Christ in the Storm: An Extraordinary Blessing for a Suffering World
By Pope Francis (Ave Maria Press, 2020)
Christ in the Storm: An Extraordinary Blessing for a Suffering World is both a reprint of and meditation on the liturgy of March 27, 2020, when Pope Francis led the world in an extraordinary prayer of Urbi et Orbi in the midst of the novel coronavirus. As the virus caused the world to hunker down, reminding us of the vulnerability of human life on Earth, Pope Francis held up “to a suffering world the images of Jesus and the Blessed Mother.” By doing so, he called the attention of the world to Christ’s presence among us as the pandemic continued to spread across the globe. This extraordinary hour of prayer offered families and parishes a moment of spiritual renewal and strength.
But in March, as the pandemic worsened and caused pain and misery around the world, Pope Francis performed the blessing at dusk with the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica opened to an empty square. The liturgy for this extraordinary Urbi et Orbi combined scripture, authoritative teaching, veneration of the cross, eucharistic adoration, Marian devotion, penitential acts, intercessory prayer, and the mercy of plenary indulgence.
Since the 4th century the Urbi et Orbi has been a special and solemn papal blessing, occurring at Christmas, Easter, and after the election of a pope. It is traditionally given from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome at noon and offers an opportunity to the faithful to gain a plenary indulgence.
Teaching from the texts of Mark 4:35-41, the gospel reading that begins the liturgy in this book, the pontiff gave hope and encouragement to a world besieged with fear and despair. Like the disciples who were caught off guard by a turbulent storm and left feeling vulnerable and helpless, COVID-19 caught us off guard and upended our lives as we know it.
The pandemic has left many of us feeling like we are all perishing under the piercing and organ-destroying spikes of the novel coronavirus, just like the disciples who feared perishing in the waves of the storm. But at the moment when we most feel like screaming, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38), Jesus reiterated the necessity of faith: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
In his Urbi et Orbi liturgy, Pope Francis reminded us that “faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation.” Through these words, the pontiff invites us to welcome Christ into our lives to experience salvation from COVID-19.
Also as part of the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing, the pontiff invoked the Lord’s mercy on the world by venerating a 15th-century crucifix that miraculously saved Rome from an outbreak of the Black Plague. He also invoked the intercession of Mary with a 5th-century icon of Mary and the baby Jesus that was a beacon of hope for the church during the Justinian plague and again in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and during the cholera epidemic of 1837.
On behalf of the world, the pontiff asked for the Blessed Mother’s intercession, because God chose her as the mother of our savior. This extraordinary Urbi et Orbi concluded with the ritual of the Adoration to the Blessed Sacrament. Each of these moments is remembered in the book with photos and accompanying text about the holy objects and their significance.
With this liturgy celebrated at a time of crisis, Pope Francis brought hope and comfort to the world and a reminder that Christ is with us. As a remembrance of the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi, this book will continue to elicit hope and trust in God during crises to parishes, families, and individuals through the prayers, reflections, images, and chants of this momentous liturgy.