On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we reflect on what we have learnt from the pandemic in terms of our understanding of the Eucharist.
The reflection features Fr Chris Del Rosario, Assistant Priest at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta and Anne Alimangohan, from the Office for Worship, Diocese of Parramatta.
March 22 this year was the Fourth Sunday of Lent in the calendar, and it also happened to be the last time when large gatherings of people were able to attend the Sunday Mass. From the next day, Australia entered into the COVID-19 lockdown and a series of restrictions were promulgated by the NSW public health authorities that involved closure of schools, people working from home, the closure of a number of businesses and a cessation of sport and entertainment.
Included, of course, were the closure of church buildings to the faithful. Mass continued, but only in those early days with a priest celebrating assisted by one minister. Live-streaming became the mode of liturgical engagement for large numbers of the faithful, and Catholic people were called upon to recover what had once been a staple of spiritual life for many Catholics – the notion of “spiritual communion” rather than actually receiving the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.
To find ourselves without access to the sacraments, and in particular not being able to receive Holy Communion, was a moment of profound grief for many and a feeling of dislocation from the Church. Many pastors could sense the loss and responded in novel ways by the provision of “drive-thru” communion, and establishing times when people could come to the Parish Office to receive Holy Communion.
Whilst at one level this met a need that some of the faithful had in wanting to have access to the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ, it also raised some questions about what happens when you disconnect the reception of Holy Communion from the Eucharistic celebration itself.
To receive Holy Communion outside of Mass has been provided principally for those who were sick or housebound and, for a good reason, were simply unable to attend the celebration of Mass. It was never envisaged that it would be an alternative way of participating in the sacramental life of the Church.
As we come then to celebrate Corpus Christi this year, with the easing of restrictions and more people being able once again to return to the their worshipping communities, it is timely to revisit our understanding of the Mass and why participating in sacramental communion is rightly situated in the context of the liturgy.
From the sign of the Cross we are being formed as God’s people in firstly acknowledging our sinfulness and with assurance of forgiveness, we open ourselves to the Word of God so that we might be convicted by the Gospel and shaped to be the people He calls us to be. Our intercessions for the Church and world fulfils our identity to be a priestly people.
When we gather for Sunday Mass, we know that as the baptised men, women and children, we form the Eucharistic assembly, who with the priest presiding, will make memorial for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the Paschal Mystery – as we join our offering with that of the priest who stands in the person of Christ as the sacrificial offering of bread and wine is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, which we receive in Holy Communion. This crescendo is reached with the proclamation of the Great Amen at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Nourished with this Food from Heaven, we are then equipped and enlivened by God’s grace through the gift of the Holy Spirit to continue the mission of Jesus Christ in our neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools and in other parts of our community. This is our primary call – to be Christ for others.
The point is, that in the Mass we join ourselves, the substance of our lives in Christ, to this offering and thus you might say we have a stake in that Eucharist. This is symbolised by the bread and wine that is brought forth from the assembly which represents our labour, and our lives with all our deficiencies, and we join them to Christ’s own offering of himself to the Father – the Eucharistic sacrifice par excellence! And in return He gives Himself to us in His Body and Blood.
Our participation in the Mass and our reception of Holy Communion from that which is offered at that Mass then is critical to our understanding of what we are doing when we celebrate together. In fact, paragraph 85 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states it very clearly:
“It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the Priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass… so that even by means of the signs Communion may stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.”
On this the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, let us appreciate and value even more the privilege of participating in the Eucharist and in receiving freely the gift of Body and Blood of Christ to sustain us on the journey of life.
As St Thomas Aquinas once wrote and is as applicable today as it was in the 13th Century: “O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”
With thanks to the Office for Worship.