* Sunday, The Lord’s Day, and Participating in the Eucharist
While I was on vacation I thought that it would be good to experience a Sunday morning more in line with how many of you have experienced it during this pandemic—participating in the Eucharist via a livestream experience. So, I got up, did some stretches and exercises, ate breakfast, cleaned up and then prepared for the 10 a.m. livestream Mass. I had the advantage of being by myself in a quiet cottage, looking out over Lake Huron on a beautiful day, so please do not take these remarks as prescriptive of what others should do; only some reflections on my own experience shared with you.
My initial thoughts that Sunday. Do I stream it on my phone, computer or TV screen? I chose the computer and set it up so that I could be hands free and could look out at the water. That was fine for me, but I realized that if I was with others, the larger the screen, the better, to be more connected to that particular celebration. Another thought: do I stay in my comfortable sweatpants or change into clothes that I might wear to church? I choose to get into more normal clothes, again so that I would have a sense of being more connected to those at church. Third thought: do I sip my cup of hot tea while I livestream or not? I decided not to, again, because I would not be doing that at church. If I were to do this every Sunday, I am pretty sure I would get a bit more casual in all of this. After all, no one is required to participate in this way, and I do appreciate how difficult it must be to get the whole family settled on Sunday morning at home. On the other hand, I think anything that can set that Sunday livestream time apart from the usual consumption of TV or video entertainment is a good choice, be it the clothes we are wearing, the decision to not wander around during it, or being ready to get into the car to go and receive Communion.
What about participating in the Mass itself? I do have the advantage of knowing most of the hymns and their verses by heart. It allowed me to sing the hymns and not just listen to them. That made a difference to me. I stopped singing one hymn just to see what that was like and I immediately became much more passive and less connected to the experience. So, I sang out and verbally responded as robustly as possible. I am not sure what my neighbors were thinking, if they looked over or heard me throughout the Mass! But I tried to stay as actively engaged as possible. Again, if I were to do this every Sunday, it would take a lot of intentional effort to maintain a prayerful and participative focus throughout. I know I would be tempted to be more passive until the homily, listen more intently to the homily, then become more passive again.
Not receiving Communion at a Mass for the first time in my life as a priest was an odd and unsettling experience. I know that the Eucharist is not focused on receiving Communion for my own sake. Rather, it is about the community coming together at the invitation of the Lord, hearing and connecting God’s Word to our daily lives, allowing the “stuff” of our lives to be connected to the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and receiving the gift of his risen life so that we might become that gift of life to others. Saying a prayer at Communion time—a Spiritual Communion—was better than nothing, but there still was a real sense of loss.
Here, then, are some suggestions.
1. If possible and safe, there is no substitute for actually being at Eucharist. If weekends are too uncertain or the Sunday gathering too large, then maybe one of the weekday Masses, or the Monday night Mass, or the first Saturday Mass would be a good alternative. Please, never compromise your health; there are many who are elderly who probably should skip the weekend Masses and come to the church when it is less full. I would encourage all of us, especially families, to attend Mass on Sunday and experience the Eucharist in person, with the community.
2. Participating in a livestreamed Mass is worthwhile. It helps maintain a Sunday rhythm that makes Sundays the Lord’s Day. It forces us to get out of our individual routines, to be intentional about being part of a community of faith. I would encourage as close to a regular Mass experience as possible—letting the Mass time be just for that, scheduling other activities around the Mass and not vice-versa, not mixing Mass participation with food and other conversation, singing and responding as best as we are able to every part of the Mass, and coming to the parking lot for Communion if you can.
3. As important as the homily can be to a Mass in person, it is even more important to the livestream participants. Because there will be no Communion, the Bread that feeds those at home is the Bread of the Word, broken open and shared in a way that connects it to our everyday lives. In other words, the experience brought home to me very strongly never to take the homily for granted or put less than full effort into homilies. Livestreaming allows one to connect to the homily here or other homilies online elsewhere. In many ways, livestreaming allows for a greater appreciation of God’s Word at work through Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word.
4. Finally, Archbishop Vigneron’s reflections on Sunday as the Lord’s Day and his distinction between dispensing us from the Sunday Mass obligation (which is in his power to do and he has done so now at least until Ash Wednesday), but keeping Sunday as the Lord’s Day (which he reminds us is a divine mandate and not something anyone can dispense from) are worth reading. A link is provided on the stregis.org website to his most recent letter under “News Briefs/Other Links.” I will also add a link to Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Dies Domini (“The Day of the Lord”) as well. Though long, it is a wonderful meditation on the centrality Sunday and the Eucharist on Sunday is to our Christian identity.