Become What You Receive—just please don’t receive right now

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.

11 comments

  1. I felt somewhat conflicted about resuming in-person liturgies, but for the past couple of months I have been distributing communion at Mass a couple of times each Sunday and have to say that, despite the weirdness and awkwardness required by the safety procedures we have put in place, I have a sense of the rightness of being able to offer people sacramental communion. I am sure that in some places people are being lax and cavalier about it, but that has not been my experience. People socially distance, wear masks, etc.

    Perhaps what has been most moving to me is to place the host into the hand of someone I know normally receives on the tongue. Our diocese still allows communion on the tongue (and we have a whole rather elaborate procedure of hand sanitizing that we go through after each on-the-tongue communicant), so I see in their willingness to give up their preferred mode of communion a deeply self-sacrificial love for the gathered body of Christ.

    I don’t judge those who have chosen not to return. Were I a lay person I might have made the same decision. But I cannot say at this point that I regret our decision to resume in-person liturgies for those who wish to come.

  2. I don’t know where the author is from, but in my diocese the doors are opened so no one touches doorknobs and there is no holy water available in the font or in smaller holders like the one pictured in the article.

  3. What do you mean it is not a big deal for an ELCA congregation to forgo Eucharistic reception? Please clarify.

    Pax

    Max

    1. I have a good friend who is a Presbyterian minister and he’s told me many times how painful it has been over the last months to not be able to celebrate Eucharist with his congregation. Unfortunately most Catholics are probably unaware that Eucharist is a VERY BIG deal for mainline Protestant denominations.

    2. Thanks for commenting–. It IS a big deal for any Christian to forgo the Lord’s Supper–that is without question. In my piece above, I anticipated a critique which might be (and has beeen) posed by some Roman Catholics, who argue (in error) that our Protestant brothers and sisters don’t have a love of the Eucharist–and therefore they can easily stop worshipping.

      In my own area of the country, Roman Catholic churches are open, with 50% capacity, yet I have viewed numerous violations of what would be reasonable preventative measures, or even stated guidelines. I have admired deeply the fortitude that some dioceses (Roman) in other parts of the country have not yet met to worship in person; I have seen such strength only in my friends at Protestant and Anglican congregations, in my local area.

      As always, I am in gratitude for the question–

  4. We have been accommodating about one third of our parish family at Sunday Masses since Ascension Sunday. We have gone out of our way to provide a safe environment which includes masks, safe distancing, and sanitizers. We urge people with fever or who may be otherwise ill to STAY HOME. We make it clear that those who regard themselves at high risk because of age or underlying conditions to STAY HOME until such time as they feel it is safe to return. So, every weekend since Ascension Sunday about 350 people gather to offer Mass, most of whom also receive Holy Communion. We know of 12 individuals, including myself and a priest who assists me, who have contracted Covid during that time. One man succumbed because of underlying conditions but he hadn’t been back to Mass. None of the others could say that they must have contracted it because they were at Mass. That doesn’t rule out the possibility, but there has been no outbreak connected with offering Mass. Given the manner in which the media are always looking for “good stories”, I am quite sure such an outbreak would have been widely reported. I respect those who are staying home. But along with my bishop’s latest message to the faithful, I sincerely ask if it may be time to come back to Mass for those who would describe themselves as healthy and well? That is for each one to decide.

  5. “We know of 12 individuals, including myself and a priest who assists me, who have contracted Covid during that time. One man succumbed because of underlying conditions but he hadn’t been back to Mass. None of the others could say that they must have contracted it because they were at Mass. That doesn’t rule out the possibility, but there has been no outbreak connected with offering Mass. ”

    I’m not sure how you reach your final conclusion (“but there has been no outbreak”) given all that you wrote before.

  6. “I have seen a young person sticking out a tongue to receive the Eucharist. ”

    Oh nooooo the humanity! The absolute horror! Somebody call Dr. Fauci!!!!

    Get real. This isn’t a dig because of the pandemic – this only bothers you because you’re previously conditioned to dislike when people receive on the tongue.

    Can’t recall the last time anyone’s touched my tongue. Can easily recall the (nearly constant) times when my hands have been touched, and I can assure you, my hands are far more likely to have come into contact with a COVID-infected surface.

  7. While not comfortable with the numbers at Sunday Mass, I have found Saturday morning to be sparsely attended so have become a Sabbath Catholic, I suppose, for the meantime. I miss the community of Sunday Mass but suspect it’s much changed with the need to shoo everyone out with appropriate distancing, anyway.

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