It is a time of hope and gratitude – that’s how God may be calling us to live this Lenten season in which all of us have given up more than we had planned. And that’s great news because, even though we won’t get to prepare for Easter as we normally would, God would never give us less than what we need.
In order to find those new opportunities that God presents to us during this time in which we can’t partake of the Eucharist, we spoke with Father Daniel Cardó, pastor at Holy Name Parish and Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Liturgical Studies at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.
“I think this is definitely a difficult time for everyone… I think rather than trying to judge the goodness or convenience of the decision, or rather than struggling with the fact that this is happening, we need to embrace the fact that it has happened,” Father Cardó said. “And as such, it really becomes an opportunity of faith, trusting that God will take care of us in ways that go well beyond what we know and what we control… Grace will not be lacking, it will come in different ways.”
Therefore, he added that this time of preparation for Easter without the Mass can bear much fruit if we take advantage of what the Church has to offer.
“I think one very specific fruit from this experience should be to renew our love and desire for the Eucharist and our appreciation of the gift,” Father Cardó said. “And I think we have to recognize that when something is too easily available, we have the risk of losing our appreciation, reverence and gratitude.
“We’re used to it and we think we have the right to have it at our disposal. And sometimes, when we don’t have something that we want or when we’re far from someone we love, the experience of missing and longing for that person can actually help us to renew our love.”
In order to explain God’s work in us, even in the absence of Communion, Father Cardó referred to a text in the Catechism: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments” (CCC 1257).
“God, of course, gives us the Eucharist as the great summit of our faith, in which we receive the grace of graces, but that doesn’t mean that God, in a circumstance like this, will abandon us, and that also doesn’t mean that he will not give us the grace that we need,” he explained.
An example is the stories St. John Paul II used to tell about the many faithful who lived in communist countries and had to gather in secret without a priest. They would pray together and recite the parts of the Mass but would weep when silence broke during the part of the consecration. Yet they never lost their faith. On the contrary, their faith and desire for the Eucharist also grew.
Similarly, Father Cardó referred to St. Therese of Lisieux’s phrase when she was too sick to receive Holy Communion: “No doubt it is a great grace to receive the sacraments. When God does not permit it, it is good too. Everything is grace.”
Being aware of this reality can help the faithful establish practices at home to observe the Lord’s Day and prepare for Easter, and also to avoid the risks present during this time.
“Some possible risks are isolation, selfishness and being consumed by fear or sadness,” Father Cardó said. “In some cases, it could also be a risk to complain or be bitter because we cannot receive that which we normally understand as the source of our strength. That could also be a very concrete strategy of the enemy and will lead us to waste the abundant graces that will come and are coming in different ways.”
Liturgical actions at home
He explained that watching Mass online is a good practice that he himself will provide for his parishioners. Nonetheless, he added that making it the norm might also wrongfully reinforce the idea that if the faithful can’t at least watch the Mass, they’ll be totally lost.
“I think that [watching online Mass] is a good thing and it can bring comfort, but I also think that cannot be all,” he said. “We should not waste the opportunity to enter more deeply into the riches of Liturgy of the Church, which are not limited to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the center, source and summit, but there’s more that we don’t necessarily appreciate all the time.”
In fact, he explained that the Liturgy of the Church – the action of the Church through which we give glory to God and are sanctified – includes the seven sacraments but is not limited to them, since it also includes the Liturgy of the Hours and the sacramentals.
“So, there are some liturgical actions that can be performed by everyone at home, and, therefore, can be fruitful channels of grace. I think this is an opportunity to discover that,” he said.
The first recommended practice is praying the Liturgy of the Hours as a family.
“The prayer of the Liturgy goes beyond the Mass and into every hour of the day. It serves to sanctify time and respond to Christ’s command to pray always,” said Adam Bartlett, Founder and CEO of Source and Summit, a new apostolate designed to help parishes and Catholics pray and elevate the Liturgy.
But it also true that many Catholics shy away from it because it can be rather complicated. For that reason, Source and Summit has launched a special website – KeepTheLordsDay.com – that contains the Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer for Sundays, with instructions and explanations on how to pray it alone or as a family, in addition to the Sunday readings and a prayer for Spiritual Communion.
“I believe it’s a great resource for families to be able to pray on Sundays in a more liturgical way,” Bartlett said. “By praying the Liturgy of the Hours, we’re praying with the Church here on earth and also with the saints in Heaven in a very real way.”
Other practices recommended by Father Cardó include meditating on the Sunday readings and the prayers of the Mass, making an act of spiritual communion and turning to Mary by praying the rosary – and doing all these things without forgetting charity, especially toward the elderly and the people who might be lonely; those who are just a call away.
“When you think about all these pieces, I think we can see that they’re wonderful ways to sanctify our days, but particularly Sundays: We can start with Morning Prayer, and then the readings, and then enjoy our morning and have lunch, and maybe get together again in the evening to pray the rosary,” he said.
“Who knows? Maybe not having Mass will be an invitation to not just go and check that I went to Mass, but to try to sanctify the holy day in a more proactive and intentional way.”
Featured image by Daniel Petty