Tuesday, March 24, 2020

No Masses: A Surreal Situation

I hesitate to write about the Coronavirus pandemic, because the situation changes from day to day. Whatever I write today usually doesn't get published for two or three weeks, and so what I have to say right now will be really old news by the time anyone sees it.

However, this is such an unprecedented event, I deleted my original essay so I could offer my views on the stunning announcement by the Archdiocese of Hartford that all public Masses are suspended until at least April 3rd. It’s March 24th as I write this, and soon we might learn that the Mass ban gets extended much further, including wiping out Holy Week and Easter.
Back in early March (which seems like a lifetime ago now), I gave a talk at a church in Waterbury. My topic was the Eucharist, and I made this observation: “If someone does not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, then I can understand why he may not want to go to Mass every week. After all, it’s the same old ritual every time, and if nothing miraculous takes place on that altar, then it can be kind of boring. But on the other hand, if someone does believe in the Real Presence, and knows in his heart that a genuine miracle takes place at every single Mass, then how can he stay away? In fact, how can just once a week on Sunday be enough?”

Suddenly, we’re being forced to stay away, whether we want to or not. (During my entire childhood I was forced to go to Mass every week, even though I didn’t want to go. Now, I want to go, but I’m not allowed. Too weird.)

For now, we cannot receive the Eucharist, at least for a few weeks and possibly much longer. A couple of days ago, when my wife and I watched Sunday Mass on TV, it was surreal. I suspect when the Mass ban reaches its third or fourth week, it will really hit home, especially if Holy Week and Easter Sunday are cancelled.
During my talk in Waterbury, one of the key points I emphasized is the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s declaration that the Eucharist is “source and summit of the Christian life.” Why is this so? Because the Eucharist is the genuine body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. This is not a teaching that some scheming pope made up in the Middle Ages, over a thousand years after Jesus walked the earth. This belief comes right from the mouth of Jesus Himself, and was understood and practiced by Christians from the very beginning. (For the details, you should’ve attended my talk!)

So, now the “source and summit” of our faith life has been taken away from us—at least for the time being. It is a very bizarre feeling.

What we need to do is take advantage of a concept that is rarely discussed: the “spiritual communion.” Whenever people are unable to receive the Eucharist, for example, because of illness, they are encourage to enter into a “spiritual communion,” that is, focus on the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and ask God to give them the same graces that are available when people actually eat the true “Bread of Life.”

If there’s anything we’ve learned from 4,000 years of Judeo-Christian history, it’s that God is much more concerned about our hearts than our external actions. (See Hosea 6:6.) In other words, someone who sincerely trusts the Lord and loves Him with all his heart and soul, will receive more grace from God through a “spiritual communion” than someone who physically receives the Eucharist at Mass, but does so in a distracted, bored, and irreverent manner. 
Maybe something good will come out of this unprecedented pandemic situation. If we cannot physically receive the Eucharist for many weeks, maybe our hunger for Christ will increase. Maybe focusing on the graces available through a “spiritual communion” will improve our prayer life.

During this time of trial, let’s pray for God’s blessings to be on our families, our parishes, our nation, and the entire world.

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