No Mass in Rome: Reflections in a time of plague

A resident of Rome, Vivian Boland OP writes on the experience of lockdown there and the possibilities for renewal which may arise as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

Walking across the Colle Oppio one day, I was stopped by a woman who said ‘Where am I to get Mass on Friday? I’m told there will be no Mass that day at San Clemente’ (the church to which I was attached). This was many years ago, not something to do with the coronavirus that brought all public Masses to a halt in Rome in March 2020. It took me a moment to realise what the problem was. ‘But it is Good Friday’, I said, ‘we don’t have Mass on Good Friday. Nor on Holy Saturday either.’ ‘But it’s the first Friday of the month’, was her reply, ‘Where can I get Mass so that I do not interrupt the series of nine Fridays?’ ‘There is no Mass anywhere’, I replied (getting a little impatient at her devotional priorities), ‘even the pope does not celebrate Mass on Good Friday …’

The gap of the year
The encounter comes to mind thinking about the present situation: no Mass in Rome for weeks on end. It does not really register with us that on two days every year there is no Mass in Rome, or anywhere in the world. There is that gap every year, when the rhythm of daily Mass is broken. The fact that we have a Communion service latched on to the Good Friday liturgy hides the fact from us that day. In fact, it used to be called the ‘Mass of the Presanctified’. Holy Saturday is a different matter. There is no eucharistic liturgy at all that day, no giving or receiving of Holy Communion except as Viaticum for the dying. But the tendency to celebrate the Easter Vigil ever earlier can hide the fact from us. We do not have Mass for two days each year, but we do not really miss it. We certainly do not miss it as people have been missing it in the time of the coronavirus.

A first thought about the lockdown situation which has prevented the celebration of Mass for some months is that it is a kind of extended Good Friday–Holy Saturday experience. The Lord is absent from his people, at least sacramentally, and for many this has brought great sadness. For thousands of people there have been many other ways, real and raw, in which it has been a Good Friday–Holy Saturday experience, a time of sadness and great loss, a time of fear and anxiety, a time of loneliness, perhaps depression, a time for lamentation.

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