CHURCH BELLS RINGING #3
Categories: Father Fay's Section
I hear church bells ringing from a distance. Coming closer.
From all we have said before we are amazed at the gift God is offering us (gift to be gift has to be accepted) this Easter. We have been cut off from others even to the point of not being able to gather for Mass. We all sense this very deeply and ponder why God is letting this happen. We know he has a good reason and it is for our own good.
So let’s take up where we left off last time and recognize God’s hand in the fact that we feel a deep longing to participate in the action of the Mass together with the faith community. Virtual worship, even though it is helpful and has its benefits, is not the same as what we have come to love in our Catholic tradition. We have that sense of loss and we are now going to explore the greatness and deep joy that comes from encountering Christ and his people at Mass.
My own experience may be of some advantage. As I celebrate Mass each day alone, even though it is in church, is a bit awkward when I say The Lord be with you and nobody is there and there is no response. The pews do not talk. I cannot hear the voices of angels either. So I think of you and the faith and love of God that you have in your hearts. But I miss the interaction (which the Lord wants to be there and has taught us to cherish). This brings home to us that in virtual worship it does not do me much good to say And with your spirit to the TV or computer screen. Nobody on the other end hears me and can sense the faith and love that is in my heart.
So the Eucharist is live interaction between us and the Lord Jesus and live, warm, amazing, joyful interaction and encounter with brothers and sisters in the faith in real time. This encounter has two results: 1) our personal meeting with God; 2) his bestowing more of his life upon us – this is how we grow through his and our activity jointly. His promise of salvation is taking place.
There is more to this as we move ahead but I want to digress a moment, touching on what is called spiritual communion. A spiritual communion is a prayer used by those who are unable to receive the Body and Blood of Christ sacramentally, they profess faith in the real presence of Christ within us and in the sacred species, they show the desire to communicate with Christ sacramentally, they offer a petition that God bless us in his own way with the same graces open to us in participation at Mass. It is a good prayer and was promoted at time when Sacramental Communion was practice infrequently and there was a widespread notion that going to Communion was the whole of the Mass. Since the early 1900’s the Church and the Popes and Second Vatican Council, through a better understanding of the power of liturgy have opened the entire Mass to us and include the receiving of Communion at every Mass, even for children who realize the sacredness of what they are doing.
A spiritual communion prayer is a worthwhile prayer but not a full substitute of the action of the whole Eucharistic worship which is more than just going to Communion. Christ did not command us at the Last Supper to do a spiritual communion. Rather he commanded us to do (i.e. action) the Mass as a whole in which we actually eat (taking him into our bodies and hearts that way) and actually drink (pledging faithfulness to the Covenant with our whole life, body and soul). With a more profound grasp of the totality of Eucharistic action we yearn to interact with Christ in several ways:
a) in listening to word and giving response,
b) joining his presence in the worshiping community,
c) following his lead as sacrificial priest in sacrificing our will to that of the Father,
d) and taking in bodily the spiritual food and drink which is Christ himself.
A true spiritual communion reveals to God the desire we have to participate with our lives in fulfilling Jesus’ command entirely from beginning to end and so do this in memory of him. Spiritual communion encompasses more now for us than it did a few centuries ago. Under the present situation we deeply miss all of this. We need to be “in person” for the entire sacred action.
One way we know that spiritual communion does not reach the high level of active participation in the Body and Blood of Christ is that when those not of the Catholic community attend weddings and funerals they notice the incompleteness of being excluded from going to Communion.
So next time I shall return to what really is going on at Mass for which we long.