The Year of Our Lord 2021 hasn’t got off to a very good start, with the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday evening that we are to go back into a national lockdown — the third in nine months. While this lockdown is set to last for quite some time, nevertheless there are two great glimmers of hope and light in the midst of the January darkness. The first is the approval of a vaccine developed in our own city, which will ensure that the most vulnerable in society are protected from COVID-19 and that the end of the battle is in sight. The second is the wonderful news that, unlike during the two previous lockdowns, churches may remain open and public worship of Almighty God can continue. As the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols, stated, “the regular practice of our faith in God is a well-established source of both personal resilience and dedicated service to those in need. Such resilience and enduring service are vital in these difficult circumstances”.
Our church remains open and Masses, Vespers and confessions will carry on as normal. Please take extra care when coming to church, and do not attend if you have any flu or cold-like symptoms or have been advised to shield. Parents must keep their children with them at all times, and not allow them to run around the church. Face-coverings are mandatory, except for those with a medical exemption. The regulations state that if exempt from a face-covering, a person must maintain a 2 metre distance from others. Our seating capacity is calculated based on 1 metre plus, so if you cannot wear a mask, then please do not come to the busier Sunday Masses but rather attend the Saturday Vigil Mass or the Sunday 12:30pm Mass.
We are only able to remain open because of the hygiene, social-distancing and stewarding measures we have in place. The Fathers are extremely grateful to our team of stewards who enable us to continue our normal schedule. Please consider volunteering to steward if you do not already do so — especially if you are a regular Mass-goer — by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
So many events had to be put on hold or postponed last year, and it was particularly distressing to be unable to attend Mass or receive the sacraments for over three months, especially at Easter. And yet it is surprising to see how much of the life of the Oratory was able to continue despite lockdowns and COVID-restrictions. We have to send pastoral statistics to the Archdiocese each January, so we thought we would share these with you too.
Last year we baptised 24 new Christians and welcomed Sofia, Arabella, Hugh, Georgina, David, Penelope, Ralphie, Emanuel, Beatrice, Thomas, Sara, Michael, Edward, Reuben, Elisia, Danica, Dorothy, Sebastian, Emma, Sebastian, Ethan, Lola, Catherine and Robert into the family of the Church. Anthony, Mary and Benjamin were received into full communion in the One Fold of the Redeemer. Many couples who had planned to marry in our church were unable to do so, but we still celebrated 6 weddings: please pray for Paul and Hea, Claudio and Margueritte, Christopher and Evangeline, Bram and Theresa, Reuben and Miranda, and Thomas and Olivia, who began their married lives together at the Oratory in 2020.
Many parishioners rallied to help as we dealt first with the reality of lockdown and then began to reopen in June and July. 47 stewards have given of their time to help with church-opening and Masses, 15 volunteers got involved in Oratory Outreach to offer care to those who were isolating or in need, our team of cleaners ensure that the church looks beautiful and is spotlessly clean, and ten porters helped to reopen the Lodge in the week before Christmas. Six of our young people helped with various jobs and tasks. Altogether, the Oratory family collected 218 Christmas shoeboxes to provide Christmas presents for refugee children.
Thanks be to God, our parish has so far been spared the worst of COVID-19, with relatively few positive cases that we know about among parishioners and only one death. St Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron saint of the victims of epidemics, and those who care for them, so he must have been praying particularly hard for us. One stalwart of the parish, Walter Hooper, who had been C.S. Lewis’ secretary and literary executor, died in December from an illness made more severe by the coronavirus. His funeral will be celebrated on Friday 8 January at 11am, and you can join on our livestream with the following link: https://youtu.be/Hjq2igWtuh8
We also commended to the mercy of God some other very familiar faces last year, parishioners of many years standing: John Carberry, Andrew Michalski, Pat Collins, Patricia Heavens, Gwen Sheppard, Maureen Hastings, Jurek Wierzbicki and Richard Mullen; and more recent arrivals in the parish whom we knew less well: Jonathan Willis, Rosemary Smyth and Bridget Hollingsworth. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Mr Tom Walker, the Head Teacher of St Aloysius School, began his very well-deserved retirement at the end of last term, after ten years of sterling leadership. We were able to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving with some of the staff and governors of the school before Christmas, although a more splendid farewell celebration will have to wait until a later date. Miss Hannah Duncan, previously the Deputy Head, is the new Acting Head, so please spare a prayer for her as she steers the school through the current difficulties.
And so the life of the Church of God goes on, and the light continues to shine in the darkness — a Light the darkness cannot overpower. Today, on the feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, the child in the manger is revealed to the nations as Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Mighty God and Prince of Peace, who is the Beloved Son of the Father, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. May he continue to be with us, to bless us and protect us this New Year, and keep us safe and well through the intercession of Our Lady, St Philip and St Aloysius.