The Real Presence & a real absence.

Yesterday I paid a pastoral call outside the Crown and Mitre to enquire after the landlord and staff. The pub has been repainted and looks very smart, and Roger the landlord was reassuringly still himself, with an opinion (the right one of course), on everything. However my throat had never felt so dry as it did standing beside a pub with no beer. It brought to mind an Australian song from the 50’s by Slim Dusty.

It's lonesome away from your kindred and all
By the campfire at night where the wild Dingos call
But there's nothin' so lonesome, morbid or drear
Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer.

The same could be said of our churches. Once Mass ceased, and prayers were no longer offered there, something vital and essential was missing. The spiritual atmosphere inside them, without prayer or people, is indeed lonesome and drear.

It feels especially poignant to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi during this time of restrictions. Through all my priestly ministry I have taught that attendance at Mass is essential to the life of the Christian; to be faithful to the commands of Christ; to ‘do this in remembrance of me’, but for the last three months we have been ordered by both the government and the Church not to do this. We have been obedient, for the sake of the greater good.   

We have still done this in remembrance of him. Every day I have celebrated the Eucharist, as has the curate, Fr Joshua. But it has not been complete, there has been something vital missing, that is you. While we remember the real presence of Christ in the sacrament we have been reminded of the real absence of the gathering.   

When Jesus instituted the eucharist, he created the means for himself to be united to the Christian in the most tangible and intimate way, to enter into us, to be part of us. He is ever part of us, through the Holy Spirit, but this sacrament makes that teaching real. When outwardly we receive the host, inwardly Jesus comes into us. Our churches were built for the prime purpose to enable the sacrament of the Mass to be celebrated, for the people to receive Christ. 

I spoke to someone yesterday who was desperately missing cappuccino, and she had found a place that was serving it, she was going to have her first cappuccino of lockdown. I am longing to sit in the Crown and Mitre with a pint in my hand listening to Roger put the world to rights. But more than anything, I am longing to celebrate the Mass in church with the people of God, to do what I was ordained to do, to share Christ with you. It is good that we can live-stream these Masses, for it keeps us connected, it reminds us that the work of the church has not ceased, that the prayer continues to be offered, that the Mass continues to be celebrated. It has been better than nothing, but it is only a substitute for celebrating together.

I hope that you are missing Mass too, that you yearn to receive Jesus in holy communion; that when the time comes when we can resume worship you will not be too fearful to come; or that you will have got out of the habit; or that you can’t be bothered; that Mass becomes just a memory of something we used to do in the past.  If you are experiencing the Mass for the first time through t’internet, by the way, come and be part of the real thing.

So much of what we hold dear, of what is familiar in life, will be changed, some things just for a while, some for always. So much of our identity is defined by what we do, and so much has been taken away from us. Soon it will be time to reclaim it.

The Blessed Sacrament is our point of contact with the author and redeemer of life, the means by which we unite ourselves with Christ, and take all that he is into ourselves and we are changed.

Christ’s church is now slowly emerging from a spiritual 'winter', a 'winter' of isolation, a 'winter' of tragedy and suffering. Yet this ‘winter’ has taken place against the surreal backdrop of the sunniest spring on record. Fr Andrew of the Society of the Divine Compassion wrote that

Every time the sun shines out from a winter sky we have the promise of the spring, and as often as the Blessed Sacrament is lifted up in the Mass, the sunshine of God’s love shines out from behind the clouds of life to assure us that the Sun of righteousness is there all the while.’

Christ has been with us throughout, and he is with us always, as he promised, even til the end of time.