Are you longing for the Holy Eucharist? You are not alone. Countless members of the Mystical Body across the world feel keenly the separation from Christ’s Real Presence. The joy of the Easter season this year is tinged with sorrow at the separation. We are living one of the great paradoxes of our faith, which is that joy and sorrow are often mingled together in this life. We trust, despite this sorrow, that this period of separation from Him in Holy Communion is an opportunity for us to grow in profound love for Him and the Church.
First, the disregard and guilting of those who miss the public celebration of the Mass and reception of Holy Communion needs to stop. The idea that telling our brothers and sisters in Christ to “suck it up” (pardon an expression from my military days) because people are dying is not only uncharitable it is to miss the fact that not being able to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion should cause us some level of pain and discomfort, not necessarily emotionally, but at least spiritually.
This is not an either/or situation. We can express our sorrow at being separated from the Mass while also being concerned about those who are sick and dying. Discussing that sorrow also does not mean a lack of resignation to God’s will. It is simply an expression that this period of exile is difficult, even if we know we must endure it and embrace it as a time of greater perfection in love. The example we can follow is that of Our Lady and St. John who endured the agony and sorrow of the Cross, but trusted in God’s ultimate plan. They still suffered tremendously, but they also surrendered in faith.
The Holy Eucharist is the very center of our Faith, which is why it is a great blow to the People of God in every age when they are barred from the public celebration of the Mass and the Sacraments. This does not mean these periods of suspension have not been necessary at times, but they are always a trial for the members of the Mystical Body. This makes perfect sense given the centrality of the Holy Eucharist in the life of the Church. St. John Paul II in the opening to his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia states:
The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity. Ever since Pentecost, when the Church, the People of the New Covenant, began her pilgrim journey toward her heavenly homeland, the Divine Sacrament has continued to mark the passing of her days, filling them with confident hope.
The celebration of the Mass is the most tangible encounter we have with Christ on this side of eternity. It is why the separation causes immense sorrow. Even so, this period of exile is an opportunity to enter even more into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist through our prayer; to allow Christ to lead us to a greater love of Him through longing for His Real Presence. In order to do so, we cannot avoid this sorrow, nor can we dismiss it with a pragmatic wave of the hand. Instead, we must ask Him how we can love His Eucharistic Face with greater ardor and devotion.
To be sure, this is more difficult in our separation, but through prayer we can turn our gaze to Him in Sacred Scripture, prayer before the Tabernacle, spiritual communion, and studying the Church’s teachings on the Holy Eucharist and the Mass.
For the most holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our passover and living bread. Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men. Consequently the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the manifestation of his boundless love.St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 1.
We can join our gaze to the wider Church’s gaze throughout this present isolation and separation. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has not ceased. Our public participation has been temporarily suspended. We can still enter spiritually into the Mass as it is celebrated by our priests and bishops “from the rising of the sun to its setting” through our prayer. It is a time when we can seek union with God and the Church at the spiritual level: something that we risk ignoring when we are physically present at Mass.
The temptation to turn our gaze from His simply because the separation causes us periods of sorrow, agony, and tears may be great, but we must persevere. It may be that we experience aridity or no emotional response during this time. Our emotions are not a reliable indicator of our spiritual lives. No matter what we experience during this present exile, we must keep our gaze fixed on Christ’s loving gaze in union with the Church. If we stumble, then we must ask Him to help us get back up and to give us the grace we need to endure during this difficult period.
Throughout this particular Easter season, we are invited to enter into the totality of the paschal mystery from the passion and death of Our Lord to the Resurrection. We sense the presence of the Cross more keenly in this Easter season as countless people suffer in the current pandemic and the encroaching threat of economic turmoil. Seeking greater love of the Holy Eucharist will lead us deeper into the paschal mystery, the suffering the world is experiencing at present, and communion with the Mystical Body.
The Church was born of the paschal mystery. For this very reason the Eucharist, which is an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery, stands at the center of the Church’s life.
This period of exile is a time to be tried, tested, and purified through the refining fires of God’s love. Let’s seek to make Our Lord’s Real Presence the center of our lives so that when the joyous day comes when we can once more approach Him in Holy Communion, our hearts may be set ablaze with even greater love for Him.