“Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”
“”The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.”138”
– Catechism of the Catholic Church #1325
Last night our Worship and Spiritual Life committee had an online meeting. We discussed many of the things going on at STM and how we are weathering the current crisis. As I listened and reflected, I started to realize more and more how painful our current experience of not being able to share in the Eucharist together is for us. The Eucharist is the core of our spiritual life as Catholics and one of the primary ways we encounter Jesus. There is no greater source of spiritual growth and no deeper participation in the mystery of Christ than our Eucharistic celebrations (see the Catechism quote above). It is also the primary way we express our faith publicly as a church. The loss of our ability to gather and celebrate is a blow to our heart. The loss comes on many levels, for example:
- We’ve lost our connection to the church building, our physical space. It is not the same to pray from home or even to visit the church when it is empty or to view the church through a camera. The visible beauty of the space, the “feel” of being in church, the sound of the organ and new piano, the cantor and choir echoing through those walls and pews cannot be replaced. We can’t sit where we’ve always sat to pray on Sunday. Our hearts long for this familiar connection.
- We’ve lost our connections with one another. We don’t see the same people week after week (or day after day). Even if we don’t know them by name, we know them by face and where they sit. Maybe we have watched their children grow even if we can’t name them all. Perhaps we went to breakfast after Mass together. We used to sing together every week. That’s not happening now and our hearts long for this regular connection.
- We’ve lost our connection with our leaders. The sound of the priest’s voice is no longer a weekly experience. While we may know he is offering Mass on our behalf it is not the same. It is like the difference between looking at a picture of a loved one and holding their hand. Both are good, but they are not the same.
- We’ve lost our sacramental connection to God through the Eucharist. God works on us and through us in the liturgy. God works on us through uniting us to Jesus death and resurrection and transforming us to become more like Jesus. He works through us as our prayers, united to Christ, become instruments for the salvation of the world. Our participation in the eucharistic liturgy is indeed the “source and summit” of our lives. All our other forms of prayer and worship are oriented toward the communal celebration of the eucharist and flow from the heart of this great mystery.
These losses (and many more like them) are deep and painful. It is important that we recognize them. They are real losses. While they may be temporary, and we can offer these losses up to God, they still hurt. This is one dimension of our “spiritual communion.” We commune spiritually because we cannot commune together publically. These losses break open our hearts to cry out to God from the depths of our being. Only when we acknowledge these losses, can we begin to recognize how God is still present with us.
Even though the loss of the public celebration of Mass is temporary, we must still respond to it. Pat Lencioni, the founder of Amazing Parish, outlines 4 ways we can respond to loss, and all of these are happening in our hearts and in our church. The “four R’s” of responding to loss are:
- Restore – This occurs when a loss is directly replaced with the same thing. If we have lost a job, we fight to get the same job back. If we broke our favorite mug, we find a way to repair it so it is “just like new.” In the scriptures we see something like this when the Temple is rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah after being destroyed over 50 years earlier, allowing God’s people to publically offer sacrifice again. In our current context, this restoration may begin when we are able to celebrate Sunday Mass together publically again.
- Replace – A loss can also be replaced with something similar. We get a job similar to the one we lost. We buy a mug like the old one. Many of us now are trying to find ways to temporarily replace our Sunday liturgy by watching Mass online or on TV or listening on the radio. While we know this replacement is a pale comparison, it is something we can do for now and God always respects our desire to come to know him more deeply.
- Redesign – The loss can lead us to redesign our lives due to the loss. We start our own business instead of finding a similar job. We stop drinking coffee instead of buying a new mug. God’s people, when the Temple was destroyed, redesigned their way of life. Instead of focusing on temple sacrifice as the primary way to relate to God they turned to God’s Word. It was at this time that much of the Scripture that we read today was compiled and written. Since they could no longer offer sacrifice in the Temple they turned to the Law and Prophets. Some of us are redesigning our prayer and are finding new ways to encounter Jesus in silence and Scripture as we wait to gather for liturgy again.
- Relinquish – The loss can lead us to let go and surrender to the new reality God is giving us. Instead of working, we can retire and enter an entirely new phase of life. We can give away our mug to someone who needs it and begin a radical form of simplicity. In scripture, Jesus called his people to give up one way of thinking (repent) and embrace a new way of life beyond their imagination (the kingdom of God). Our current context is not calling us to let go of the liturgy, but it may be calling us to approach it differently, to appreciate it as the gift that it is instead of a duty to be performed.
Each of these responses is good and natural. We are all responding with some combination of these reactions. Together as a community we are discerning the best possible response now and into the future. These are not easy times. Our losses are real. But we know that God has a plan and walks with us every step of the way. Even as we walk through the “dark valley” we fear no evil, because God is with us. He will lead us to dwell in his house forever.
Parish Pastoral Leader