Emmaus Moments 2020

Today, on the third Sunday of Easter, when we read the Emmaus gospel, the vast majority of the Church will not be able to receive the Eucharist. Let that sink in for a moment. Today very few members of the Church will be able to receive holy Communion wherever they live. We are taught, correctly, that every Mass is a public Mass, even if celebrated behind closed doors with none but the priest physically present. We are also taught, correctly, that every Mass is offered for every member of the Church, as the Eucharistic Prayers make plain. Finally, we we reminded that we can make a spiritual communion when sacramental communion is impossible. I don’t dispute any of that, nor am I among those loudly lamenting not being able to attend Mass as though I, and I alone, were experiencing loss or deprivation. I know many people — priests, religious and lay — are suffering in ways none ever thought possible. But it must be evident to everyone that the current lockdown and all that flows from it poses some important questions of ecclesiology, i.e. what we mean and understand by the word ‘church’.

A number of theologians have argued, in some cases for years, that online Communion should be possible. I don’t see how that could ever be squared with a Catholic understanding of the sacraments so it forms no part of my question here. And I have only a question, not an answer, but I believe it is important because its implications stretch much further than lockdown. Is the present situation, where, by and large, the Eucharist is the preserve of only one part of the Church, viz. priests and a few religious communities with a resident chaplain, right? Are we really being what the Lord intends? I have always been struck by the fact that Cleopas and his companion recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, not during his long exposition of the scriptures. The celebration of the Eucharist and the sharing of Communion was the essential moment of disclosure, recognition and union.

The Church rightly regards the Eucharist as a great treasure and sets many rules and regulations to guard it from profanation or misuse. At the same time, what is more vulnerable, more open to being treated casually or disrespectfully, than a morsel of bread, a sip of wine, the very things the Lord chose to give himself to us? How do we reconcile the desire to ensure that the Eucharist is treated with love and reverence and the desire that it should do what it is intended to do, constitute the Body of Christ?

I don’t know the answer, as I said, but this Sunday, amid the busyness of live-streaming services, adding extra prayers to the Rosary and what you will, I hope we will all take a few moments to think about the nature of the Church, the role of the Eucharist, and our need for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I sense we are at a kind of ecclesiological cross-roads — which is not a bad metaphor for an Emmaus moment, is it?

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14 thoughts on “Emmaus Moments 2020”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful piece, dear Sister Catherine.
    I know that somewhere this and every morning a priest, vicar or pastor is celebrating the Eucharist for all God’s children. Whether this offering is off or online is immaterial to our remembering our dear Lord’s sacrifice for us and our imbuement of the Holy Spirit.
    God bless and keep you and your Sisters safe. Peace and love be with you all

    • Thank you sister. My prayers are with all clergy at this time. I do miss being able to share communion. Otherwise my life in these times is business as usually, but I’m now called an essential worker?! To me being able to share communion is essential to me being an essential worker. Next week New Zealand will be moving down to level 3, meaning we get abit more Freedom of movement! Eg; buying takeaway food!
      This experience is like going back to my teenage years! Blessings

  2. The “all” of this has been a real “rubber to the road” litmus for how at peace I am with letting unanswered questions be in God’s infinite mystery.
    What I *can* say is that blogs and Twitter accounts like these have opened my mind (or even awareness of) to becoming a Benedictine oblate. Through prayer and discernment, we’ll see where that goes; I have some texts in the mail as we speak
    Of course I would have rathered this all to have never happened, but I’m not sure I would have arrived at this point outside of these times we find ourselves in.
    Prayers

  3. Your astute, kindly put, words as always raise issues essential to our understanding of the wider church alongside our own experience.
    I personally miss the Eucharist terribly. Having been taught as an adult when converting, I can’t help those feelings.

    But our priests and pastors vicars and other Christian leaders in their communities, would be put at severe mortal risk if they were able to be out and about visiting the sick and elderly, even applying Last Rites. So I try to bear that in mind, so as to not be selfish.

    The online services or Office are an opening up of the Church. For people living with a housebound disability, it has opened up accessing communal worship, in ways that have been largely discounted in the past.

    Great pain and crisis can bring change, even positive change, for society. For the world, for the value of human life, for the ability to join in online for those most disabled, marginalised and unable to get out.

  4. Wonderful post, Sister. Much food for thought here. I was struck today at Mass earlier today by the fact that Cleopas et al. only recognized Jesus through the breaking of the bread. Although I clearly heard that passage several times, the impact of the breaking of the bread was rather surprising. I think the absence of the Holy Eucharist may play a factor in that and your post was very poignant and much appreciated.

  5. Thank you for such a thoughtful article, Sister. I was especially sad to miss Mass on Sunday, as it was the anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church, Confirmation and First Communion. It was also on the Third Sunday of Easter.

    You and your community are in my poor prayers.

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