Earlier this week the bishops in most dioceses in the United States, if not all, decided to suspend all public masses and other sacramental gatherings through Holy Week, including Easter Sunday, as a means to minimize the spread of the Coronavirus. Like most of you, I have had mixed feelings. I know the “social distancing” directions which are currently imposed on us are the right thing to do. But, to be forced to go without receiving our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a hard pill to swallow. I can accept the trial of staying home Monday through Saturday and missing daily mass. I don’t want to but I can live with it. But, missing Sunday, and especially missing Easter Sunday, the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, will be difficult.
Priests and bishops around the country have done a marvelous job, in my opinion, of producing podcasts and live streaming videos of their personal masses from their rectory chapels. They are also televising the praying of the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplets and going the extra mile to keep the faithful engaged. But, it’s still not the same.
A young priest, Fr. Jeffrey Starkovich from Lake Charles, Louisiana (and a high school classmate of my daughters), posted on his Facebook page the other day an anecdote, if you will, that helped me wrap my mind around this emptiness. He said:
“Every priest acknowledges a powerful reality when we say the words of our consecration at Holy Mass. We take the bread into our hands and say, ‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you.’ The priest has a unique perspective at that moment. Indeed, he gives up his own body to make the Body of Christ present: celibacy for the Kingdom, obedience to his bishop or superior, and availability to his people night and day, just to name a few.
“Today was hard. I sat in my empty parish church when mass was normally scheduled to be held…but the church was empty. Why? Because, ‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you.’ Now [you] the lay faithful exercise a particular sacrifice in their priesthood of the baptized. You are being asked to sacrifice your body, your physical presence at mass, to protect the Body of Christ at large. Now, you, too, are being asked to make a sacrificial gift.
“When you watch the priest raise the Host from your tablet or cell phone and he says, ‘This is my Body,’ you have something to give up, too. You give up your physical presence in the church. In that moment, you are giving up your body for the Body of Christ. That’s what priests do, too.”
I have tried to keep his words in mind as I’ve tuned in to live streamed masses each day this week. In watching the televised masses, praying and participating in the Liturgy of the Word, reading the scripture passages, and meditating on the homilies, we have everything but the Eucharist, the food that nourishes our souls, the source and summit of our faith. But, as a substitute for the physical communion with our Lord in the Eucharist, we are offered a special prayer by which we can express our love for Jesus and which brings us into “spiritual” communion with Him. The prayer is as follows:
Oh my Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
Receiving spiritual communion in this way through televised masses has relieved some of my uneasiness. Although, I still feel as a friend mentioned to me today, “This must be what Purgatory is like: you can see the celebration of the mass happening, but you just can’t receive Jesus.”
For a long time, I have faithfully recited a Rosary each day and praying for Mary’s intercession has been most helpful to me in staying close to Jesus. A friend and mentor, Fr. Alessandro Borraccia, posted in a Facebook video some consoling words:
“These are hard times. These are times when we feel like the Apostles who didn’t really know what to think when Jesus was taken from them. Do you remember there was that time on Holy Saturday when Jesus is dead, the Son of God is dead, and the Apostles are confused and angry and their hope is crushed? They don’t know how to respond. They are sad. Jesus is not with them. Where is He?
“You know, maybe we have the same sense of loss now that we can’t participate in the Eucharist. We can not receive our Lord, at least sacramentally. Yes, we can receive Him through this beautiful practice of spiritual communion. Yes, we can see a lot of live streamed masses but we know it’s different.
“So, what did the Apostles do? The Apostles relied on Mary and her faith. Holy Saturday is a time when the Church relies heavily upon the faith of Mary, upon her prayer, because she knows and she keeps everyone together, all her children. We, like the Beloved disciple, have been entrusted to her.
“And, so, these times are the same for us, when we feel the same loss, confusion, anger, sadness. It’s a time for us to rely heavily on the faith of Mary, asking Mary, ‘How did you do it? What was going on in your heart, your sorrowful heart? What can you teach me today in my situation?’
“The Rosary is a great prayer. Maybe just sit in front of an image or a statue of her and have a heart to heart with her: ‘Mary, teach me. I’m living in a very prolonged Holy Saturday. There must be a way to stay intimate with Him, to feel His consolation. Like a good mother, you know how to take care of your children and to soothe their pain, to find words of consolation, and whisper those little words of love.’
“In this time, I encourage all of us to turn back to Mary to ask her to protect us, to teach us how to seek the Lord when He is missing, when the Eucharist, the food for our journey, has been taken away from us. And, so, in this communion we can bring fruit, we can be good disciples, good apostles, and go through all situations of life, strengthened by the faith of Mary our Mother, by the faith of our Church, by the prayer that we, the Church as the Body of Christ, raise up to God together in time of distress. And, so, before we know it, a long time will pass. We don’t know how long. But, resurrection will come and we will be so different, strengthened by the faith of the Church.”
Today’s Scripture also provided some relief. In the first reading, Hos 6:1-6, we hear God, through the prophet Hosea, reprimand the Israelites for practicing ritual sacrifices and burnt offerings but with only a “piety as thin as a morning mist, like a dew that early passes away.” This reminded me that I, first and foremost, need to love and trust in God. I know He wants to give Himself to me in the Eucharist, but, aside from that sacrifice, He wants, above all, a loving relationship with me. Through my spiritual communion and daily prayer I can give Him my heart-felt love without receiving him personally in the Eucharist. I find comfort in that.
Like you, brothers and sisters, I pray this Coronavirus pandemic ends soon. I would like for life to return to normal. But, in the mean time, I will use this time to deepen my faith through study, and grow in my relationships with Christ through prayer and meditation, and with my family. I hope you will, too. Who knows, perhaps it will lead to a new normal that will be better than what we had! That would be nice.
God bless you all. Wash your hands. Stay home. Stay healthy.
“Lord God, thank You for the many blessings in my life. Thank You for the love You give that nourishes my soul. I pray that your absence in the Holy Eucharist will help me to love You more. And, thank You for the situation we currently find ourselves in. I don’t know why it is happening, nor how long it will last. But, I believe that You do and that You will bring about good for those who trust in You. Amen.”
(Coping with Sacrifice and Sadness Through a Month of Holy Saturdays, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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