Dorothy Cummings McLean

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Keeping calm and carrying on: Living in the UK during this pandemic

We are being encouraged by politicians and pundits to rediscover 'the Blitz spirit' shared by the British during the Second World War. A terrible irony is that those who remember the Blitz are most in danger of succumbing to the virus.
Tue Mar 17, 2020 - 12:05 pm EST
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EDINBURGH, Scotland, March 17, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― There are no tins of tomatoes at the big supermarket near my home.

There is also no flour and no pasta. I didn’t check for toilet paper because we don’t need any, and I didn’t feel like hanging around. How ironic that I cancelled this morning’s appointment with my Italian tutor only to be in a shop crowded with dozens of strangers. There are now 195 confirmed coronavirus cases in Scotland.

We don’t need toilet paper because I bought a family pack before we left for a trip to Poland in late February. The coronavirus, as we still called it then, had not yet been reported in Edinburgh, but I wasn’t sure the shelves wouldn’t be cleared before we returned. They weren’t, but had I been very clever, I would have bought some flour and stockpiled more tins at once. I don’t remember how I knew, in the last week of February, that there would eventually be panic-buying of “loo roll.” Perhaps it was because I was already watching the virus spread, hoping we could get to Poland and back before it reached my god-daughter’s town. Fortunately, we did. 

The British government has asked us not to “panic-buy” and assured us that the grocery stores have robust delivery systems, but there were two bags of flour on the shelf on Sunday and there were none today. That said, salt has reappeared and there are lots of onions, potatoes, cheese, and meat. However, it has occured to me that the reason people are stockpiling flour, salt, and tins is to avoid having to go to the supermarket in future.  

Yesterday Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, asked the public to work from home, if at all possible. He hasn’t yet closed England’s schools, and schools are still open here in Scotland, which is semi-autonomous from the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has banned assemblies of more than 500 people, but the real question for faithful Christians is whether or not there will be religious services this Sunday. 

On Sunday it seemed surreal that millions of Catholics around the world could no longer go to Mass―and by episcopal fiat, too! This was surely unprecedented in the history of the Church. When Catholicism was illegal in Scotland, Catholics snuck out into the countryside to hear Mass said by “heather priests.” Fortunately, the bishops of Scotland have allowed our churches to stay open. The doctor in my family was unenthusiastic about Mark and me going to Edinburgh’s Traditional Latin Mass on public transport, so we compromised by taking a train and then walking for an hour. I wore white cotton gloves outdoors and another pair indoors, and when I returned home I did as I was told and washed my gloves in a 9:1 solution of hot water and bleach.  

Mass was solemn and beautiful, all the more beautiful because we didn’t know if we would have it next week or any week for God alone knows how long. The homily, if homily it were, was mostly taken up by announcements, including archdiocesan instructions on the reception of Holy Communion and what this meant for us, devotees of the Traditional Latin Mass. 

What it meant was that we did not receive Holy Communion, and there was not a murmur in rebellion. Receiving on the tongue from an experienced priest is no more dangerous to us than receiving in the hand from an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, but given a choice between no reception and no Mass at all, we traditionalists will abstain from receiving. Meanwhile, I prayed that we would be allowed to keep our priest, for on Sunday we believed everyone in Britain over 70 would soon be confined to their homes. Fortunately, no such order has been made for Scotland, and in England and Wales seniors are being encouraged merely to avoid social contacts.

We are being encouraged by politicians and pundits to rediscover “the Blitz spirit” shared by the British during the Second World War. This is often summed up by the popular war-time poster “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Romantic that I am, I find this World War II nostalgia inspiring. There is a terrible irony, however, in that instead of coming together, we’re being asked to stand apart. Another terrible irony is that those who remember the Blitz are most in danger of succumbing to the virus.

I am not particularly frightened of the virus for myself; I’m more frightened of the National Health Service collapsing under the weight of hundreds thousands of people all becoming very sick at once. This would mean other people dying needlessly from conditions that might otherwise have been successfully treated, like hydrocephalus or a difficult labor. As my husband had brain surgery in 2017, has had radiotherapy since then, and is due a brain scan in April, this is a very personal concern. 

Speaking of my husband, he has just telephoned from his workplace to say that there will be a big conference call this afternoon. He is expecting operations to be shut down and to be sent home to work. He is uncertain, but we are growing used to uncertainty. The one thing we really hope and pray for, besides the end to the pandemic, is that we are not deprived of Mass. 

My hope is that our bishops are inspired by the Polish bishops who eventually gave all Catholics there a dispensation from their Sunday obligations but allowed Sunday Masses for congregations of 50. In Edinburgh Catholics who go to the Traditional Latin Mass are a minority among a minority, and on Sunday we ourselves numbered only 70. We are willing to give up a lot―even weekly reception of Holy Communion―to get through this crisis, but we really do not want to give up Sunday Mass.  


  catholic, coronavirus, scotland

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