St. Augustine famously invited us to “Become what you receive,” in his beautiful Sermon 272 on the Eucharist.
But, as of this date, I have not received [the Eucharist] for 179 days. I have not been inside a church for 25 Sundays. Indeed, for the past 5 ½ months, including those 25 Sundays, 1 Holy Week, and 1 funeral of a loved one, I have been at the altar of our 40-inch screen TV, streaming YouTube.
I have been watching Mass, and participating to the fullest extent that one believes in the reality of the Mystical Body. But I’m watching with mixed horror and frustration at the manner in which the faithful who are physically in the worship space are actively participating…and receiving. I see crowded aisles, as parishioners amble up for communion. I see ministers sneezing, wiping hands in a liturgical vestment, and moving on with the Eucharistic Prayer (YES! This really happened!!!). I have seen a young person sticking out a tongue to receive the Eucharist. The minister almost communed the young person—but, thank goodness, thought better of it.
People, what are we doing? Whom are we kidding? The Body of Christ is real, but so is the Coronavirus.
Yes, I know and believe that the source and summit of our faith is found in the Eucharist. But I do not know and do not believe that the faithful—or the ministers of the Church—should be put in danger by the physicality involved in administering and receiving communion.
I am divided over whether or not we should even be holding in-person services. Why are we allowing—even enabling—congregations to meet in person and participate in dangerous activities (like touching doorknobs, a dipping a finger in a font, or walking down a non-socially-distanced aisle)? Yes, there are specific regulations and measures being taken to ensure the safety and health of all in many assemblies, and in my own Roman Catholic dioceses. But many of our Protestant brothers and sisters have not resumed in-persons services at all. Why are we (my own local Roman Catholic church, along with many others) not responding in the same way?
You may argue that different denominations hold different beliefs about Eucharistic presence. Therefore, maybe you say that missing the sacramentality and physicality of worship is “not a big deal” for, say, an ELCA congregation or for 2nd Presbyterian. I recognize the argument. But, I also know that Christians hold this in common: we know that Christ is the Life of the World. The Life of the World does not call us to put the vulnerable in danger, at the feet of a deadly virus we cannot yet control.
And so I believe, in the world in this moment, it is fasting from the Eucharist which proves a sign that we are truly seeking the life of the world. As for me, in this moment, I will continue to attempt, in my small, deficient way, to be what I see—even if I cannot receive it.