You may remember at the start of the pandemic for those first few weeks when the church was closed we were not streaming Masses. I was completely unprepared for something like that, didn’t have the equipment or the setup or the knowledge to pull together live streaming on short notice. You may or may not have thought of this, but during that time I couldn’t celebrate Mass at all. I don’t mean to criticize many good priests who think differently than I do, but there does not exist a form of Mass with just the priest alone, by himself. The church’s liturgy outlines the three different forms of Mass: Mass with the people, Mass with multiple concelebrating priests, and Mass with the priest and one assisting minister. And more importantly it would break my heart to celebrate a Mass during a time that you could literally not be with me in any way at all. I’ve had difficult times in my priesthood at other parishes, but I’ve never felt as lost as the beginning of the pandemic when Mass was there at all.
During those weeks I would come into the church at night when it was dark and sit in the sanctuary, over there on the side where the servers would usually sit. It was important to me, obviously, that I still made sure I deliberately came here in prayer for the whole parish. In that personal prayer my mind obviously often went to the stillness of the sanctuary throughout the day and the absence of our presence as a community gathered before the altar. In all likelihood those weekends were the first Sundays in the seventy-five years of our history that Mass was not offered on this altar. I would have always said this and believed it, but it was a new depth of knowing that our parish and our identity of Catholics centers on the celebration of Mass. And that’s because what we do here together is more than a social gathering of friends and neighbors. It’s more than group prayer and a time to reflect on the scriptures. While those things are true, they revolve around the truth that at this altar is the sacrifice of the Cross, the Body and Blood of Christ, the only source of life and mercy.
And so on this feast of Corpus Christi I have a two-fold message that I want you all to hear.
The first is for those who are coming to Mass occasionally right now but not every week, or who are not comfortable receiving communion again being nervous about the risk of disease[, or those who are remaining home and joining us by live streaming]. I pray that in your hearts you feel only longing and not guilt. Longing is a good and healthy response to needing to be away from the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. As Christ has told us his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink, and like natural food when we fast or have no access to food we become hungry. But please do not feel guilty. The Church has given all of us dispensation from Mass right now, has told us and decided for us that community health and safety for a limited time are valid and good reasons to be temporarily at a distance from the Eucharist. There is nothing to be guilty about if you are being cautious for your own sake or others.
The second is for those of you trying to live a normal life of faith in the midst of the pandemic and choosing to be here regularly for Mass and communion. Reflect on the period without Mass and let it permanently change your devotion to what we receive here. None of us should ever go back to Mass being routine. It was always an indescribable gift from God, and we must hold onto the new depth of knowing that with all of our strength.
And for all of us… I know that Mass isn’t the same right now. With no music and limited socialization and the masks hiding our faces, I know that is so much less than what we want when we come here. I want that too and we will get there together when the time is right. For now, let’s be grateful for what we have.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.