As churches across the world began to reopen their buildings after lockdown restrictions were lifted the first time around, one priest from a different Province was taken to task by some neighbouring priests for extending the invitation to people outside his parish to attend Mass if their own buildings were still unable to be opened.
He thought that he was simply extending hospitality, and offering a ministry in times of Pandemic for people to be able to participate in the Eucharist. Those who criticized him preferred their parishioners to simply watch from a distance, waiting for the time when they would be able to open their own doors again.
One understands such insecurity and also the present need to somehow maintain and nurture a sense of community in a certain place but the simple invitation of that priest was important.
Learning from the response he got, we haven’t made a public invitation here at St Mary’s but it’s been a privilege to welcome some people from places where, otherwise, they would not have been able to receive the Eucharist.
Sadly, some people, even outside of Pandemic times, won’t celebrate the Eucharist (or any other act of worship) unless it’s within the familiarity of their own church building. And yet, whilst the Eucharist is always celebrated within a particular context, it has a global significance.
‘When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop,” said St John Paul II (in Ecclesia de Eucharista), “ I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it.
“I remember the parish church of Niegowic, the collegiate church of Saint Florian in Krakow, Wawel cathedral, Saint Peter’s Basilica and so many basilicas and churches in Rome and throughout the world. I have been able to celebrate…in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and sea coasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares.
“This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic!”
“This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic!”St John Paul II
Each local church gathering is never, can never, should never, think of itself merely as a local group of people, loosely gathered. The Eucharist is universal, ever present, constantly offered. As one priest leaves the altar somewhere, so elsewhere another approaches, each offering the Mass for the sake of the whole world, “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
This cosmic nature of the Eucharist brings not so much the world to our feet, but presents the world to God who had already embraced it, loves it and longs for it to know his love and to experience union with him.
St Augustine so identified the Eucharistic Body of Christ with the Ecclesial Body of the Church, that he believed that when the one is offered so is the other.
In the offering to God, the gifts of bread and wine at the altar, we present to God the fullness of who we are. And in a wonderful exchange, when we receive the gift of Christ’s body and blood, we receive the presence of Jesus in all his fullness as we gather at his altar, the world at his feet.