Updated: Oct 13, 2020
This weekend officially marks the tenth week since the celebration of public Masses have been stopped in the archdiocese. Ten weeks since anyone has been able to be physically present as the bread and wine be-come the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. For those who, because of age or health, began isolating at home even before the sacramental shutdown was ordered, it has likely been twelve weeks or longer. It has also been seven weeks since publicly scheduled confessions have been suspended. Many of you have expressed to me how hard these weeks have been, and how much you long to be able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, receive sacramental absolution, or even just be physically in the presence of a priest celebrating Mass. So... why does this absence hurt so much? Why does it evoke such a thirst? Why isn’t TV Mass “good enough” to satisfy you? Here is my reflection on that.
I would ask you to think about the major celebrations of our liturgical year. What is the one thing that al-most all of them have in common? Physicality. In the Annunciation, we celebrate how Christ “became man” and took our human nature to Himself, and began growing as a physical baby in the womb of Mary. At Christmas, we celebrate the full revelation to the world that this little, enfleshed baby is no other than the Son of God and Son of Mary. Holy Thursday we celebrate the physical action of Christ washing His disciples’ feet, and then His physical celebration of the mystery of the Eucharist for the first time. On Good Fri-day we recall how Christ bore our sins and physically suffered horrific torture before dying on the Cross. On Easter, we celebrate that Christ rose in the flesh. And on the feast we celebrated this past week, the Ascension, we celebrate Christ ascending, body and soul, into heaven. Again and again, these deepest mysteries of our faiththose moments when in the most powerful way the Divine touched the earthall highlight the importance of Christ’s Body and His physical presence among us.
This is why TV Mass, and spiritual communions, and for now confess my sins privately to God don’t satisfy us. Because they lack the physicality. Hearing the familiar words of the celebration of Mass, perhaps hearing a good homily or one of the priests sing a verse of a familiar hymn, is something. In a time of pandemic, it is better than nothing. There is some comfort, some connection, that results from that. But it is not aphysical connection. And we, as bodily creatures, are created and made and LONG for bodily connection. This is why a face to face conversation with a friend or loved one is so much better than just a phone call. Even if the words being exchanged were exactly the same, there is something different about having that conversation in person. We are made for bodily connection with each other. And we are made for bodily connection with our God. This is why He took our human flesh. This is why He died in the flesh, and why He was raised in the flesh. This is why He ascended in the flesh. And this is why we believe that, should we be so blessed as to end our lives having been made worthy of heaven, we will “reign with Him forever” not just as wispy souls drifting in the clouds, but as fully human persons with glorified bodies for all eternity.
The deepest spiritual realities are communicated through physical realities. This is the sacramental order of creation, this is the sacramental order of our faith. When we are deprived of the physical and the bodily, we innately sense that something is wrong. And without even necessarily being conscious of it, everything within us yearns for that “wrong” to be made right again.
I pray that the full physicality of our faith is restored soon. In the meantime, let me assure you that the long-ing you feel is indeed a good and holy thing; it is a crying out to the One who physically entered into our world 2,000 years ago to enter into your life anew. That is a beautiful desire. May it be a beautiful reality for each of us very soon.
Fr. John Paul