by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Catholics in the United States will celebrate Sunday’s Feast of Corpus Christi very differently from last year. Thanks to the rapid development of vaccinations against the coronavirus, churches are opening and “in-person” Eucharistic celebrations have begun. We thank God, working through epidemiologists, for this breakthrough.
At the same time, included with the announcement of church openings and some logistical directives, are strictures reimposing the Sunday obligation to attend Mass.
A wonderful teachable moment is being lost. Why is there not some message about the wonder of returning to the table and celebrating again with one’s faith community? What we are getting is the reimposition of a rule rather than the inspiration which Eucharist holds for us.
It would be rewarding to hear from the institutional church a reminder of the communal nature of the Supper of the Lamb. That is the enormous value of this liturgical drama for the People of God, as both a moment of gathering and a point of departure – as an invitation and a sending forth and what those actions imply for us.
We could be reminded that the Eucharistic ritual has numerous references to community: “WE bless you – WE give you thanks – WE offer you these gifts”; through your Cross and Resurrection you have set US free; OUR Father – to name just a few.
These reminders would have emphasized that Mass not only is a personal devotion but especially since the Second Vatican Council externally recognizable in its communal dimension: altars facing the people, the vernacular languages, among many examples.
There is one area of understanding about the power and scope of Eucharist that in my view has been sorely missing for years (centuries?). It is the social dimension of “doing this in memory of Him”. Yet this aspect is central and crucial and should be part of religious education.
Jesus’s last supper and his promise to give himself to all generations to come in the bread and the wine took place on the verge of his departure from the upper room, his walk to Gethsemane, his arrest, death sentence, torture and execution. In human terms Jesus underwent all of this because the power structure of his time decided that “it is better for one man to die so that the nation may not perish” (Jn 11:50). He died because he was a threat to an unjust political status quo. This is what we are reenacting when we acclaim, “Here is the lamb of God.”
Shouldn’t we be reminded of this reality at this moment of renewal?
What is even more striking about the absence today of the “social” dimension of the Lord’s supper is the compelling message which St. Paul directed to the early Christian community in Corinth. The part we hear of this passage is a reminder to that community that Jesus indeed gave his body and blood as food for life’s journey. All well and good.
However, the context of Paul’s words is a condemnation of how that community was celebrating the Lord’s Supper:
“…your meetings are doing more harm than good … it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper … each one goes ahead with his own supper and one goes hungry while another gets drunk … do you show contempt for the Church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed … whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (I Cor 11:17, 20-21, 22).
Guided by these words from the Apostle, today’s Eucharistic catechesis should include a social analysis and modern examination of conscience as we return to the table. “As rich countries like the United States prepare to return to normalcy … some poorer nations, scrambling for shots and heaving under weary health systems and exhausted economies are seeing their worst outbreaks since the start of the pandemic” (NYTimes, 6/3/21)
We have a [global] vaccine apartheid.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.
One thought on “What does it really mean to return to our churches following this pandemic-imposed absence?”
Thank you, Father Joe. Your words are, again, an inspiration to me.