I did not go to Mass this weekend. I am grateful that my parish and diocese have suspended the public celebration of the Eucharist for the foreseeable future in response to the coronavirus outbreak. This will hopefully slow the spread of the virus and contribute to the well-being of the members of our community most vulnerable to Covid-19.
But I would be lying if I said that I did not feel a sense of loss, that watching the Eucharist online was just as fulfilling as receiving it in person. Despite my struggles in the faith, I can count on two hands the number of times as an adult that I have missed Mass on a weekend. That does not make me a better person but rather a person aware of my need. I need the body of Christ like I need my coffee in the morning, like my medications, like my daily bread, like water.
This coronavirus, like all “successful” viruses, is spreading so well because it has found a way to exploit a good part of who we are. In this case, like many other coronaviruses, it has found a way to hijack our social nature. Like H.I.V./AIDS hijacks the basic good of sexual intimacy, Covid-19 is hijacking the basic goods of closeness and community. If you have found yourself in the last few days stopping just before an embrace or awkwardly resisting a handshake, you have felt how unnatural it is for us to hold back bodily expressions of our relationships.
One thing unnerving about this virus and many other illnesses is that it can feel like our bodies are betraying us. This is true of our physical bodies but also our social and ecclesial bodies. Assembling for the Eucharist, that is, becoming the body of Christ, with the people we love now carries risk for ourselves and others. Receiving the body of Christ through bread and wine is now potentially dangerous.
So how can we continue to be the body of Christ as this crisis unfolds? How do those of us who need the body of Christ like we need bread and water continue to receive it?
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Brian P. Flanagan is an associate professor of theology at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., and the author of Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church (Liturgical Press, 2018).
With thanks to America Magazine and Brian P. Flanagan, where this article originally appeared.