I glanced up as the young man approached, next in line for Communion. He lifted his face, his eyes brimming with emotion as I held up the host and said, “The Body of Christ.” Looking into his eyes as I placed the host on his outstretched hand, he held my gaze with an intensity that took my breath away. He breathed out a soft “Amen” as he closed his hand around the host and lifted his clenched fist up to his chest. Grasping the Bread of Life, clinging to the source of love, he took a deep breath and with every fiber of his being uttered “Thank you!” as tears filled his eyes and flowed freely down his face. His response evoked something deep within me and I could only watch in awe as he consumed the host, a smile breaking across his face as he turned to make his way back to his seat. An encounter of no more than a few seconds, yet one in which God’s abundant mercy and love touched both his heart and mine.
Today, the Church celebrates the First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church. These men and women were martyred en masse by Emperor Nero in Rome in the year 64 A.D., in his effort to shift the blame for the great fire of Rome from himself to the Christian community.
While the names of these proto-martyrs of the Church are lost to history, their deaths inspired many to convert to Christianity, proving once again the truth of Tertullian’s statement that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Over the last three years, I have been working with the Archdiocese of San Francisco, addressing the quality of Eucharistic celebration in their schools. Almost universally, school leaders, especially at secondary institutions, recognize that all-school Masses are rarely occasions of prayer for faculty or students. Here are three questions for schools in this situation to consider.
As dioceses across the country are beginning to re-open our churches and return to the public celebration of the Eucharist, some people are wondering what will happen. Will people have gotten used to staying home on Sunday? Will they wake up to the fact that the Eucharist never really mattered that much to them, since they so quickly got used to not receiving it? Or will they wake up to the fact of how much they value the Eucharist, because, once deprived of the opportunity to participate, they found they developed a hunger for it more quickly than they expected?
“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?”