There was a happy difference this year regarding the attendance by the faithful at the Holy Week and Easter celebrations. Last year, the attendance at these was extremely limited with no more than 15 able to be present. This year we had a much larger attendance following safety restrictions. It was obvious that those present were anxious and happy to be back. We are very pleased with the progress that has been made in regard to church attendance and look forward to its continued increase. However, we also realize the need that we have to follow safety precautions to ensure the safety of all as well as to be instruments in ending the pandemic. Many were present this year also by means of live streaming and have participated in various Masses for the past year through this means. Live streaming is a great blessing and will continue to be so.
However, live streaming is not the same as being present at the celebration of the Eucharist. As spiritually enriching as it can be, live streaming is not the new way of attending Mass. It is beneficial but imperfect, as we realize that the celebration of the Eucharist is a miracle that goes beyond technology, and we look forward to a renewed devotion and appreciation of it.
A great 20th century piece of literature, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, reflected upon a family in the first part of the 20th century facing many of the difficulties and challenges that we all face in life. The story is set in the tenements of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, before and during the First World War and immediately prior to the 1918 influenza. While there is poverty, issues of immigration, addiction, misunderstanding, family difficulties and all of the characteristics of the human condition, the story is not a negative one but a very positive one focusing on the power of the strength of family and the need for determination. A young girl, Francie, is the center of the story as she perseveringly grows in Williamsburg despite the challenges. An important element that reveals itself in the course of the narrative is the positive strength of Catholic faith.
One of the most moving scenes of the book for me is when Francie, now a young woman, attends Mass with her family at Christmas. The narrative recounts, “Francie believed with all her heart that the altar was Calvary and that again Jesus was offered up as a sacrifice. As she listened to the Consecrations, one for His Body and one for His Blood, she believed that the words of the priest were a sword which mystically separated the Blood from the Body. And she knew, without knowing how to explain why, that Jesus was entirely present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the wine in the golden chalice and in the bread on the golden plate. “‘It’s a beautiful religion,’ she mused, ‘and I wish I understood it more. No, I don’t want to understand it all. It’s beautiful because it’s always a mystery, like God Himself is a mystery.’”
As we face all of the challenges in our own lives, especially those which we continue to face through the pandemic, we realize that we possess the gift of the mystery of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present within the Eucharist. It is this mystery which gives us the ability to have hope and to know that God is with us even in the most difficult of circumstances. We can never lose touch with the Eucharist, for if we do, we can lose touch with the loving and healing presence of God. When we celebrate Mass, we enter into the very action of the Lord. Space and time are literally suspended and the action of Jesus Christ in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, are truly before us.
Pope Francis stated this reality so well when he celebrated Mass this past June on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord. He reflected, “The Eucharist is not simply an act of remembrance; it is a fact: the Lord’s Passover is made present once again for us. In the Mass the death and resurrection of Jesus are set before us.” In this homily, the Pope spoke words that mirror the faith in the Eucharist which the young woman, Francie, expressed at Christmas Mass, “The Lord knows that evil and sins do not define us; they are diseases, infections and He comes to heal them with the Eucharist, which contains the antibodies to our negative memory. ... We will always remember our failures, troubles, problems at home and at work, our unrealized dreams. But their weight will not crush us because Jesus is present even more deeply, encouraging us with his love.” This truly is the mystery of God’s love which heals us at our roots and in whose Real Presence we need to be.
As we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist at any time, we give thanks to God that He has given us His Son who loved us to the end and gave His life for us. By receiving His Real Presence in the Eucharist, we are touched by this love and healed by it even though we do not deserve it.
In his homily at the Chrism Mass in Rome during Holy Week this year, Pope Francis again spoke powerful words in regard to the healing power of Christ who gave His flesh and blood for us on the Cross. He referred to the words of Saint Maximus the Confessor who expressed that the devil, biting the flesh of the Lord on the Cross, tried to poison Him, but it was the flesh and blood of Christ which poisoned and conquered Satan. Whenever we bite the Body and Blood of Christ, no matter what our situation, He always heals us. The Eucharist is a beautiful gift because it is a mystery, as God is a mystery who has given Himself to us. We look forward to our full return to the celebration of the Eucharist as soon as possible.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
April 16, 2021