow grey-zones to open at 15% capacity starting Monday March 15.
Over the next weeks, I had several phone calls with Cha Tập to prepare for these celebrations. It was also my first time back full-time to the parish after two years serving as sacristan for the Cathedral community, so I was excited to finally be back “home” to the scent of incense that I was used to, to the old sacristy cabinets, the sanctuary that I was so familiar with. However, this “homecoming” was for something greater – I knew this Holy Week was going to be a striking week for so many people after being deprived of it last year. Around the world, countries such as Malta were closed all through Holy Week due to rising COVID cases.
This year’s preparations as many would have already known were different. To make things easier for the priests and myself, I compiled a special Missalette with the modifications. This task was arduous since I had texts done last year, but I deleted them thinking that the pandemic was not going to last to Holy Week 2021. However, this opportunity allowed me an opportunity to really read the Lectionary and Ritual texts. How beautiful are the Collects, the Exsultet, the Litany of Saints, the Renewal of Baptismal Promises? So many of the faithful, in general, participate in the liturgy so mechanically or sometimes too distressed about the details that we fail to closely read or listen to the texts of the Liturgies of Holy Week, myself included. However, upon planning and reading these texts and what happens at these Liturgies… oh how beautiful!
It was a very humbling experience to serve at the altar, to be close to the “action,” to what is Sacred. Yet, how often have I taken such opportunities for granted? Unfortunately, I am ashamed to say… many. This year was different in that there was no, “Holy Week again,” type of mentality because as this pandemic has shown, there may never be an “again.” There is a phrase put up in some sacristies that reminds the priest, “Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your FIRST Mass, your LAST Mass, your ONLY Mass.” I think not only priests, but we too should instil in ourselves such a mentality when we partake in the Liturgy and when we go to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament because we never know when God will call us unto himself. We might have the tendency to procrastinate, but by the time we wish to enact something, it may be too late.
Looking back, there could have been a great possibility that there would be no in-person Holy Week Liturgies in the Archdiocese of Toronto. There could have been great possibilities that Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday would have been celebrated with only ten-people. But no – I believe God wanted to remind His Torontonian-Catholics of something: He is with us even in the ups and downs of life. However, the question is, are we open to grace after grace? Or do we take it for granted, thinking that we will have an “again” every year?
God, I thank you for this past Holy Week. You helped me to realize the wonderful gifts that you have given us, specifically, the Eucharist, the Sacred Liturgy that you have left us. Yet, there have been times when I have taken it for granted, thinking that I will receive Eucharist “again,” that I will celebrate Holy Week “again.” But this pandemic helped me realize that there may never be an “again,” and therefore, every Liturgical celebration I partake in, every Eucharist I take part in, every meeting with You should be seen as my FIRST, my LAST, and my ONLY. Amen.