Leaving the past behind

The joy of the Risen Lord was felt on Palm Sunday when two developments took place in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

Apr 08, 2023

The joy of the Risen Lord was felt on Palm Sunday when two developments took place in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

Firstly, on March 17, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia announced that the general dispensations from Sunday and holy days of obligations would be lifted starting from Palm Sunday 2023. Secondly, on March 21, the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur announced that it would no longer be compulsory to wear a face mask when entering a church to attend liturgical celebrations. The ruling took effect on Palm Sunday too.

Whilst I welcome both announcements with gladness, I look back at a few happenings during the pandemic.
Mask up
Allowing church-goers to attend Mass without having to mask up is a great joy. Certain churches can be hot, humid and stuffy. Therefore, having to mask up throughout Mass is suffocating.

The archdiocese’s decision to drop the mandatory use of face mask in church could have been made sooner, the Malaysian Government had already announced in September 2022 the optional use of face mask whilst indoors.
Just before the archdiocese made the announcement, I had wanted to attend Mass elsewhere because certain ministers of hospitality were tough on those who don’t mask up. There is a particular minister of hospitality who gestures fiercely at people to put on their masks when they haven’t even stepped into the church. In the March 19 issue of HERALD, a reader had written to the Letters to Editor that he was told to leave a religious bookstore in a church because he was not wearing a mask. So much drama and hostility just because of a mask.

What dispensation?
When the announcement was made that the general dispensation from Sunday and holy days of obligation would be lifted, I notice that people were generally uninterested in the announcement. Unlike other news that gets forwarded to instant messaging chat groups quickly and furiously, this time very few took the trouble to do so. Some of us had even forgotten there was a dispensation.

The general lack of interest was because those who read the announcement are already regular church goers. When churches reopened and Masses had resumed after the pandemic, this group of people had gladly returned to church. Some of us had shed tears at our first physical Mass (after the pandemic) because we had been deprived of receiving the Eucharist for so long. Therefore, the lifting of general dispensation does not change anything. The regular church goers will continue attending Masses and serving in ministry.

Mass attendance
Time and time again, I hear lamentations and read comments that people are not returning to Church even though churches are open and Masses have resumed. This topic has also been discussed in other Christian churches who are facing the same situation.

Personally, I don’t think the lifting of the dispensation will create a significant difference to Mass attendance. People who have stopped coming to church will continue to do so due to their own reasons. And the lifting of Mass dispensation is not going to change anything. In my BEC, a few members have stopped attending BEC gatherings and activities even though the core team had invited them numerous times. Soon, they exit the BEC group chat and we don’t see them anymore. We don’t know whether they have left the BEC but are still attending Masses, or they have completely left the Church. Even though it is sad to see members leaving, at the end of the day, everyone has their own free will to make their own decisions.

Angry with the Church
During a social communications workshop that I attended in December last year, the presenter said that the main reason people stopped coming to church is because they’re angry with the Church. That reminded me of pandemic times when the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur had suspended Masses during Christmas 2020, whilst the other dioceses in Malaysia had carried on with their Christmas Masses. That decision sparked a lot of anger and certain Catholics had voiced out their dissatisfaction by writing to the mainstream media. My family members, friends and fellow parishioners also asked amongst ourselves why such a decision had been made by the Archdiocese.

Throughout the pandemic, when Masses were suspended for too long, I too contemplated attending services at other Christian churches, one of which was the HTBB church in Lot 10, Bukit Bintang. The church looked cool on social media, and I wanted especially to see how they worship.

There are probably many other Catholics who had left the Church during the pandemic. They may have joined other Christian churches, or they may have become agnostic, or they may have decided that they have had enough of religion, etc. If their reason for leaving is because they’re angry with the Church (during the pandemic), then it is ironic because the very decisions that the Church had made to protect the flock from the virus became the reason that drove people away. Talk about a double-edged sword.

Moving on
Now that the pandemic is no longer a looming threat, it is time to forgive the Church for the decisions that she made during that time. God forbid, if another pandemic arises, the Archdiocese will be more experienced in managing the crisis.
The Church has now embarked on a synodal journey where all of us are called to be in communion with one another, to participate in the life of the Church and to be on mission. Let us immerse ourselves in the synodal journey and move forward together

(Julie Lim Seet Yin believes that a satisfied life measured by one's heart, mind and soul is better than a successful life measured by worldly yardsticks. She works for a Japanese bank and is responsible for its Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. She can be reached at: limseetyin@gmail.com)

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