For Catholics, attendance at Sunday Mass is kind of like breathing. When we breathe, air comes in and air goes out. Air brings into our bodies the oxygen that is necessary for life. Every week, we breathe in by coming to Mass, and in the breath out, we are sent forth to glorify the Lord with our lives.
Like breathing, Mass is a rhythm. We come and gather, and we are sent out. Having been unable to gather or having been limited in our gathering, it seems like, for some time now, we’ve been holding our breath. Even as our churches open, the members of our communities may not be able to return yet, which keeps our assemblies small.
While live-stream Masses are one way to keep folks connected to their parish, they are still like the Church holding its breath, as we are still yearning for the gasp of air that will keep us alive.
We are finally starting to gasp and return to the “source and summit” of our faith: Sunday Mass. When we come to Mass, we receive the necessities of our spiritual life. We hear the Scriptures proclaimed, we offer up bread and wine — the work of our hands — to the Father, which are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.
Our pilgrim Church is always on a journey. At times we may struggle to read the map, but the Church affirms that the Sunday liturgy is the “primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit.” So, what should we remember about the liturgy in this time when we are preoccupied with mask wearing, social distancing, disinfecting, fear, and protecting ourselves and others?
We remember that Christ is present in multiple ways.
The first presence of Christ is in the assembly of believers, hence the importance of hospitality, which can be a challenge at this time. When we welcome the friend or the stranger, we welcome Christ.
There is a wonderful hymn text by Percy Dearmer that reflects the text of Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 18:
Draw us in the Spirit’s tether,
For when humbly in thy name,
Two or three are met together,
Thou art in the midst of them;
Alleluia! Alleluia! Touch we now thy garment’s hem.
When we grasp this reality of Christ’s presence in our gathering together, it transforms our apprec iation of this people that becomes the Body of Christ.
The Church also teaches that Christ is present when the Scriptures — especially the Gospel — are proclaimed.
This is why we address Christ directly at the end of the proclamation saying, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” The Scriptures need to be proclaimed well, with conviction and understanding. Lectors must be well prepared, and the sound system needs to be able to reproduce sound with clarity so that all can hear and understand.
Christ is also present in the priest who presides over the assembly as the head of the Body of Christ leading our prayers to the Father.
The most intense presence of Christ is in the eucharistic species — the bread and wine which becomes the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. We frequently hear the aphorism, “you are what you eat,” probably not realizing that this paraphrases the words of St. Augustine who said, “it is your own mystery that you receive.” We receive Christ so that we can be more and more like him.
Finally, we are sent forth. Our term “Mass” and the word “mission” share a root in the Latin missa . We are sent forth to be missionary disciples. Pope Francis reminds us that we are to be “joyful missionary disciples”!
Now is the time for many of us to stop holding our breath. It is a time to return to the very source and summit of our faith. It is a time to recommit ourselves to appreciate the depth of the mystery that we celebrate. And it is a time to do the best that we can within the present restrictions to help others to keep breathing.