This past week on September 14, 2020, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments, released a beautiful letter entitled: “Letter on the celebration of the liturgy during and after the COVID-19 pandemic to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church.”
Cardinal Sarah begins the letter by acknowledging the devastating effects of COVID-19 on every aspect of life for much, if not most, of the world. Let’s face it — everyone’s lives have changed since the start of the worldwide spread of the Coronavirus. Education, health-care, entertainment, and family life all have been affected, and not in ways that are positive, by and large. This is also true for the common worship of the Lord.
He goes on to recognize the necessity for social distancing and the “painful decisions” that had to be made to keep everyone healthy, including the suspension of the participation of the lay faithful at the celebration of the Eucharist. However, the Cardinal now states: “as soon as circumstances permit, however, it is necessary and urgent to return to the normality of Christian life, which has the church building as its home and the celebration of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as ‘the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed, at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows’ (SC, 10).”
Powerfully, Cardinal Sarah recalls the words of the early Christian martyrs who declared “Sine Dominico non possumus” or “we cannot live without Sunday,” and goes further to declare that we as Christians, cannot love without gathering for the Sunday Eucharist where we hear God’s Word and where we receive his Body and Blood. We need each other, every brother and sister in the assembly. He goes on to state:
“As much as the means of communication perform a valued service to the sick and those who are unable to go to church, and have performed a great service in the broadcast of Holy Mass at a time when there was no possibility of community celebrations, no broadcast is equal to personal participation or can replace it. On the contrary, these broadcasts alone risk distancing us from a personal and intimate encounter with the incarnate
God who gave himself to us, not in a virtual way, but really, saying: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.’ (Jn 6:56). This physical contact with the Lord is vital, indispensable, irreplaceable. Once the concrete measures that can be taken to reduce the spread of the virus to a minimum have been identified and adopted, it is necessary that all resume their place in the assembly of brothers and sisters, rediscover the irreplaceable preciousness and beauty of the celebration of the liturgy, and invite and encourage again those brothers and sisters who have been discouraged, frightened, absent or uninvolved for too long.”
Yes, we are very aware of the reality of the threat of COVID-19 and we need to follow each and every guideline which our city, our state, our parish, and our diocese has put forth. Those who are ill or in danger of getting ill should remain home. But those of us who are physically (and emotionally) able to return to Mass should begin to do so safely and in peace.
It will be a long time before things go “back to normal.” In fact, this may be the “new normal.” But we cannot live our Christian lives without the Eucharist.