priest and the eucharist

Did you ever watch the Greatest Showman? If you haven’t – first, of all, how dare you. And second of all, you must see it! What better time than now since we can’t leave our houses? Perfect excuse. But if you have seen it, you might recall a little power ballad sung by Jenny Lind called, “Never Enough.” Let me just sum it up for you. In this song, Jenny sings about how, basically, nothing in her life will satisfy her — all the glitter and fame and attention — none of it will ever be enough if she doesn’t have her paramour by her side. (But do yourself a favor and listen to it once you’ve finished reading this, and if you’re like me, it’ll become your favorite song to scream-sing in the shower, even adding your own sighs and tears for ~dramatic effect~ because that’s the only way to go about it.) So what does this song have to do with anything? We can imagine ourselves being faced with the same reality.

Most especially as we navigate what it means to be Church right now, we have to stay rooted in the truth of our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters — what that means for us personally and as a community of believers. As people of faith, we’ve always known that the things of this world will never satisfy us. That only Jesus can fill the deepest aches and longings of our hearts. What’s new, though, and what we have before us, is the invitation to enter into communion with the Lord and with the Body of Christ in unprecedented ways. But these paths are given to us by prayer, spiritual communion, and live prayer on social media and through live-streams of the Mass, while gifts during this time, are not our new normal. This is not the end to which we were created. It should never feel enough.

Our Temporary “New Normal”

First of all, let’s address the reality for a second. I do not in any way want to downplay or diminish what we’re all feeling right now. We, as a global community, are in this together. None of us have gone through a global pandemic before, and every single person is doing the best they can. This is completely new.

As I write this, I am in my fourth week of sheltering-in-place and working from home. And I don’t know about you, but this past month of self-isolation has been quite the adjustment (an understatement to say the least). For me personally, working for a parish and studying theology, I instantly felt the rug being pulled out from underneath me as my job, my schooling, and my community was all of a sudden radically different. I know you can relate. All of us, no matter our age or stage of life, have experienced a drastic change. And with that change, the onset of a spiral of emotions: of loss, of anger, of grief, of anxiety, of pain and sadness.

And of course, with the widespread shelter-in-place orders being enforced by state and local governments, has come a bombardment of swift, consecutive blows: the cancellations of events, the suspensions of any and all public gatherings, no more prom, no more class, no more spring talent shows or plays, no more band practice or ballet rehearsals, graduations, proms… everything we once held dear is now on hold indefinitely as we wait for an end to COVID-19.

This “new normal” has flipped our world upside down. It’s okay to feel like you’ve lost our footing because, to be frank, we all have. It is perfectly okay, and in fact, it is good, to feel it all, and feel it deeply. To acknowledge the reality of our global situation, and to hold all these things that you are experiencing — the good, the bad, the sorrowful, the hopeful — in tension with each other. To hold your feelings and emotions and experiences as sacred, and to be gentle with yourself at this time. And to realize, most importantly, that you are not alone.

Is Church Canceled?

Perhaps most glaring of these changes for you and me as people of faith is the closure of parishes and the suspension of public Mass and the sacraments. The Church in her Wisdom must do what she needs to protect her flock, and this is not the first time we as a Church have had to make such extreme a sacrifice. Overnight everything in our world changed, and with that, everything about what it means to be Church seems to have changed, too. In the midst of this crisis, however, I have been absolutely stunned by the resiliency of the human spirit and the passionate creativity of the young Church.

Now, more than ever, we stand united in our ache for communion and our hunger for the Eucharist. And praise God for the technology available to us, and for the brilliant minds that make it all possible, that have truly allowed the Body of Christ to be united in prayer throughout the world. For the first time, we are realizing the insolubility of the bond that unites us. Families gather in the comfort of their living room and unite their hearts to the Sacrifice of the Mass being offered throughout the world, and though we cannot be physically present, we have the gift of entering in virtually. And it truly is a gift!

Being Church is definitely NOT canceled. It has been so beautiful seeing the great efforts of Catholic faith leaders rising up to lead us in prayer virtually. To see the faithful pray with each other over Zoom calls or Instagram live, to see your youth ministers leading small groups on Google Hangouts, to listen to great homilies and podcasts and be nourished by the amazing content and conferences being made available at the touch of a button, to witness the great gifts of Catholic web designers and speakers and religious and artists all come together… In some ways, it is a renaissance of the Catholic imagination!

Live-streamed Mass is not living the Mass.

However, our hearts ache for more. They should ache for more. We must recognize that no matter how many virtual conferences or Instagram lives or Mass live-streams we attend, it will never be enough. But my friends. Do not grow complacent. Do not mistake this for the norm. We were made for more!

The Eucharist is the heart of the Church — the source and summit of our faith. But don’t just take my word for it. In John 6, Jesus tells His Disciples, “Truly, truly I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My Flesh is food indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed. He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn 6:53-56). It is by the Eucharist that we gain our identity, and indeed, our Eternal Salvation.

In Pope Paul VI’s document Lumen Gentium, we learn that “fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect” (Lumen Gentium 11). That is, it is by the Sacraments that we are perfected and edified so that we can enter fully into the Kingdom of God. It precisely by receiving the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in which we are united most perfectly to the Heart of God. Put simply, this sacred communion cannot be replaced.

“In order to gain eternal life, man needs the Eucharist. This is the food and drink that transforms man’s life and opens before him the way to eternal life. By consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, man bears within himself, already on this earth, the seed of eternal life, for the Eucharist is the sacrament of life in God.” -St. John Paul II

“Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a Tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.” -St. Therese of Lisieux

“In an ever-changing world, the Holy Eucharist is a constant reminder of the great reality of God’s changeless love.” -St. Teresa of Calcutta

We cannot sit idly by and accept our current state as “how it’s just going to have to be from now on.” We cannot lose sight of the communion to which we are ordered. We are created to worship, and the highest form of worship we can enter into is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in which Heaven meets Earth and we are brought into perfect union with Jesus, Son of the Living God.

May this time of “virtual communion” and separation from the True Presence inspire in us an ache for what is most real. May it be a time for us to truly miss what we once took for granted. May it be an opportunity for all of us to rely solely on the Lord, knowing that He has not left us, orphans. May we lean in close to the heart of Jesus and pray boldly for an end to this evil which has taken His Real Presence in the Eucharist from us. May it fortify our resolve to seek Him all the more fervently. This is our share in the Cross. May we receive the invitation to thirst as Jesus thirsts for us.

God is not restrained.

Thankfully, though, God is not bound by the Sacraments (CCC 1257). He has already made Himself fully present to us, and has promised us that He has, is, and always will be with us. He is for us. So great does He desire for us to realize this that He named his Son Emmanuel, God with Us!

Jesus’ words to His Disciples in His Last Supper discourse can be so consoling to us in this time: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, […] it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me because I live and you will live” (John 14:16-19). Jesus has already sent you His Holy Spirit to dwell within you and remain with you forever.

For a Time Such as This…

We are being challenged more than ever to rise to the occasion of holiness. May you never settle. May you keep your eyes fixed on Heaven. May you never forget the presence of God living inside you. May you realize that ultimately, we will never be satisfied on this side of Heaven – even when things return back to normal. This will never be enough. But even so, the heights of Holiness are calling your name!

You have been called for a time such as this. You, my friend, have been destined from all eternity to be present on this earth right now, in this particular historical moment. In this, our great desolation, we join ourselves in solidarity with the poor, with the Early Church, and the martyrs, recognizing that we are not alone in our thirst for Christ. Take heart. Be not afraid. Never settle. This is a time when Saints are made!

About the Author

Laurie Medina

I am a Saint-in-progress with a missionary heart and a passion for merging Catholic ministry with mental health care. I love going on outdoor adventures, making art, listening to Penny & Sparrow, and surrounding myself with people that are way holier than me. As you’re reading this, I’m probably curled up on the sofa with a blanket reading Joy of the Gospel…or rewatching Gilmore Girls. You can find me on Instagram @wrappedinhermantle.

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