We at the McGrath Institute for Church Life want to observe and celebrate Thanksgiving in a special way. On our radio show and podcast, Church Life Today, we shared five passages about the Eucharist and thanksgiving, with reflections to guide us into rediscovering how an exchange of thanksgiving occurs in the Sacrament of Sacraments. We know, of course, that the holiday Thanksgiving is not itself about the Eucharist. But this civic holiday is probably the closest in character to our religious holidays, and all the more because it is a feast dedicated to giving thanks. For those who revere and adore the Eucharist, we know that being transformed by that particular and unique “thanksgiving” should shape and transform our entire lives.
We can look to the heavens, or the mountains, or the vast ocean and marvel at the work of our creator. The Lord reveals himself to us through his creation, and when we take a moment to stop and behold his majesty, we are in awe. But what about the pinnacle of God’s creation? What about the human person?
“Lord, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. . . .
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.”
—from the Act of Spiritual Communion
Despite the consolation the Act of Spiritual Communion offers the Church during this time of virtual Mass and assembly, the prayer simultaneously elicits a deep sense of loss. Its supplication wells from the sorrowful confession that precedes it, in which we plainly acknowledge our inability to physically receive the Eucharist—the Body of Christ in whom and from whom the Church receives her truest identity. With the concluding line, we plead with Jesus, “never permit me to be separated from You”; yet it seems that we already have been separated from him, and that the timing couldn’t be worse. Amid the chaos of disease and death, we experience ourselves as cut off from the very source and summit of our life. We ask, “Why, O Lord, have you forsaken your beloved in this critical hour? How do we reconcile your apparent disappearance with our unchanging dependence on you? Is it possible to partake joyfully in the Paschal Mystery while unable to receive Communion as we have in the past?”
For many dioceses in the United States, as of today, public celebrations of the Mass have been suspended. In a post published just two days ago, Tim O’Malley affirmed that, even if we cannot attend Mass, we can still participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus, and indeed, that our sadness over not being able to attend Mass “is itself the Eucharistic sacrifice that many of the baptized will be called to offer.”