By the rivers of babylon

Sister Regina McGarry OP

Every Tuesday in Week 4 of the Divine Office, we sing the opening verses of Psalm 136 (137) at Evening Prayer. The song of yearning, expressing the longing and anguish of the Israelite people exiled in Babylon:

By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept,
remembering Sion

 I’ve always rather liked this heartfelt psalm.

As we lived the months of March through to July this year the opening verse of the psalm resonated with me in a new way. On the 19th March, the Feast of St Joseph, our parish priest announced at the beginning of Mass that this would be our last Mass. The church was being locked for an uncertain time because of Covid-19. Most of us had tears in our eyes during this very special Mass.

And so began the months of lockdown. I usually took my daily walk at 7 am and often cast a longing look at our locked church. As a community we ‘travelled’ far and wide for liturgy online. We were blessed with beautiful liturgies and wonderful homilies. Our parish priest began to celebrate Mass on Zoon three times a week. We ‘connected’ with our parish community in this remote way.

Fast forward to July and our church could open again for the celebration of Mass. Because of all the safety restrictions this depended on volunteers being stewards and sanatising the church after each celebration. The usual large army of volunteers is greatly depleted as most are in the vulnerable age group. Some, who are very able-bodied, find this really hard. They would love to be able to help. At the moment our parish church can celebrate Mass two days in the week and twice on Sunday.

Clocking in as we arrive, wearing masks, socially distancing like little islands spread throughout the church, one way system in place, and a feeling of sadness that this has to be so. BUT how wonderful to be back in church celebrating the liturgy! It really is coming home after exile. I thank God every time. I love the liturgies online but being actually bodily present for the Eucharist is gift and joy. I now have some sense of how the Israelites felt when at last they could return to their homeland.

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