THE GIFTS OF A DIFFICULT SEASON
Sheila Grove, editor
Northwest Pennsylvania — Gathering on Sundays to listen to the Word of God and experience the miracle of the Eucharist is fundamental to the Catholic church community. Although public Masses have resumed ─ with some restrictions ─ and many are attending, a significant number of Catholics have not yet returned to church for public celebrations of the Mass. With the recent upsurge in the number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19, it is possible that this will remain the choice of many for the foreseeable future.
For those who do not make the decision lightly or consider the bishop’s dispensation a free pass to avoid honoring the Lord’s day, an increased awareness of spiritual Communion and the availability of livestreaming have become unexpected gifts during this difficult time. They have become a lifeline to the sacrament and connection with the church.
In March, when the bishops in numerous dioceses made the decision to close the doors to the public during Mass, Msgr. Edward Lohse, vicar general for the Diocese of Erie, recorded a video about spiritual Communion. He said, “I am quite convinced and quite certain that for those of us who are longing for the Eucharist, but not able to receive it; that in these days, the Lord will not withhold any grace of the Eucharist from those who are desiring to receive it and must just do it in their heart and not in their body ... When the Lord, for one reason or another, closes some avenues of grace, he opens others. I think we have to have hearts that are open, attentive and vigilant for new paths of grace that are opening to us…. The Lord will not leave us abandoned.”
The promises in Sacred Scripture ring through Msgr. Lohse’s words and offer comfort. The prophet Isaiah’s message of “I will never forget you,” (Isaiah 49) is clear. Catholics believe that God can accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine,” (Eph. 3:20) and that the Eucharist, while maintaining the form of bread and wine, is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them and said, ‘Take it; this is my body,’” (Mark 14:22). Surely, the God who is true and faithful and present in all things can become part of those who, with the right disposition, open their hearts and minds to receive him spiritually.
In his letter to the diocese on the occasion of his eighth anniversary as bishop of the Diocese of Erie, Bishop Lawrence Persico wrote, “Livestreaming has been a great gift to us. If you have not returned to Mass in person, I hope you are attending via livestream each Sunday. It’s important to gather the family to worship together. Use the opportunity to really participate in the Mass: say the prayers out loud and offer the responses. Have the spiritual Communion prayer we posted online available so you can offer it while those at Mass are receiving the Eucharist in person. Worship is about the community coming together for the celebration of Mass. It is not about our individual relationship with the Lord. I long for the time when I no longer have to watch my sisters and brothers pray; I want to pray with them.”
It is a sign of our connection that, while engaging in livestreamed Masses, the faithful exchange greetings, wishes of peace and requests for prayers in Facebook and YouTube comments. During the Easter Vigil in April, the son of the deacon singing the Exultet in Erie happily exclaimed in a Facebook comment, “That’s my dad!” even though he was in Texas.
Through technology, relatives and friends have witnessed first Communions, confirmations, ordinations, funerals and weddings when distance or circumstance would otherwise have rendered it impossible. While they are not in pews in a sacred building together, congregants remain part of a larger community worshipping together.
There will be a day when the urgency and fear of this time will have passed. The awareness of the graces of spiritual Communion and the ability to share faith-filled experiences across physical distances are gifts that keep on giving.
*** Here are links to Msgr. Lohse's message on spiritual Communion and
Bishop Persico's anniversary letter.