The Sacraments and Solidarity
Friday, May. 22, 2020
I received Communion on Sunday.
Since my First Communion decades ago, receiving the sacrament has been so routine as to be unremarkable. Then, eight weeks ago, the COVID-19 pandemic struck Utah. Social distancing regulations were put in place. Churches closed their doors to public worship and, along with that, reception of the Eucharist. Bishop Oscar A. Solis issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday.
During each subsequent week I watched Mass on the internet and made a spiritual communion. The prayer resonates with me, putting into words a concept I had felt but never been able to articulate: “… Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there …”
In the days preceding my most recent reception of Communion, I had the chance to visit, on separate occasions, with two friends in person. We were careful to take precautions like proper social distancing. All of us were looking forward to returning to Mass, and we discussed what it’s been like to not have access to Communion.
One friend mentioned that, despite the social distancing restrictions brought on by the pandemic, we’re fortunate. Our deprivation is temporary.
“It’s not like the people in the Amazon,” she said.
Indeed, here in Utah Catholics live at most a couple of hours from the nearest priest. In remote areas of the Amazon, on the other hand, some communities can be reached only by a small plane or by canoe. Some are visited by a priest only once a year, as was reported during last October’s Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.
Another comparison: We have about 50 priests to minister to the 300,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, while one diocese in Brazil has only 25 priests to serve their Catholic population of 825,000, according to Catholic News Service.
We also are fortunate that, unlike many of our brothers and sisters in the Amazon, we have had continued access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We also can watch Mass anytime on the internet, and view it broadcast from some of the most beautiful churches in the world: St. Peter’s Basilica, with the pope as the presider, complete with an English translation; from the Basilica of the National of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.; from the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.
A few days after that first conversation, I talked with another friend. A lifelong Catholic, she has been involved with RCIA at various levels and has, in her words, “lectured the catechumen/elect on that burning hunger for Jesus. But, until coronavirus, I’ve never really understood it, lived it or have truly been in solidarity with them or walked side by side on this part of their journey.”
Ah, yes, solidarity – that principle of Catholic social teaching that would have us recognize others as our brethren, and to work for their good. I now am able once again to receive Communion daily, but my brothers and sisters in the Amazon are not. I am free to gather with friends, but there are innocent children at the border who have been separated from their parents and locked away in facilities. I can, and did, have lunch at a restaurant this weekend, but there are those even in my community who are going hungry. What can I do to help feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, to loose the chains of injustice, break the yoke of oppression, do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk?
In his March 27 extraordinary “urbi et orbi” blessing, Pope Francis said the worldwide coronavirus pandemic is “a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
The pope’s words, as usual, echo in my soul. In the coming weeks, as life resumes what had been its normal course, I will need to examine each aspect to see if I am living my baptismal call to serve God and live in solidarity with others so that I may be found worthy of Christ.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.