The way in which we live out our faith has changed drastically in the last two weeks. We first heard of the Coronavirus in China back in December. It has been spreading since then. Other countries like Italy began to take precautions, including canceling Masses.
On March 12th, Bishop Matano issued new precautions for Mass. Among other things, the precautions included the suspension of the distribution of the Precious Blood in the cup and of exchanging the Sign of Peace. We did not want these changes but we could manage. In my homily last Sunday, I spoke about how we need to both trust in God and take proper human precautions.
Attendance was down at our Sunday Masses. I had people say how they hoped and prayed we would be able to continue to have Mass. I felt the same way.
Monday morning (March 16, 2000) we were deciding what parish activities to cancel. At 3:30 p.m. we received a statement from the diocese suspending all public Masses. (Today, March 17th, we received a letter from the Bishop with more details about what this means for sacraments and parish activities).
It is sad that we cannot celebrate Mass publicly but it is necessary for the health of all. As I think about what this means, I recall that it was just two weeks ago when I offered a presentation on the Eucharist as part of my series, Sacraments: Channels of God’s Grace. In that presentation, I stressed the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic life (described as the “fount and apex” in Lumen Gentium, 11). It stands are the heart of what I do as a priest and why I am a priest.
The Eucharist is central to who we are and what we do as Catholics but it is not the only thing we do. The fact that we are not able to celebrate Mass publicly does not mean we cannot pray. With that in mind, at St. Luke’s where I serve, we have created a page on our website with prayer resources. It includes information on where people can watch Mass on TV as well as find it streaming on the Internet. It also includes links to resources for people to be able to pray the Stations of the Cross, Rosary, and other devotions at home, individually and/or as a family.
You can do any of these prayers at anytime. In fact one is a link for the Liturgy of the Hours, that can be done several times (with different prayers) in a day and every day. The Lord is always in our midst.
There is another activity I would like to recommend. It is a variation of “Adoration.” Normally, when we talk about Adoration, it is of the Eucharist, either in the Tabernacle, or in the monstrance of the altar.
Unfortunately, we cannot do that unless you are fortunate to be near a church that is open for private prayer. So, I offer another possibility that I do myself. In my sitting room, I have a Crucifix hanging on the wall. When I want to pray in silence, I light a candle on a table underneath the Crucifix and turn out the lights and gaze upon, “adore”, Jesus on the Cross. When we celebrate the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, it is the sacrifice of Jesus giving his life for us on the Cross. You do not have the Eucharist in your home but I hope you have a Crucifix.
It is also important to realize that while anyone who is in an area where the Coronavirus has led to the suspension of Masses cannot attend Mass, that does not mean that you cannot “Keep the Sabbath holy” as God himself directs. You can watch Mass on TV or on the Internet. Even if you are in an area where you do not have a Mass available on TV or do not have access to the Internet, you can still “keep the sabbath holy” by sitting before a Crucifix, praying a devotion, and/or reflecting on the readings of the day (see “Prayer Resources“). (For more on “keeping the Sabbath holy” see my reflection “Keeping the Sabbath Holy: What Does It Mean to Me?” and Dies Domini by Pope John Paul II).
Since one cannot go to Mass, it would be easy to forget about the Lord and do something else. I worry that we will lose people who feel this way even after churches reopen after the Coronavirus is over. I was lamenting this in an email conversation with a friend. She responded by saying another friend had said to her just that morning that she hopes that this time without the Eucharist will actually help people realize how valuable the Eucharist is and appreciate it more. Let that be our prayer during this time.