– Aurelio Porfiri

The Lenten season of 2020 will certainly always remain in our minds because of the peculiar situation we are all in, and when I say all, I mean the whole world. I was reading that half of the world is in lockdown as of now, the beginning of April. 

At this time in Italy, it seems we reached the peak of the infections and the numbers are slowly declining, but still every day we have a few thousand infected. It is quite significant that this pandemic happened in Italy during the Lenten season and will not be completely over even during the Easter season. We associate Lent with silence, as we stand with astonishment before the sacrifice of God’s only Son for the sake of humanity.

In an article by Andy Scott (washingtoninst.org) the following concept is developed: “We live in a noisy world. A soundtrack of competing commercials and conversations, a cacophony of messages that form and reform our attention and desires. The high velocity noise of the TV, the Internet, and our culture at large always hurtling toward the next big thing. The message in the midst of all the noise: in order to be somebody, one has to be going somewhere. Continual movement—consuming, doing, saying, watching—provides the center of many messages vying for our attention.

“In a culture addicted to noise, silence is startling and uncomfortable. Perhaps this is especially true for me because I fall into the millennial generation. Certainly people my age and in my stage of life now expect continual noise and stimulation.

“What does Lent mean amidst the noise? Lent is a season of suspense and self-denial, a period of waiting and introspection. The practice of silence can be an active and intentional stillness that refocuses our attention on the cross and the crucified Christ.

Silence and stillness are not foreign concepts to the Church. God speaks to us in the stillness. When sent to Mt Carmel, the prophet Elijah encounters God not in an earthquake, fire, or furious wind, but in a gentle breeze. On Mt Sinai, Moses is removed from his people and only feels the Lord’s presence from a turned back.”

But now we are not only experiencing the silence in Lent, but we will also experience a sort of “silent Easter,” because Masses will be offered but without people, there will be no triumphant music and no joyful celebrations. The Pope will celebrate the ceremonies of the Holy Week only assisted by two prelates from Saint Peter’s Basilica. All the ceremonies, including the traditional Via Crucis, are celebrated in Saint Peter’s Basilica or outside the Basilica, as the Pope will  not be going to the Colosseum or Saint John Lateran.

Speaking of Saint John Lateran, we learnt recently that the vicar of the Pope in the city of Rome, Card, Angelo de Donatis, is also affected with Covid-19. He seems to be quite fine but is now confined to the hospital, at the moment of this writing.  Also cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso is affected with Covid-19 and was admitted to hospital in his country.

Speaking of Africa, many observers are afraid that if the virus attacks Africa in the same way it did Italy or the United States, it will be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.  Everyone here can see how this epidemic is making the health system tremble day by day, killing several doctors and nurses. We can imagine what would happen in many African countries, where the health system is not that good and organized as in many western countries. You can consider that Lombardy, the most affected region in Italy, has notoriously the best health system in Italy and one of the best, if not the best, in Europe. So if they suffer enormously under this health emergency, you can imagine what can happen in developing countries.

Rome these days is surreal, there is silence and a kind of emptiness that I have never seen in my city before. Maybe when I was an adolescent, during the holiday season in August, there were days that can be compared to what we are living now. Everyone now is wearing a face mask, also a very unusual sight in Rome; but it is something that I guess we need to begin to get accustomed to for the time being. Some churches are open, but I guess very few people go there because we are still in lockdown until Easter (but there are rumors that can be extended again…) When referring to this situation, I have tried to give a more ample perspective to my readers on what is happening, because we cannot separate individual events from the larger context.

I did an interview with Professor Joseph Shaw from Oxford University (altaredei.com) in which he addressed issues coming from this peculiar situation regarding an health emergency and the necessity to attend the liturgy. He told me: “It is a difficult time, but we are not left without means of grace: above all, prayer, including the prayer of the Church, the Office and the Rosary, in which we can partake in the perfect and ceaseless prayer offered to God through Christ. Catholics must be mindful of the practice of the Spiritual Communion, of Perfect Contrition, of Indulgences, and even in some cases of private baptisms. We must also remember to maintain our knowledge of the Faith and pass it on to our children. All these things parallel the practice of our predecessors not only under active persecution, but also in times and places when priests were so few that life had to go one without them for months or even years between visits.” Yes, what is for us a strange situation,  was not and is not for many other people. You may remember that the recent Amazonian synod addressed the problem of the scarcity of priests in certain areas of that region.

Let us talk about Japan. An article by Norimitsu Onishi in the New York Times tells us the story of the Catholic Church in this country: “Christianity had a promising start in Japan with the arrival of Francis Xavier in 1549, the Jesuit missionary. But the isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate eventually proscribed Christianity and expelled all missionaries; persecuted Christians went into hiding and fled to places like the Goto Archipelago. For more than two centuries, Japan’s “hidden Christians” practiced their faith in secret and without priests until after the United States forced Japan to open up in the mid-19th century an example often held as proof of the resilience of Japanese Christian faith.” So, even if we are not in that situation, in certain given situations, if we are forced outside our churches or lack priests, we can still practice our faith.

In an interview I made (oclarim.com.mo) with Father Peter MJ Stravinskas, he said: “The Church’s position since Vatican II is no different from what it was prior to the Council.  Simply put: Salvation in and through the Church and her sacraments is the ordinary means of salvation, however, since “Deus non alligatur sacramentis,” as Aquinas teaches, God – as Lord of the Church and the sacraments – can act outside that economy.  That applies in a particular way to those who are not explicit members of the Church due to invincible ignorance.” And if this is possible for those who out of  invincible ignorance don’t know the Church, but can certainly be possible for those who know the Church but are prevented to attend her liturgies.

What can a silent Easter teach us? As for myself, I think that we need to reconsider the role of the liturgy in the life of the Church, and in our personal life. We need to understand that liturgy is not to affirm the identity of a particular group or nation, but it is the prayer of the Church that is universal. When talking of the qualities necessary for sacred music, St Pius X in 1903 mentioned “universality.” Sacred music or liturgy should not be Chinese, Italian, American and so on, but primarily Catholic and according to the tradition of the Church. I hope that this silent Easter will help us understand how to revive the liturgical life of the Church, that in the last decades has faced a huge and never ending crisis. If not for this, all the fears and worries we have now will at least have a meaningful outcome.