An Easter without Eucharist cannot keep Christ from being among us
Christians around the world this year experienced the unthinkable: Easter season without Eucharist. The most sacred of celebrations in the Christian calendar occurred right at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and so our “Easter duty” this year was to stay at home.
What optimism there might have been that perhaps we would be done with all of this by now was quickly swallowed up by the facts of the situation. The difficult fast to which this particular season of Lent has called us must continue through Sunday and beyond.
Whether Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, people will be mourning. As they have grieved over loved ones lost during the pandemic, over the loss of physical closeness to friends and family, and over the absence of so many social goods once taken for granted, so also will many grieve over the loss of the sacramental body and blood of Christ. And they are right to do so.
For Catholics in particular, the Eucharist is our deepest means of encounter with the Risen One: the crucified Son of God whose final victory over death is the heart of the Easter message. The Eucharist is the food of our souls as well as our bodies. It is the source and summit of everything we are and hope to be as baptized Christians. And this Easter we must go without it.
How is this possible? How can we go on being a eucharistic people, indeed an Easter people, without the Lord’s Supper?
Perhaps one way of answering this question is to take our grief and search for the grace that resides within it. Let us mourn what we have lost, of course, and let us even sing an angry lament to God. But let us also remember, as St. Paul tell us, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Our God is not the sort of God who abandons us to isolation, or who shrugs and gives up when circumstances throw up an obstacle to our usual means of grace. As a Catholic who draws my life and my faith from the sacraments, I have to believe there is grace here because, in the end, there is grace everywhere.
The Eucharist itself is not confined to the tabernacle or to the time we set aside for liturgy. How could it be? In the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, God is reaching out to all of us, to all of history, and bringing it to share in his life. At the altar of Communion, we give the whole world to God and receive it back as a new world: as the promise of eternal life.
The threat of disease may keep us from that altar and prevent us from embodying our side of this wonderful exchange in the usual liturgical way. But it can hardly keep God from bestowing his gifts on us. No obstacle can ever keep Christ from being present to us and among us. Indeed, so long as the memory of Jesus, who gave himself entirely to God and entirely to us, lives among us by the power of the Holy Spirit, so too does the grace of the Eucharist.
In our present situation of Eucharistic Fast – because of the restrictions placed on our Church buildings by Church and Civil authorities – the problem of the vast majority of people having no access to the reception of the elements of Holy Communion (The Mass) is one of both logistical and pastoral concern.
We who are clergy can Celebrate the Mass at home with our family (in the Anglican Tradition a priest may not Celebrate the Mass alone) are most fortunate. And if we are sacramentally orientated this is what we are allowed to do. However, this does not answer the needs of sacramentally-minded lay people, whose felt need to partake of the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist is under some strain at the present time.
Of course, there is the ancient tradition of ‘Spiritual Communion’ – wherein one has no access to the physical reception of the Elements – which, it might be argued, ought to be sufficient for anyone (both priest and people) at this time of COVID 19 and the real threat of community infection. This, really is what is being argued in this article from the US by Roman Catholic journalist, Xavier Montecel – that the Presence of Christ, being instinct in all the Baptised, can suffice for our existential sacramental wellbeing in a time of crisis.
For those for whom this situation of sacramental deprivation is inevitable, I can accept that, as Saint Paul reminds us: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Father, Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand