Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We can all name a litany of things we have missed in the aftermath of the coronavirus quarantine. Whether they be one-time events that were cancelled, postponed, or modified, or regular activities that have been curtailed, the time we have spent in relative seclusion without question has been a challenge. Fortunately, we have also learned to do without and to adapt. What were once phone calls have turned into FaceTime conversations, and what may have been rushed meals have turned into slower-paced family time at the table. We have adjusted to making sacrifices of personal preference, and have impatiently learned to be patient.
But there are some things that can never be replaced. Chief among these, to my mind, is the Church’s greatest prayer, the Mass. While watching Mass on television or live-streaming it on our devices has become the norm and a hugely beneficial practice, it cannot match the real thing. Just as there can be no substitute for looking someone in the eye and hearing their unmediated voice, so there can be no true substitute for encountering Jesus in the Church’s liturgy. As much as we like live-streamed Mass – and I am very aware of the many members of our community who watch faithfully and pray along with us – we know deep in our hearts that it’s not the same. It has been extremely edifying to see so many parishioners visiting our chapel or church during the quarantine to find some time to be face-to-face with the Lord. Equally edifying has been the response in attendees and volunteers now that we can have Mass publicly again.
Priests have experienced the quarantine in a rather unique way. We have, of course, been able to celebrate Mass each day, and so our separation has not been from the Mass itself, nor from the sacramental reality of Jesus present in the Eucharist. Rather, we have worked to adjust to offering the Mass without a congregation, and hardest of all, being unable to give Holy Communion. It is not especially difficult to transition from regularly seeing people (every diocesan priest has a little bit of monk in his heart), or to shift to praying for the parish more often than working with members of the parish. One of the priest’s most sacred responsibilities and the one that every priest treasures above all others, is the charge to bring Jesus to people through the sacraments. We were able to bring the mercy of God to people through Confessions, and able, in some non-hospital-or-nursing-home cases, to bring the healing grace of the Lord to our faithful in the Anointing of the Sick. But with no faithful present, our responsibility to nourish the People of God with the Eucharist was taken away. When a priest is ordained, his hands are anointed with sacred Chrism oil, consecrated so that they may become instruments of God’s grace. Just as the chalice and ciboria that will hold the Eucharist are consecrated with Chrism, so the priest’s hands. At his ordination, a priest is handed a chalice and paten and told to receive the sacred gifts of the People of God and charged to offer, consecrate and administer them on behalf of that holy people.
You can imagine, then, what a joy it has been to be able to once again give Holy Communion to the parish. Sure, it has been great to connect electronically with everyone. But how painful to be unable to feed the parish with the Eucharist! I know I speak for both Fr. Tim and myself when I tell you that there is nothing that reminds us of our priestly responsibility and vocation quite like giving Holy Communion to our parish. As we all grow in our appreciation of what we have and continue to miss certain elements of our pre-quarantine life, may the Eucharist remain the source and summit of our faith, and the greatest treasure in our sacramental lives!