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A pillar of our life has been removed and there is a sense of loss

Laurence White


Belfast Telegraph's Laurence White, who is self-isolating, on attending public Mass on St Patrick's Day - via webcam

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It has always been the case in times of crisis - war, oppression, threat to life - that people have sought the protection of the church or sought solace within it. (stock photo)

It has always been the case in times of crisis - war, oppression, threat to life - that people have sought the protection of the church or sought solace within it. (stock photo)

It has always been the case in times of crisis - war, oppression, threat to life - that people have sought the protection of the church or sought solace within it. (stock photo)

It has always been the case in times of crisis - war, oppression, threat to life - that people have sought the protection of the church or sought solace within it.

No one can doubt that we in Northern Ireland live in a time of crisis at this moment, unprecedented in the lifetime of anyone born after the Second World War. We are facing an enemy we cannot see but one more deadly than any armed force.

Even the despots who carried out genocidal horrors in places like Cambodia, Rwanda or the Balkans were partial on who they attacked. Coronavirus is no respecter of borders or political ideology or religion.

It simply cannot be stopped in its tracks at this time.

This is exactly the scenario which would in normal times make the faithful turn to God in the hope that prayer, in the absence of effective science, could provide comfort if not an antidote.

But yesterday, the feast of St Patrick in the Catholic churches of Northern Ireland, the last public Masses were held for an indefinite period into the future.

My wife Eileen and I, who are self-isolating to an extent because we are in the 60-plus age group, decided that the safest option was to join in the service in a local church by webcam.

It was certainly a strange way to celebrate our faith on the day we honour the man who brought Christianity to this island.

If St Patrick returned to Ireland today he might wonder if his efforts were in vain as he viewed the empty churches.

Of course, many elderly people use the webcam to log on to Mass on a regular basis, but for those of us who are regular attenders at church, it seemed sufficiently unusual to underline the crisis rather than bring comfort.

There was also an underlying feeling of sadness at the realisation that this would be the last public Mass for some time. A pillar of our life has been removed for entirely sensible reasons, but there is a sense of loss.

Mass is more than just an individual celebration of faith. It is the coming together of a parish or community in joint celebration, a feeling that we are part of something greater, of an universal Church.

Now we are in individual or family religious silos and it feels strange.

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