The Covid epidemic and the Eucharistic assembly
Many Catholics rejoiced when weekday and weekend Mass attendance restrictions were lifted after the Covid pandemic “lockdown.” Most often comments centered around missing the presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine along with the reception of Communion. The live-streamed Masses had presented the Liturgy of the Word quite well; however, one’s actual presence for the Liturgy of the Eucharist was missing.
At the recent celebration of Corpus Christi, we read from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he presented the earliest account of Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper (11: 23-26). I was reminded that this account is plucked out of a section of Paul’s letter and, by itself, misses the reason Paul included the reference to Jesus’ actions. The complete passage is a correction of the community at Corinth for the behaviors of some that were not mindful of all the participants in the Eucharistic meal – some are eating and drinking before others arrive. Paul sternly reminded the offenders that the entire community is “the body of Christ” and accuses such persons as being “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (11: 27). Having said this Paul concluded the section with “About the other things I will give directions when I come (34).” The promise that Paul is coming was an added incentive to change their behavior. One wonders what the “other things” were.
Positively, one can conclude from Paul’s understanding that the assembly itself is another aspect of the presence of the Risen Christ, along with the consecrated bread and wine. Vatican II’s document on the liturgy, “Sacrasanctum Concillium” (7), teaches the multiple aspects of Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic celebration. He is present in the Word, in the consecrated bread and wine, and in the person of the priest. Lastly, often overlooked, the document teaches that Christ is present in the gathered assembly. “He is present when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matt. 18:20).”
We are not often reminded of Christ’s presence in worshipping community. During the Covid lock-down, however, some Catholics commented on missing their fellow worshippers. While these parishioners may not have articulated that the congregation is the “body of Christ,” they instinctively perceived the importance of gathering with other worshippers; together, their worship strengthens one another, builds up the “body of Christ.”