As I sit to write this, the date is October 19th and it has been 214 days since Premier Higgs declared a state of emergency and our province was, in effect, shut down. In church world, there have been 31 Sundays come and go since we were last able to gather as an entire faith community, and not just the ones we could fit in and respect social distancing guidelines. And now (as I write this) we are back in the orange phase, and once again cannot gather in person at all. These times have been difficult indeed, both psychologically and emotionally.
Having said that, I would like to pose the following questions: Where are we spiritually in all of this? How are we continuing to be “church” in a time when a lot of us cannot go to church? Are we still able to encounter Jesus in online worship or faith formation Zoom meetings? I would like to take a moment here and state unequivocally that, for me, the community of believers is where I find the greatest inspiration for my faith journey, so, not being able to gather as a whole has been very difficult. However, as we are taught in our liturgical documents from the Second Vatican Council, Jesus is present to us in more ways than one in our celebration of Eucharist, either online or in person.
There is a four-fold presence of Christ in every Eucharistic celebration. In the gathered Assembly, the Word proclaimed, the Body and Blood of Christ and in the Presider. These are important things to keep in mind always, but most importantly, now. While gathering as a faith community online for mass is probably not the ideal, it is still gathering. It is wonderful to see on Sunday mornings, when we are live-streaming mass from my home parish, how many people are tuned in and exchanging greetings with one another in the comment portion of Facebook. Even though we are not physically present in the church, we are still experiencing the presence of Christ in this gathered community. We also experience Christ’s presence in the Word proclaimed, whether inside the church building or in the sacred space we have created in our homes. Let’s not forget that if it is a space used for worship, it is indeed sacred. We still experience Christ in the Presider, who represents Jesus as he presides over the Body of Christ. And while we may feel that without being there to receive communion, we cannot experience the presence of Christ in his Body and Blood, the truth is, the miracle of the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ happens whether we are in the building or not. It just requires us to see it a little bit more through the eyes of faith. Instead of, “I’ll believe it when I see it”; it becomes, “I see it because I believe it”.
Yes these are trying times for our faith communities, but think of how much more trying for those who do not have a faith community, or even a home. How do they experience Jesus’ promise that they would never be alone? This is where we, as a community of believers, take this four-fold presence of Christ which we encounter in Eucharist, and bring it face-to-face to the “Jesus of the bread lines”. As St. John Chrysostom said, “if you don’t find Christ in the beggar at the door, you won’t find him in the chalice”. This is where the rubber meets the road for those of us who call ourselves Christian. If we can get this right, then when we finally can come back together, “tout ensemble”, we will do so with fresh eyes and a new definition of what it truly means to be “CHURCH”.
Mark Mahoney, Pastoral Associate