Being church without churches
These days of restrictions because of COVID-19 are a special challenge to us.
For so many of our people, all save a handful, there is the question of what is the Church without the Eucharist? We hear so often that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church, and here we are in a position of deprivation, with no Eucharist possible.
We must recall of course that the Church in Australia has gone through long periods when the Eucharist was a rare event. For the first 32 years after the European settlement of the colony, there was no priest available to freely wander through the population exercising his ministry, until Fr John Joseph Therry and Fr Philip Connelly arrived in 1820.
But even much later, here in South Australia there were little settlements in the Mid North and beyond where the people were fortunate to have the priest visit them twice or four times a year. Places like Port Augusta, Saltia, Blinman in the north, and places like Melrose in the Mid North where Mass would have been celebrated on those rare occasions.
We ask how does the Church live through us when we cannot congregate. We know that our buildings are locked, but the Church is still open, because we are the Church. Christ is the cornerstone, but it is you and I who are the living stones that build up this temple of the Spirit.
We are witnessing a new form of devotionalism in the Church, as hundreds of people tune in, or whatever the verb is, make hits on websites where the Mass is being shown online. We have hundreds more making these hits than we actually see in Church! One hopes that a new type of devotionalism does not extend to watching Mass while in bed!
An image of the Church that may be helpful in these times is given in St John’s Gospel. Firstly, the disciples are in the Upper Room, the place of the Eucharist. Christ appears amongst them. The Church is always enriched by the presence of Christ. His greeting is ‘peace be with you’, a prayer He utters three times. It is the resurrection greeting, peace be with you, a peace the world cannot give, and the world cannot take away, because Christ has overcome all things that diminish us.
Jesus then says to them ‘receive the Spirit’. We are to be a people alive to the movements of God in our hearts, alive to the calls God makes upon us, alive to the invitations the Spirit makes for us to grow deeper.
‘Whose sins you shall forgive…’ we are to be a community of forgiveness. So a community of the peace of Christ, of the Spirit, a community of forgiveness.
Christ invites us to touch His wounds. In the words of Pope Francis, whenever we serve the poor, we touch the flesh of Christ.
He showed them His hands and His side. These are central to the meaning of the Church. His hands denote the works of kindness and justice and mercy. His side reveals compassion and the love of the Sacred Heart, a love that says ‘come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest’. So in the hands and the side we have symbolised the mission and the compassion of Christ entrusted to the Church, to you and me.
And He gives His exhortation, ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you…’ We are to be a people on mission, to carry the Word of Christ to those around us, to carry it in a way that people see the work of Christ reflected in how we live, and how we serve.
As St Peter wrote: ‘You did not see Him, yet you love Him. What thanks can we give for the grace we have received in knowing Christ Jesus?’
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