In the Catholic faith, we take Holy Communion very seriously. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops details the “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America“[i] at there website if you want to get a sense of just how serious we are about Holy Communion.
Our treatment of Holy Communion, amongst other things, separates us from many Christian denominations. We hold that through transubstantiation, the bread (Eucharist) and wine at Church are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ – not just a symbolic recreation of the last supper. For many Christians and most Catholics, this mystery of the Catholic Church borders on insanity. It is a human belief and ritual, more so than real metaphysical transformation given to us by Christ himself. A recent Pew survey[ii] found to my surprise that only one-third of Catholics believe in transubstantiation.
I would be remiss and intellectually dishonest to say I do not have my reservations despite being a person who takes his Catholicism seriously. What I can declare is that the act of going to Mass and receiving Holy Communion demands utmost reverence, whether you see the sacrament as symbolic or the literal body and blood of Christ. The theological argument, although important, only would detract us from Christ’s message and the purpose of this post.
Before Co-Vid 19, I stopped taking the wine at Church and only receive the Eucharist. The idea of drinking from the same chalice as hundreds of other people at some point became unpalatable to me. The advent of Co-Vid 19 many others have joined me, and additionally, people have stopped shaking hands.
Now, America’s President has Declared a National Emergency and Delaware, my state, has declared a State Emergency. Delaware has six confirmed cases. Schools in Delaware are canceled for two weeks. Other institutions are canceling training, workshops, and events. Church, as of 11:38 P.M., is still scheduled tomorrow.
A prominent Jesuit Catholic Magazine contributor in America Magazine[iii] recommended Mass be canceled globally. I disagree. I believe the Pope should announce the obligation to attend Mass is lifted, and everyone is encouraged to attend Mass virtually. However, for the sick, the suffering and those in need, the doors are open. And then practice safety as best as possible in each parish, including changing how Holy Communion is distributed.
There are a lot of intelligent people out there trying to make the right decision in all sectors of society. Perhaps attending Church is a holy obligation regardless of risk and accept the risk as many martyrs before we have accepted their fate? Others may, in the depths of their soul, believe that true transubstantiation will take any germs out of the bread and wine through transubstantiation? On the flip side, it is not just our health that is at issue but that of our neighbors and society. Where is our responsibility there to limit unnecessary social contact until we know more or have successfully flattened the curve?
I am tired, stressed, and allergy-prone. The three of these combined can mimic the flu or co-vid virus early symptoms without much effort. Should I attend Church being in a state of lack of confidence that I could be coming down with the flu or Co-Vid 19? I have no idea. I had no idea on Friday and decided to go to work because I don’t like those people anyway. No, I am only kidding. I went to work after my allergy pill started working, and I felt great. We didn’t share wine and bread – though work would be a lot better if we did.
Co-vid 19 has made us all aware of how much we depend on small and large gestures and contact to remain and be connected in meaningful ways. A handshake, closeness that invites healthy intimacy, hugs, sharing food, laughter, and so many other rituals and customs unite us. Co-vid has shattered them in one mad dash across the globe. Everything we do has significance only as much as we can share it with other people. Co-vid 19 has allowed us to know what is essential in our lives as we are losing things we take for granted, and for some of us, we are losing people we love or our own health.
If it comes to that we stop worrying about toilet paper and job stress, about money and status, or other human concerns. We come to question the ultimate meaning of life in the face of its meaninglessness as an unseen virus takes what is most important to us.
We come face to face with suffering and fate. We come to grips with powerlessness. If we come out the other side of illness still here – as many who have conquered near-death experiences, we have an opportunity to be changed human beings through a spiritual awakening.
An unpleasant thought Ephiny just came to me. There are two ways to find God. We can by God’s grace have increased spiritual connectedness in life by seeking God out through prayer, mediation, and action. I believe this is the preferable path in my experience. I have taken another path as well where I have had an absence of faith. On that path, I found great suffering and meaninglessness that through God’s grace bought me back to path one, the preferable path. Don’t get me wrong, suffering exists on both paths, but I promise you the suffering on path one is superior in every shape and form to the hell on path two. Facing suffering without God is truly a miserable waste of time and a waste of ensuring pain. Faith transforms suffering no matter its cause. We know by experience adversity and struggling can bring families and nations together or break them apart. The same holds through for our relationship with God.