Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Here’s an idea: let’s continue to do Thanksgiving, Christmas, and family birthdays by Zoom for the coming year. Even when it becomes safe to gather again, it’s more convenient, requires less preparation and avoids family tensions if we do it virtually rather than in person.
Of course, that’s a terrible idea! We’ve made do with virtual gatherings this past year. But we know from experience: it’s just not the same. We’re all eager, when it’s safe for the most vulnerable, to get back to family gatherings.
The question is: are we as eager to get back to Mass in person as we are to return to other family gatherings — even if it’s not convenient, requires more preparation and sometimes walks into some tension?
I pose that question because I want to issue an invitation. As we start the month of May we start to look ahead to summer. The best medical information I’m receiving is that I’ll be able to lift the dispensation from attending Mass sometime this summer. That requires some preparation on our part, just as any summer plans do. I invite us all to start thinking ahead to that time.
This week we hear St. Paul say: “I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received.” He then tells us, in words, what he considers to be the most important thing: the dying and rising of Jesus. St. Paul organized his whole life around sharing the most important thing.
That’s what Sunday Mass is for us as Catholics. It’s the most important thing because it’s a sharing, through the Eucharist, in the dying and rising of Jesus — and that’s something we want to participate in physically, not virtually! St. Paul told us in words. We tell the world, with our actions, whether or not we consider that to be the most important thing.
If we’re happy to go to the grocery store in person, and happy that our children can go to school in person, and happy to attend athletic events in person, we should be happy to return to Mass in person!
Looking back, it’s important to clarify this: We did not suspend public Masses in order to preserve our own health. That would have been understandable fear. It would also, ultimately, have been a public declaration that we considered our physical health to be more important than the spiritual health — indeed, eternal life! — that we receive from the Eucharist. That would have been a counter-witness to the faith. If that was anyone’s motivation, it requires repentance.
No, we did it precisely as an act of charity, to care for others, especially the most vulnerable. Like a parent who goes without sleep to nurse a sick child we knew that, for a time, we could subsist on a spiritual communion.
But we can’t do that forever. As the threat to the lives of the vulnerable wanes, it’s time to return to our normal practices.
When we cut a flower and put it in a vase of water, it lives and blooms beautifully for a short while. But soon enough, and inevitably, it withers and dies. Our souls are like flowers, and the Eucharist is their native soil. We can survive on a spiritual communion for a time. But God made us as a composite of body and soul. He feeds us, physically, in the Eucharist. And He wants us to rise, body and soul, with Jesus. It’s up to us to say yes to the invitation. Without the Eucharist, our souls will be like the cut flower: living and blooming for a short while but, soon enough and inevitably, withering and dying.
So let’s think ahead. When the time is right, I invite everyone to return to the Eucharist with eager hearts.