On the Mass readings for Corpus Christi:
Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna… (Today’s first Mass reading)
On this feast of Corpus Christi, many readers are attending their parishes for the first time since they were closed due to government COVID-19 measures. What has happened over the past few months is part of the Great Storm that has made known its first winds around the world. It has tested the hearts of the faithful in ways no one could have foreseen. Above all, it has tested just how important Jesus is considered by His Church in the Eucharist.
Some bishops refused to close their churches, while keeping prudent measures in place. Those dioceses were few. Others quickly adopted government measures without hesitation, essentially placing the Eucharist and the Mass on the same level as “non-essential” businesses that also closed. Converts who were eager to be baptized into the faith were turned away; the dying were denied the “Sacrament of the Sick” as we heard stories of priests too afraid to go to them, or who were banned from doing so. Church doors were locked; individuals in some places were barred from coming to pray alone. Some priests tried to give their faithful viaticum to take home to their families (Communion for the sick or the confined), but were banned from doing so by their bishops.
This, while liquor stores and abortuaries remained open in most places.
Yet, some priests became creative, holding Mass in parking lots for people in their cars. Others set up confessionals on their church lawns. Many set up cameras in their sanctuaries and provided daily Mass for their flocks. Others were bolder, giving Communion after closed Masses to those who came to the church door, begging for the Lord’s Body.
The Mass closures for some Catholics was a welcome reprieve from the Sunday obligation. They said that “spiritual communion” was good enough anyway. Others were angry at fellow Catholics who lamented the closures, suggesting that such people in their religious fervor were “uncompassionate”, “inconsiderate”, and “reckless.” They said we must care for the bodies of people, not just their souls, and that ending Mass was necessary for as long as it takes.
Yet, others wept when they learned that their parish was off limits, when they realized, (some for the first time in their lives) that they would not receive the Body of Christ nor even be able pray before the Tabernacle. They tuned into Masses online… but this only made them hungrier. They pined for Him because they understood that the Eucharist is actually more essential than the bread on their table:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day… (Today’s Gospel)
Then finally, when churches began to open, Catholics discovered two sets of rules: one for the churches and another for the rest of the world. People could gather in restaurants to talk, visit, and laugh; they were not required to wear masks; they could come and go without revealing who they were. But when Catholics gathered for the sacred meal in their newly opened parishes, they discovered in many places that they were not allowed to sing; that they must wear masks; and that they must provide their names and everyone with whom they were in recent contact with. While waitresses brought diners their food, some priests left the Eucharist on a table for their flock to come pick up, one by one.
The question on this feast day is how have we passed the testing thus far? Do we truly believe the words in today’s Gospel and all that they imply?
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (Today’s Gospel)
Since the closure of parishes around the world and the deprivation of the Eucharist for hundreds of millions, some priests have reported surges in demonic oppression. There are reports of an increase in anxiety, depression, use of alcohol and pornography. We have watched as violent protests have broken out in the streets and divisions between family and friends have sharpened. Is not this “wilderness” that we find ourselves in now…
…in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD(?) (Today’s first Mass reading)
The Church has been tested and, in many places, found wanting. Just as the Israelites were reduced in number in the desert before entering the Promised Land, so too, the true Church will be reduced in number before entering the Era of Peace.
The Church will be reduced in its dimensions, it will be necessary to start again. However, from this test a Church would emerge that will have been strengthened by the process of simplification it experienced, by its renewed capacity to look within itself… the Church will be numerically reduced. —Cardinal Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), God and the World, 2001; interview with Peter Seewald
It is necessary that a small flock subsist, no matter how small it might be. —POPE PAUL VI, The Secret Paul VI, Jean Guitton, p. 152-153, Reference (7), p. ix.
For the Church will never disappear. As we heard our priests say in the Eucharistic Prayer III today in the Roman rite: “You never cease to gather a people to Yourself…” The question this day is, am I one of Your people, O Lord? Indeed, the trials of these past months are just the beginning of the “test”, that is, the purification of the Bride of Christ.
We are beginning to approach the fortieth anniversary since the renowned apparitions at Medjugorje began (June 24, 1981) that have called the world to repentance. Today’s feast is not only a reminder that Jesus will always be with us “until the end of the age,” but also of the seriousness of the hour… and the Lord’s demand in the first reading that can no longer go unheeded:
Do not forget the Lord, your God.