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A Leaven In The World… A Chance To Strengthen Catholic Identity

April 1, 2020 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Never let a crisis go to waste. This is true for cynical politicians and unscrupulous business types. Should it be true for the Church as well? I think so.
Weeks ago, dioceses nearly worldwide, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, have ordered public Masses canceled. Bishops have stipulated that these not be replaced by Communion services which will also draw a gathering.
Priests were often told what not to do and left scrambling to figure out what to do. They should certainly continue to offer Mass privately, and for the intentions and needs of their people. But priests are fathers, left mired in frustration if they think they are not doing enough to care for their flocks.
With nearly everything suspended or postponed except, of course, ministry to the dying, priests were forced to think along new lines as to how to keep the spiritual relationship with their people alive until parish life returns to normal.
Scandalously, it has been reported that some parishes turned off the phone and shooed people away who showed up for Confessions. In other cases priests took their ministry outside, offering drive-through Confessions and drive-in Masses.
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and opportunities for Confession have been the most common response in the effort to continue serving the spiritual needs of the people. These occasions predictably draw smaller crowds, now limited to no more than ten.
It remains to ask why. Sunday Mass perfectly fulfills the obligation to the keep the Lord’s Day holy. In the absence of Mass, however, these are among the additional means of doing so, however imperfectly.
The effort to reconnect the Sacrament of the Eucharist with the Holy Mass in the minds of Catholics has meant a trend in recent years to refuse administration of the Eucharist outside of Mass except, of course, in danger of death. But this should not be the only reason why a Communion service should not “replace” the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Nothing can replace the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The reason why a dying Catholic is given viaticum in bed at home or in hospital is because he or she is no longer able to attend Mass.
The Holy Mass is at the heart of our Catholic Christian identity. In the Mass Jesus Christ Himself prays, and offers Himself once again, in an unbloody manner, to continue the work of His perfect self-offering on Calvary. In the prayer of the Mass we each have actual and real access to salvation in Christ.
I have preached often on this throughout my years as a priest because we need a sea change in a mentality among Catholics, many of whom think of going to church to get Communion, but not very much about how Communion comes about. By the comments I have heard, it seems that many Catholics think “just as long as I get the Eucharist, I’m okay.” Not necessarily.
It is a very good thing to get Communion. All of the sacraments confer grace but this sacrament is the only one in which grace is given because Christ is really, truly, and substantially present. He remains present in the consecrated Hosts reserved in the tabernacle and thus never leaves us, as He promised, even until the end of the world.
But, again, Communion is not the only sacrament and not the only means of grace, although certainly the greatest one of all. Conferring the grace of the sacraments, the ordinary means of salvation, is the unique role of the priest, whose priesthood is a participation in the one perfect priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Replacing the Mass with a Communion service is certainly not a good idea. Many Catholics, to begin with, do not understand that the Mass is not a Communion service. Catholics marinating in a Protestant ambiance are continually in danger of a weakening of their Catholic identity.
In the 1980s, when I was a young Armor officer, I volunteered to serve as a lay Eucharistic minister, or “LEM” as they were then called. I was given the sacramental Hosts in a plastic food container by the military chaplain to take to the field for the purpose of leading Communion services. We certainly held the services and men did indeed physically receive the Lord in the Eucharist. Because I was there I can say this did happen. But in the process of doing so, was a proper disposition served so that the reception of the Eucharist led to salvation?
Did placing the Lord in a plastic food container erode the reverence and love proper to believing in and acting upon His Real Presence in this sacrament?
By the habitual divorcing of Mass from the Eucharist, good intentions notwithstanding, deeper needs may have been left unmet. Many people I reached as a chaplain in the field or on ships were in a state of objective mortal sin because they opted not to attend Mass under normal circumstances.
The trajectory of lay people carrying the Eucharist led to the eclipsing of the ministry of the priest. Leaders of military chaplains concluded that, if all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of Catholics are consecrated Hosts administered by a lay person, then they can save money by eliminating priest billets. Will Catholics not also reach a similar conclusion about the necessity of Christ the Priest who ministers to us by means of priests if they are used to the separation of the Eucharist and the Mass?
In the military, Communion services led by lay people were eventually discontinued, in part because of the need to fight against the reduction of billets for Catholic priests. But this leads to a deeper question about the weakness of Catholic identity among our people.
By refusing to replace the Mass with Communion services, or with simple reception of Communion outside of Mass without danger of death, we reinforce the truth that the Mass cannot be replaced. Perhaps many of us have forgotten that receiving Holy Communion itself without the proper disposition can be unhelpful, even at times sinful.
Many Catholics do not know that the obligation to keep the Lord’s Day holy is met by praying the Mass, not by receiving the Eucharist. Many also do not realize that receiving the Eucharist is not an automatic reward merited by everyone going to Mass.
The graces made available through the reverent praying of the Mass are necessary for the proper disposition to receive the Lord sacramentally. Loving Christ means accepting all of the gifts He offers. In the Mass the whole Christ is offered, both as He prays and as He becomes truly present in the praying. Our union with the Mass is not limited by physical distance.
It is for this reason that we are able to make a Spiritual Communion in which God will not refuse us the grace we request when we are prevented from attending Holy Mass, such as now. Perhaps we can use this period of fasting from the Mass and the Eucharist to better instruct our people on the necessary internal connection between these seeming two things that are in fact one. Never let a crisis go to waste.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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