Don’t waste these ‘channels of grace’ as you prepare for Easter without Communion

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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

COMING UP: Surviving this Lenten quarantine

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Well, I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that Lent has been a lot Lent-ier than usual this year. As of Ash Wednesday, there had not yet been a single death from COVID-19 in the United States. And now, businesses are closing, “social distancing” is the norm, and the newest cocktail is called the “Quarantini.” (It’s a regular martini, but you drink it at home, alone.)

Worst of all, millions of Catholics are being deprived of participation in the Mass. Here in the Archdiocese of Denver, all public Masses have been suspended until further notice. In other dioceses, public Masses continue, with smaller crowds and liberal dispensations.

What could be more heartbreaking than to be deprived of our spiritual sustenance, the Eucharist, during this difficult time?

If my Facebook feed is any indication, people are plenty disappointed. Some are angry. And, in the midst of it all, I’m seeing a lot of misunderstanding — both about the nature of the disease and the reason for the drastic measures, and about the nature of the Mass itself.

So I wanted to spend a little time sharing a few thoughts, and a few responses to some of the more common misunderstandings:

“Why keep us from the Mass? People have risked their lives for the Mass. We should be doing the same.” Yes, people have risked their lives for the Mass. And we admire them for it. We make them saints. But that is not what is going on here. By continuing to gather in large group, we are not so much risking our own lives as we are risking the lives of others. Which is not so admirable. This virus, from what we know right now, is extremely contagious. And it spreads before the carrier shows any symptoms. One person can infect several others, who will go on to infect several others, and so on. And any of those down the line who are vulnerable — the elderly, the immunocompromised — are at serious risk of death. If you don’t believe me, google “Patient 31 South Korea.” The 31st person to be diagnosed in South Korea was apparently quite the social butterfly.  She attended church services four times after she was presumed to be infected, but before her diagnosis. She also went out to lunch, shopped in crowded areas, and otherwise flitted about town. Two days after her diagnosis, South Korea’s coronavirus cases doubled in a single day, from 53 to 104. More than 40 of those cases were in Patient 31’s home town, and 28 of those attended her church. Now, over 90 people from that church have tested positive. And I read today that fully 80 percent of South Korea’s COVID-19 infections can be traced back to Patient 31.

Patient 31 didn’t merely risk her own life. She risked others, and her actions have resulted in many deaths.

We all have vulnerable loved ones. We don’t want them crossing paths with a Patient 31, at church or anywhere else. Nor do we want to cross paths with Patient 31 and then carry the contagion back to our loved ones. Or anyone else.

“The world needs the Mass more than ever.” Please understand that the world is not lacking the Mass right now. The Mass continues. It is being celebrated all over the world, just as before. We the public in many cases cannot be present for it. But it is being offered — for the world, for our sins, for God’s protection in this pandemic. And we can still participate in the Mass, just not in person. We can watch it on TV. We can stream it online. We can join our prayers to those of the celebrant. No, we can’t receive the Eucharist. But we can make a spiritual communion. And I am quite confident that the Lord who loves us will be generous in dispensing graces to those who are doing the best we can to protect each other.

“Grocery stores are open for physical food, but we are being deprived of spiritual food, the Eucharist.” Yes, we are. And it hurts. But our easy access to the Eucharist is an exception, not the norm, throughout the history of the Church. Many of the greatest saints went long periods of time without receiving the Eucharist. Of course we don’t want to go back to those days, and we are fortunate to have such wonderful access to the Bread of Life. But I say that easy availability can cause us to take this amazing gift for granted. It cannot be a coincidence that all of this happened during Lent. We are truly in the wilderness, longing for Him. It is my hope and prayer that we can spend this time in preparation for our next holy communion, whenever that may be. Imagine the joy of that reunion!

In the mean time, we need to be patient, prayerful and prudent. Check in on your neighbors, especially the elderly and others at risk. Ask God to show you how you can help, how you can be of service without unnecessarily exposing others.

And, for the love of all that is holy, think of others as you are “stocking up.” Buying enough to get you and your family through a crisis is understandable. Hoarding scarce resources — taking more than you need, and thereby depriving others of what they need — is a sin against God and your neighbor. If you have hoarded items that are now scarce, repent and share your bounty with those who are without.

It is my great prayer that, by Easter, public Masses will be restored and we can fully celebrate His resurrection. But, like the apostles on Good Friday, we cannot know what the future holds. So we need to trust Him. And pray, more than ever.