Instead of writing about the scriptures this weekend, I thought I'd explore some worrisome topics circulating in Catholic Culture right now. There are a significant number of faithful Catholic people anxious with the extensions of Stay-at-home orders in the battle against COVID-19. Namely, many Catholics feel they do not have access to the sacramental life of the Church. Hopefully, this little post explains how the Sacramental life of the Church is alive and well, especially during a COVID-Quarantine. Communion/Eucharist-
This is the source and summit of our faith. It requires us to take on a personal connection to the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament through consecrated bread and wine. That very action makes the easily spread COVID-19 virus more likely to break out in our houses of worship. When circumstances prevent one from receiving Holy Communion, it is possible to make an Act of Spiritual Communion, which is a source of grace. Spiritual Communion is an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and lovingly embrace him at a time or in circumstances when one cannot receive Him in Sacramental Communion. The most common reason for making an Act of Spiritual Communion is when a person cannot physically attend Mass.
Thankfully we can attend Mass Virtually through online or broadcast means. However, we cannot physically receive the Blessed Sacrament. An act of Spiritual Communion is the next best way we can be one with Christ and the body of Christ in our brothers and sisters. Those of us who are accustomed to the reception of Eucharist every week would do well to adjust our expectations. More remote parts of the world rarely receive Communion. In Guatemala, They only get access to the Eucharist a few times a year. So let's stand in solidarity with the rest of the body of Christ.
Funerals- We still honor our dead. We still pray for our dead. The loss of our funeral rituals is maybe the most difficult to adapt. What we need to remember about funerals is this is a Ritual FOR US, the deceased is in God's care now, and there's no better place for them to be. If you consider what we already discussed about reconciliation, and Viaticum covers in the next section, we need to consider the way a funeral looks for the time being. Right now, small Graveside services with prayers and blessings of the burial site are all we have for the close family. But what about us? The ones who love these people through parish family, can start to pull together memorial services to be broadcast online, OR orchestrated for a specific time of year. At my parish, we are going to put much focus on a Mass of Remembrance in November. The idea is that we honor each member of our community that has passed away. We pray, sing, and feast if possible. If we are still social distancing, then we will adapt and make it available online.
Anointing of the Sick /Viaticum-
The end of life ritual we have where the dying receive the blessed sacrament before they release their soul to journey home. It is our last worldly effort to sustain them in their transition from this life to the next. The sacrament of Viaticum is still available to those who need it. Priests are taking great precautions to limit their exposure to the COVID-19 disease, but this act of pastoral care is an absolute necessity and still available on a case by case basis.
Likewise, Anointing of the Sick is still available as always in a case by case basis. Priests and Deacons are being very careful to use safe practices to not spread disease right now, so do not worry too much about the spread of infection this way.
The Church has long had a tradition of Baptism outside of using water and a priest. Martyrs are capable of being baptized through the shedding of their blood. But let's not kid ourselves. We don't need more martyrs than we already have. Every day, people are baptized through the simple but deep desire for Baptism; this is called Baptism of desire. Parents who experience the loss of a baby before the child receives the rite of Baptism can rest in the desire of their hearts, fulfilling the sacred duty of initiation. Likewise, Parents can baptize their children in these extreme times and have the local Church co-validate the sacrament at a later point. The immortal soul of the baby is safe. Side note- If you are a parent of an angel baby, or suffer struggles with infertility, I cannot endorse "Of Womb and Tomb" from my dear friend Kate Williams more highly. I have shared this resource with a few mourning parents, and it has helped them immensely.
Forgiveness of sins is an exciting thing. It alleviates our burdens from our sins against God and the Church, but we need to ask ourselves the most important questions surrounding this sacrament. Who forgives sins? God. We can ardently confess to God our failings, and in His mercy, our sins are forgiven. That is the entire point of the Easter story. As a wise Second Vatican Council Father once told me, "Your sins are forgiven, so much so you could almost take it for granted. So stop saying, 'despite your sins' that irrelevant to God's work of Salvation." (My head exploded!) What the Holy See said in their decree during this pandemic is, and I paraphrase, If you desire forgiveness, and you make an act of penance such as praying the rosary in with a focus on forgiveness. Likewise, you could do a Chaplet using the Jesus prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Have mercy on Me, a sinner" for the usual beads of a Decade and still praying the Lord's prayer in between. That can fulfill a penance and build the bridge back to God. The Holy See suggests that we also make it to confession when we are able without adding risk to our health or the health of our clergy. Please keep that in mind.
Marriage- Matrimony is a sacrament between the woman and the man. A Priest serves as a witness. Those guests at a wedding are there to witness and celebrate. So let us ask the tough question. Is the deep and sacramental love of two people limited to a wedding in a Church? No. There is this thing called Co-validation. Say two people get married by the Justice of the Peace; it's legally binding. If there is no reason for the sacrament's denial (I.E., non-annulled Divorce, Adultery, and similar canonical issues), then the Church has this blessing to make the marriage sacramental. Likewise, a Bride, Groom and their two witnesses (Read: Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor) can hold a small wedding and plana reception for a later date. When you think about it, this could be a fun change in traditions. Spreading the joy (and bills) out over time could lead to a more joyous celebration without limiting the marital life of the couple. As sad as it might be, Small weddings are all the rage in 2020. So the bottom line here is this: God makes it happen!
The test of our faith is not the reception of sacraments. The test of our faith is the belief in God and His Covenant with us. Sacraments are the touchpoints between heaven and earth, God gifted us tangible means to know His love, but don't for one second think that God can't make our current situations of social isolation a mission field of His grace. Let us focus on the good we can experience. Maybe we can find that our faith is much much more profound and more vibrant than we could have ever imagined? So let us not despair in our limits, let us find new ways of fulfilling our needs. The Church has provisions for nearly all our sacramental worries. We forget Mother Church has survived a few deadly pandemics before. If previous generations made it, so can this one! Peace, -Matt