As we make preparations for the resumption of public Masses this weekend, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 62 days since the last public Mass in our parish and throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport. Perhaps now is a good time to consider why, in the absence of the faithful, priests continued to say Masses over these past three months – not just in front of a camera, but also in empty churches and chapels throughout our diocese and the world. The Mass isnot just a prayer meeting that ends with the distribution of the Eucharist. If it were, it wouldn’t make sense to have Mass in the physical absence of the congregation. To understand what the Mass is, it might be helpful to consider again John Paul II’s teaching about work, which I wrote about in an online posting about month ago.
As creatures made in God’s image, human beings reflect the action of God as Creator of all things through our application of reason and physical effort to develop and cultivate what we’ve received from Him – think of a wine-maker or a carpenter, who take what is given in nature and make things from it. Moreover, when we are united to Christ as members of the Church by our baptism – which gives us a share in the royal priesthood of Christ – the toilsome aspects of work can become a participation in the sufferings of Christ Himself. We can “offer them up” as a sacrifice for our sanctification and the sanctification of the world. It’s a foundational insight that applies even more to what we do at the Mass. Why? Because the Mass is the perfect sacrificial offering of Christ (God the Son) to God the Father. As those who have been grafted onto the Mystical Body of Christ, we are united to Jesus, whom St. Paul often describes as the “Head of the Body” (Col 1:18; Rom 12:4-5; Eph 4:15-16). That means we can unite ourselves to the sacrifice that Christ offers, and offer ourselves to the Father through the Son’s sacrifice. The priest, who shares in Christ’s royal priesthood by his baptism, and Christ’s ministerial priesthood by his reception of Holy Orders, stands in the place of Christ and the Church, the head and the body, offering the sacrifice of Christ as Christ to the Father. Dr. Denis McNamera of the Liturgical Institute at Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary explains: “Whether celebrated in an empty church or with 10,000 faithful, every Mass is the eruption into time of the eternal offering of Christ to the Father, involving every member of the Mystical Body, both in heaven and on earth.” At those Masses we offered in our empty churches, you all were with Fr. Mariusz and me sacramentally, as were all of the members of the Church throughout the world and throughout the ages, in heaven and on earth.
That’s why your spiritual Communions were and continue to be so important and powerful. By uniting yourselves to the sacrificial offering of Christ at the Mass, even from a distance, you participated as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ in Our Lord’s supreme work of glorifying the Father and sanctifying the world. Of course, reception of the Eucharist at Mass is objectively the greatest and most perfect way in which we enter into communion with Christ’s Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. That cannot be overstated. And the spiritual suffering that the faithful have experienced during this time of involuntary fasting from the Blessed Sacrament is definitely real. But we should not downplay the significance of a contrite heart offered to God, united to the sacrifice of Christ, even when the faithful cannot receive the Eucharist for some reason, such as: they haven’t yet received First Communion, they haven’t observed the Eucharistic fast, they find themselves in a state of serious sin or irregular marital circumstances, or they are forced to stay home in time of pandemic.
I pray that the fruit of this fasting will be an increase of our desire for worthy reception of the Eucharist. I also hope it helps us to understand the Eucharist better – that it’s not simply the Body of Christ that we get when the priest (finally!) finishes saying the prayers, but the culmination of our act of self-offering joined to the perfect offering of Christ at the Mass.
See you at Mass!