Now that the Covid-19 seems to have slowed its pace of destruction in certain parts of the world, includes in our country as well, but certainly not in other parts of the world where it is claiming a lot of victims, life is apparently going to ‘normality’. Even though there is a huge question about how this normality will be about.
If we want to be sincere life has changed significantly since the first wave of coronavirus outbreak. We are no longer the same. When we congregate we have to respect social distancing and, it seems to me, that there is a limited number for this to happen. Already these facts show that we have not really returned to normality but, rather, we are struggling in adapting ourselves to the new situation we are forced, by circumstances, to live in.
Apart from this simple idea concerning the current Covid-19 situation many were extremely joyful that now, in our churches, finally the Eucharistic celebration can be celebrated. Again, even here we have to be cautious too. We shall be celebrating mass under certain conditions and will be bound to abide by detailed restrictions. All this makes perfect sense because the Church cannot afford being led by populist beliefs. Otherwise it would be her day of utter destruction. Christ’s principles should lead the way. Our health as people comes first. I am saying this because we know well that Christ’s as well as the Church’s teachings resist populism. They are not food for those who justify their sin and condemn others for trying to pray and live authentically before God. Let us be clear: both the Bible and the Church has a completely different view of what the real public is all about. Here I want to mention a really beautiful reflection by the Curè of Ars, St. John Mary Vianney, when he says: “Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God, the angels, and the saints – they are your public”.
Sceptics would simply laugh at this profound reality but, sooner or later, they will perhaps come to terms with the fact that egoism and egocentrism has become the daily bread of modern man. Devoid as s/he is from principles he may easily let himself and herself be led by what appeals, at least for the time being. Let us not forget that, nowadays, we are being accustomed to live within short-term vision of reality.
Unfortunately, this does not apply spiritually. In spiritual life there are no shortcuts or short-term goals. In effect there is one long term goal: eternal life. Either I shall be in or out of it definitely! Of course, such a discourse cannot and is not meant to discourage us. On the contrary, an eye-opener reflection is always an invaluable way of practising the virtue of charity. If that would not be the case then what is real charity? Charity has nothing to do with populism and is not there to please but only to show solidarity with the weakest of most vulnerable. Real charity is translated into solidarity. In his famous encyclical, which deals with authentic development of man and the society s/he lives in, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, we encounter this fantastic paragraph which explains what solidarity stands for: “[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (no.38).
It is this firm persevering determination in the form of committing herself for the common good of all, which is the driving force behind the Church’s present measures now that in the places of cult the Eucharist can be celebrated. As the recommendations say, although it will be the same Mass that is going to be celebrated, however protective measures are put into place so that no one gets the virus. With much fewer people in the pews, together with the protective mask or face visors put on, and the way communion is to be distributed, the message is undoubtedly conveyed: things have changed.
Having said that, the very fact that our Churches have been opened for Mass shows a fruitful step forward. Many people craved for the Eucharist to be celebrated. Loads of faithful missed the daily mass when all the liturgical celebrations were immediately suspended on Thursday 12 March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Personally speaking, I have been utterly bombarded regarding when the daily Mass will be on again. The insistence of many concerning when the Mass will be celebrated made me wonder how many are feeling spiritually void without the celebration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
Unquestionably this is a good sign but what about those who simply attend for Mass not because they want Christ to change them in Him but simply to fill up their vast spaces of free time they have at their disposal? To them undoubtedly goes St. Thomas’ Aquinas’ cute observation when the Angelic Doctor says of them: “If someone knows from experience that daily Communion increases fervor without lessening reverence, then let him go every day. But if someone finds that reverence is lessened and devotion not much increased, then let him sometimes abstain, so as to draw near afterwards with better dispositions”.
Yes, the eucharist, as Pope Francis rightly said in his apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (no.47). But this does not mean being a slave to a tradition or following scrupulously a routine. In his catechesis of Wednesday 12 February 2014 Pope Francis makes this important question so as to help us discern personally and carefully our innate disposition visavis the eucharist: “Is it only a moment of celebration, an established tradition, an opportunity to find oneself or to feel justified, or is it something more?”
Yes! “When the Eucharist is being celebrated, the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar” (St. John Chrysostom). “The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass” (St. Augustine). “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy” (St. Jean Vianney). “The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross” (St. Thomas Aquinas). “My Son so loves those who assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that, if it were necessary He would die for them as many times as they’ve heard Masses” (Our Lady to Blessed Alan). “When we receive Holy Communion, we experience something extraordinary – a joy, a fragrance, a well-being that thrills the whole body and causes it to exalt” (St. Jean Vianney). “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us” (St. Jean Vianney). “When we have been to Holy Communion, the balm of love envelops the soul as the flower envelops the bee” (St. Jean Vianney). “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass” (St. Pio of Pietrelcina).
But if the Mass is not lived because we still cannot forgive one another, destroy each other’s reputation behind each other’s back, manipulate and bully others, misuse the authority which has been entrusted to us, being indifferent to the plight of the needy, doing other ‘holy’ things for the purpose of not attending to the sick and the suffering ones simply because this work discomfort us, and the list goes on and on, what is the purpose of celebrating and attending to the Eucharist?
My ardent prayer is that now that we have, slowly slowly, started celebrating the Eucharist, this fact helps us to live it, as Pope Francis rightly tells us within the same catechesis, “with the spirit of faith, of prayer, of forgiveness, of repentance, of communal joy, of concern for the needy and for the needs of so many brothers and sisters, in the certainty that the Lord will fulfil what he has promised us: eternal life. So be it!”
Back for mass not to be the same but to be completely changed in what I am going to celebrate, in what I shall be participating in!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap