We cannot live without the joy found in the Eucharist, the Bishop of Shrewsbury has said as he urged Catholics to keep alive the joy of Christmas through the dark days of winter into brighter days ahead.
Recalling a year marked by “so much anxiety, isolation and loss”, Bishop Mark Davies acknowledged that the Church’s call to rejoice may seem discordant at this time as he suggested the faithful “must recognise the source of our joy at Christmas”.
“In the darkness and suffering of their own times, the prophets anticipated this joy; in today’s Gospel, the last of the prophets – St John the Baptist – announces that ‘there stands among you – unknown to you – the One who is coming’,” the bishop said in a pastoral letter read out at all Masses in the diocese on the weekend of Gaudete Sunday, 13th December. “Our joy is found then, in knowing and loving Christ our Lord. ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ says the Apostle, for we will be joyful insofar as we recognise that ‘the Lord is very near’.”
Bishop Davies recalled the “great sadness” experienced by all Catholics this year, as churches were closed during Lent in co-operation with public health measures.
“Yet we remained united in prayer by many and often creative means, until the return of the Mass and the Sacraments came with an outpouring of joy,” he said.
However, this was short-lived as, “again, it came as a bitter blow last month when Parliament took the dangerous and unprecedented step of declaring public worship in England illegal”.
“Yet this inspired across the diocese, an equally unprecedented witness to the essential place of worship in our lives,” he said. “Many of you wrote to Members of Parliament testifying how worship can never be reduced to the ‘non-essential’.
“This reminded of me of the Christians of the first centuries who had declared ‘we cannot live without Sunday’.
“Neither can we live without the joy found in the Eucharist and the spirit of service and charity which flows from this Sacrifice and Sacrament. The diocese might appear in some ways diminished at the end of a year of many trials, yet we have also surely grown stronger in that joy which nothing can take away.”
Bishop Davies said: “Through the dark days of winter into brighter days ahead, we must keep alive the joy of our witness to the mystery of Christmas, God-with-us.
“We have turned to St Joseph as a guide as we emerge from this crisis, to learn how to remain in the joy of Christ’s coming, the joy the Apostle describes today as knowing ‘God has called us and will not fail us’.”
The bishop pointed out that Pope Francis has called the whole Church to celebrate a Year of St Joseph until 8th December 2021. The Holy Father writes: ‘Each of us can discover St Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and guide in times of trouble.’
Bishop Davies acknowledged that this Christmas may be a difficult one for many people but reminded the faithful that they are in good company.
“In the circumstances of the first Christmas, we see how Our Lady and Saint Joseph were brought to near destitution; faced the threats of a homicidal ruler; and shared the plight of refugees in a strange land, yet never lost that unfailing joy which Christ’s Nativity brought and the joy of remaining in His Presence,” he said.
“If this Christmas brings its own share of difficulties and disappointments for us, then we are in good company! Yet, nothing can take away the joy of recognising the One who is already in our midst, the Lord who is very near to us.”
Picture: The Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, reopens the cathedral doors following the initial lockdown.