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Liturgy in Times of Natural Disaster
I am writing this at the end of an extraordinary week in this part of the world. After inflicting widespread destruction in the Whitsunday area of north Queensland, Cyclone Debbie dumped phenomenal amounts of rain over a vast area as it moved south, causing widespread, often unprecedented, flooding which lead to the loss of life, property and livelihood.
Liturgy has an important and healing role to play in the lives of those who are attempting to deal with grief and loss. Worshipping with others in times of need gives people added strength through sharing grief, faith and hope. The presence of Christ and others around helps to overcome feelings of helplessness and inadequacy.
Our liturgical tradition offers a way to pray at times like this. When minds are numb and thoughts elsewhere, the familiar patterns of prayer and ritual mean that we can still participate fully in the liturgy. When we cannot find words to express our feelings, the litanies and psalms and hymns that we know so well give voice to our thoughts.
The psalms encompass every gamut of human emotion. There are psalms of lament such as Ps 74 “Why, God? Why always cast us off?” and Ps 83 “God, do not be deaf, do not be still, do not be mute”. Other psalms speak of consolation and hope: Ps 96 “God will cover you like a nesting bird, God’s wings will shelter you” and Ps 34 “The good endure great trials, but God comes to their rescue.
Volume III of the Lectionary for Mass offers suitable scripture readings under the headings “For any need”. The section entitled “Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions” in the Roman Missal has prayers for these same circumstances under the heading “For Civil Needs” which can be used even if the liturgy being celebrated is not Mass.
The Missal also includes collects for use in Australia in time of bushfire, drought, cyclone and floods. The latter prays:
Look upon us, O God,
and see the floods that devastate the earth;
grant, we pray,
hope to our troubled hearts
and new life to the damaged land.
Natural disasters such as floods not only bring death and destruction but also bring out the best in human nature. Out of the tragedy have come numerous tales of bravery, selflessness and compassion –swift-water rescuers putting their lives on the line, SES volunteers protecting property and repairing damage, community groups feeding and housing the displaced. It is the Easter story, a story of good coming out of evil, of death giving way to new life, of hope in the midst of despair.
As the Elect are plunged into the waters of baptism at the Easter Vigil, as we renew our baptismal promises and are sprinkled with the water of life, we will think of those who have been affected by the cyclone and floods and pray that they will arise “up from the waters into life”.