God our Father, we come to you in our need to ask your protection against the COVID-19 that has disturbed and even claimed lives. Give us the grace in this trying time to work for the good of all and to help those in need. We implore you to stop the spread of this virus and to save us from our fears. (Taken from Oratio Imperata).
During our seminary formation, we were allowed to receive phone calls from home only once a week. This practice continued for about eight years until we became theology students. Though I murmured in the beginning about this practice as curtailing my relationship with my family, I gradually adapted to the practice … in reality there was no other option. But later, I understood that the formators introduced this practice in order to make us slowly detach ourselves from our family, in order to become attached to the larger family of Christ. I continued that practice of talking to my parents once in a week even after ordination. But today I make sure that I give sufficient time to my parents so that they can converse with me as they desire. I talked to my mom soon after the Indian Government declared the total lockdown of the nation which included cancellation of all religious activities, even the public celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Even though our conversation progressed it the usual manner, I noticed a certain hesitation in my mother’s voice. So, I asked her what was wrong? She then told me that she was really upset over the cancellation of public mass in the parish church. I attempted to comfort and ease her by speaking about the possibility of participating in the Holy Eucharist online or on television, as instructed by the Church. But she told me that nothing can substitute the beauty of participating in the Holy Eucharist in a Church. She said, she was upset because the Holy Eucharist had become part and parcel of her life, and she would miss being able to participate in that celebration.
It was then that I began to reflect upon the seriousness of the issue. I began to realize that there are thousands of people who feel the same as my mother. So, I decided to find a way to ease these deep feelings caused by the cancellation of the public celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The only way to ease these feelings is for us to become the Holy Eucharist … So, how do we become the Holy Eucharist? With this question in mind I began to re-read the biblical narration of Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist during the last supper. While re-reading the accounts of the last supper, I found three forms of Eucharist which will help us to become the Eucharist while in quarantine.
- Eucharist of Communion: Jesus and his Apostles gathered in the upper room to share a meal. All the Apostles were present for the supper as it was arranged at the request of Jesus. It was indeed a gathering of love and communion. They knew that something important was going to happen. We are all in quarantine today due to the deadly virus. In this time of quarantine, we are compelled to be with our families/community. In fact, this time of quarantine should become a time of communion in love. At this time, wherever we need to spend creative time with our families/community, so also it is there that we are able to share and become the Eucharist of Communion.
- Eucharist of Service: Once the disciples were seated at the table, Jesus stood up and began to wash their feet. He said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” A perfect act of service. In this time of quarantine, we are reminded to be people of service. We can engage in service by entering into deeper solidarity with the people who are suffering, by praying for the sick and the infirm and by preforming acts of charity in a way that does not violate the Anti-COVID-19 instructions, etc. By becoming people of service, we are actually becoming the Eucharist of Service.
- Eucharist of Sharing: after the prayer, Jesus broke the bread and gave it to his Apostles saying, “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my body / blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” It was an act of sharing, sharing His own life for the sake of humankind. While in quarantine we are reminded of the urgency to share. First, we need to share our prayers; second, we need to share our time and resources with those in need … there are many people living on the streets who have no food, who have nothing. We need to be creative in finding new ways to share since it is only in that way that we can participate in the Eucharist of Sharing.
All of these, that is, the Eucharist of Communion, the Eucharist of Service and the Eucharist of Sharing are to be done with love. In that way people will come to know that the Holy Eucharist can not only be celebrated ritually in the churches but can also be celebrated in love through the lives of every person. I take joy in sharing with the whole Vincentian Family the fact that, our Adamson Community in Manila is moving forward in the practice of all these forms of Eucharist: Communion, Service and Sharing. We keep feeding around 200 Street dwellers every day and hope “to infect” others with Vincentian Charity. As Vincentians let us remind the world that masks cover only faces, those masks should never cover the hearts of people. Let us, then, become the Eucharist and continue to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with our lives. May God heal the whole world with his love, care and compassion.
Fr. Libin P Varghese, CM