Reflections on the Eucharist in time of pandemic
There’s something simple that I’d like for us to consider when we think about the Mass. Christ is acting in and through the celebration of liturgy. Christ’s action is not dependent on you and me being present; nor is Christ’s action dependent on you and me receiving communion. Jesus Christ is the principal “celebrant” of the Mass, if you will. And because of this, grace floods the world. Through the celebration of Mass, Christ is present to the world. He is acting in the world.
But that still leaves us with an important question: How do you and I connect to that grace when we can’t be present physically at Mass? Let me offer just two ways for you to consider.
My favorite image of the sacraments is that of gift. Sacraments are gifts from God to us – gifts given to us through the mediation of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. And when you think about gifts – you think about the act of gift-giving and gift-receiving. At the most fundamental level, when we celebrate the sacraments, there is this act of giving and receiving.
So, it is with the sacramental encounter with Christ through His Word. Have you ever wondered why most Catholic Churches don’t have full versions of Bibles in their pews? Why the Church insists that Scriptures be proclaimed out-loud? it is because through the act of proclaiming and the act of hearing, we engage in this sacramental action of giving and receiving the presence of Christ in God’s holy word.
That act of giving and receiving still happens when we watch the Mass via live-stream or the television and attentively hear the Word of God proclaimed. And it is a sacramental encounter; you truly encounter Christ through the proclaimed Word of God. In hearing the Word of God proclaimed at Mass – even if it’s live-streamed or through the airwaves – we encounter the true presence of Christ.
Finally, let’s not forget the sanctifying grace that we received in our baptism. We are not without the grace of God. Through our baptism, we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ – the Church — even when we cannot physically be present. When Masses are being offered, even when you cannot physically be present, through your baptism, you participate in a particular way in the offering of the Mass. Our inability to receive communion in this time of pandemic does not erase our baptismal grace. We are still joined to the Body of Christ; the grace of our baptism is still effective in our lives. We are still, and forever, the sons and daughters of God.
In this time of pandemic, the Mass goes on. Christ is still alive – filling the world with grace. We, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ through baptism, still have access to that grace, although perhaps in ways we haven’t thought of. Indeed, there is a real loss in not being able to physically be present and drawing close to Christ through our reception of communion as He is present par excellence in the Eucharist, but all is not lost. On the contrary, we still are offered grace upon grace. Let us, then, draw close to Jesus as we are able – through the Word of God and through our spiritual communions, and live in the grace offered.
—Josh Perry is director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington.