This is one of a series of pastoral and personal reflections on living in this time of pandemic. Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, has written this reflection for Catholic News Service. This is part of an occasional series of reflections CNS will have from some U.S. Catholic bishops.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only deprived the faithful of holy Communion, but it also prevents them from gathering around the eucharistic table, thus also depriving them of the comfort of gathering with their fellow parishioners. Unlike the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, this crisis forces us to isolate ourselves, keeping the proper social distance. The sad fact of the matter is that we have no choice. We must respond prudently to the vagaries of the coronavirus.
For most of us, it may not be immediately clear how we are to experience Christ’s presence without participating in the ancient, sacred rites of Holy Week and Easter. That is why this is a time for us to turn to the Lord, who will lead us to himself. In the midst of our confusion, uncertainty and fear he will guide us throughout Holy Week and into Easter, revealing his grace and love in new and unexpected ways as we gather with our loved ones, “sheltering in place.”
The first step is to open our hearts in trust to the “God of More,” who will not abandon us in this, our hour of need. Provide for quiet time in your home, either individually or as a family, and simply listen to what the Lord is speaking to you. Then, join in family prayers throughout Holy Week and throughout the Easter season. The readings of the day and other prayers can be found online through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website (www.usccb.org) and diocesan and parish websites.
Pray the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy chaplet. Read reflections on the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, so many of which also can be found online. If you are not that computer literate, you can always call your parish priest or diocesan office for help.
Perform acts of charity around the house. Call an elderly relative or friend. No matter what you end up doing, the main point is to allow Christ to lead you through this holiest of weeks and beyond so that his love, mercy and compassion will be ever more present to you.
It is also important to remember that as we are confined to our homes, we are still very much united with the entire church, the body of Christ, through the communion of saints. Franciscan Friar Daniel P. Horan has recently written in the National Catholic Reporter that this doctrine “is an important tenet of our faith but one that few Christians regularly consider.”
During this pandemic, when we are forced to isolate, we can remain united with each other through our baptism and through the work of the Holy Spirit. Paradoxically, by keeping apart we contribute to the well-being of the entire church and the whole human family: We are present to one another in our absence, we are united in our social distancing and we care for one another by staying home. This bond of love with Christ and each other cannot be broken by physical separation and in this case is even strengthened by the sacrifice of our remaining apart.
This Holy Week and for all we know, the entire Easter season, will be like no other we have known. It will be difficult, to say the least, not to gather around the altar of the one crucified in weakness and risen in glory. After all is said and done, we are called to be a people of faith. In this critical time as we struggle to understand our Lord’s hand in the drastic measures that must be taken, Dominican Father Michael Demkovich has reminded me that we are gaining a deeper insight into the eucharistic fast, the abstinence from the church’s celebration of the Eucharist, which is an invitation to an even deeper appreciation of the Eucharist itself.
We are being called to reflect on the Stripping of the Altar that happens after the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The absence of the eucharistic celebration all the way to the Easter Vigil is a sober time when we join our Lord in the tomb and no Mass is celebrated throughout the church. It is a time for each of us to grow in appreciation of the Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist and his presence in the church, if even by its absence we keep vigil at the tomb. This is our Good Friday as we await the Easter promise.
Is there a moment in the drama of the Lord’s passion and resurrection that speaks to our unique situation of “sheltering in place”? Perhaps it is when, on that first Easter, the disciples were isolated from others, cowering in grief and fear behind locked doors. The risen Lord came to them through those doors, with his Easter greeting of “Peace!”
May the light of Christ, which pierces the darkness, shine brightly in our homes and in our hearts, dispelling the fear of sickness and death. It is the light of Christ, risen from the dead, that makes home the holy place.