The idea of a domestic church
“What would be the repercussions consequences of being deprived of the Eucharist in the Mystical Body?” On Holy Thursday, when the Church gives thanks for the priesthood and for the Eucharist, Br Jean-Ariel Bauza Salinas, op answered Zenit’s questions about the current situation created by the pandemic and by the need to adopt rigorous health regulations in order to block contagion and defeat the virus. Br Jean-Ariel Bauza Salinas, a Dominican friar, who has a degree in theology, and teaches sacramental theology, was for 10 years chaplain of the Bergonié Institute, Centre for the fight against cancer (CLCC) in the region of New Aquitania; he was also diocesan chaplain of artists in Bordeaux. Since 2016 he has been Secretary General of the Order of Preachers in Rome.
Source: Zenit Francais
Zenit – Online solutions have been very creative in continuing to spread the Word of God. But as the pandemic continues, isn’t it a matter of pastoral urgency to reflect on solutions that maintain total respect for the guidelines of health safety while allowing non-virtual access to the Eucharist?
The Word of God is addressed to our hearing, it reaches our ears, so it can be broadcasted by the media. Still, we mustn’t neglect what the “real” presence of one person means for another– but the Body of Christ touches our bodies from within. It is a true body-to-body experience that is offered to us when we receive communion. The living Christ embraces us when we receive him and that can’t be experienced virtually.
There is a pastoral urgency, as your question clearly suggests. But what worries me – and my concern is shared by brethren and theologians I have spoken to this week – is the lack, at times, of a substratum, a “humus” that’s not so much moral as theological, which makes it possible for us to reflect on the basis of our relationship with Christ so that we can give a full, complete and nourishing response on this theological basis and from this theological standpoint. If the pastoral need leads only to a multiplication of the presence of the clergy on the social media, something is lost. The multiplication of the Bread of Life must go hand in hand with this multiplication of church visibility and must nourish it.
As regards virtual reality, it is of course valuable, when someone is ill or isolated or in lockdown, to be able to follow the celebration of the Eucharist on the internet or on television. You may not be able to take part, but you can be directly linked with the celebrants, and many pastors have done all they can to reach those who are entrusted to their care. But this can’t be the habitual state of affairs for Christians, and at Easter, when we are facing the central mystery of our faith, I realise that many worshippers feel a lack, an emptiness. That’s a sign that they are healthy! It’s obviously not a “Eucharistic fast” to be indulged in – Fr François-Marie Léthel spoke of this in one of his articles – but rather a case of being deprived of what gives us life. How can we face up to this? Virtual reality is not a miraculous solution, and the approach to virtual reality is not the same everywhere. The Orthodox theologian Jean Zizioulas recently said that he disagreed with the broadcast of the divine liturgy on television.
The impression is that some priests are resigned to this situation and that many believers have given up receiving Communion. Is it all right to resign ourselves saying that a better time will eventually come when we will be able to receive Communion?
There is a dimension of Christian virtue that is put into practice when we accept things as they are. Reality speaks the truth! It’s obvious that the sanitary measures recommended and indeed imposed by our governments must be scrupulously observed. The Christian is not above the law. True law is always at the service of the common good. This is true of the efforts we are asked to make today. Priestly ordination doesn’t allow the priest to avoid physical and biological pressures. And a parish priest whose pastoral ministry means that he meets large numbers of different people, if he falls ill, may contaminate all those he wanted to serve!
But we may also think of the comparison Pope Francis made of the Church to a “field hospital”. The ministers of the Lord, who are also, by definition, “nurses or doctors” of souls, may be inspired in exercising their pastoral role by the necessary health measures taken by the medical profession.
There are two sides to the problem raised by the impossibility for the Christian people to gather in church for the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice: presence at Mass, and Communion. It is undoubtedly impossible in the current situation to celebrate Mass in the presence of the assembly. This is painful and regrettable, but the gathering together of all those who make up the congregation amounts to a significant risk factor, according to the specialists. But there’s another side to the question: Eucharistic Communion, contact with the living, live-giving Body of Christ. Can we not imagine, in full respect of the tradition of the Church, a way for the Eucharistic Body of Christ to be taken to believers so that they can receive Communion? Isn’t that done normally for the sick? What is more, the presence of the tabernacle and of the reserved hosts is historically justified by the need to take Communion to the sick. I was for ten years chaplain of a centre in Bordeaux for the fight against cancer, the Bergonié Institute. Hundreds of times I took the Body of Christ to people in hospital.
But how can that actually be done? Who could handle it and how?
During the Synod for Amazonia, one of the proposals was the ordination of viri probati. The Synod Fathers were concerned, according to one bishop, to find a way of “making the Eucharist present in isolated communities”. The Holy Father didn’t adopt this solution in his Apostolic Exhortation. But what was felt three months ago regarding the need for the Eucharist in these isolated communities in Amazonia is relevant now. Today the world is experiencing a worldwide situation of isolation, suffered by our families, by our religious communities, by our unmarried or isolated friends shut up in their homes.
We have probably not yet developed sufficiently all the wealth offered by the idea of the domestic Church. Perhaps we ought to resume some of the Eucharistic practices experienced in the Church of old, in times of danger or war, to uphold the faith of believers. For instance, why not entrust the reserved hosts to those heads of households who go to Mass every Sunday and are faithful to the Sacrament of Penance, so that they can give Communion to their families on Easter Day, after receiving the Lord under their roof as worthily as possible? This applies of course to those believers who are spending this period of lockdown together, or to isolated believers. Of course this would entail a judgment, a “discernment” on the part of the pastors, and there are also practical problems regarding how it could be done. For the priest, this would require the greatest possible hygienic precautions in preparing the pyx and the hosts, never touching them with his bare hands. There should also be available a handbook (text or video) with the liturgical texts on the administration of the Eucharist. As for the faithful, there would have to be preparation for those who would come to receive the Body of Christ to be taken to their homes. In France, Spain and Italy, in many castles, even today there is a private chapel! Without actually building a chapel, those who were to receive the Eucharist in their homes could prepare a suitable, lovely, prayerful space. Just as we symbolically welcome the humanity of Christ in our cribs, we could really welcome him into our homes.
This would bring us closer to the idea of the “outward-looking Church”, “close to the people and less clerical”. Why is it only the clergy who currently can really have access to the Body of Christ, while the laity are the recipients of the virtual initiatives offered by the clergy? Christ cannot remain in the sacristy, his Body in the tabernacle, while the faithful cannot have access to him. It is exactly the same as when some museum-churches are visited more by tourists than by people who come to pray. Who should go forth to preach on the roads of Galilee? The subject of the action in the phrase “the outward-looking Church” is Christ, and those Christians who are united to him. As Christians we are Christophori, bearers of Christ through our baptism, and in the case of ordained ministers, sent forth to offer the gift of his merciful love. This is why priests are marked with the seal of Christ, configured to him. The great challenge is to be open to Christ, to allow Christ to act through us – Christ who is already ahead of us in the power of the Spirit.
To conclude, I feel that we cannot neglect something of great importance in this time of crisis. We must not miss this opportunity for inner renewal, in the heart of the Church, in the bond and union of its members. Here there is something vital, essential, that touches the very roots of ecclesial ontology. The Church, the Mystical Body, lives on the True Body – on that alone, by the action of the Spirit. No virtual undertaking, no pious practice – not even indulgences – can take the place of this spiritual nourishment, the Panis vivus, of which hundreds of thousands of laypersons will be deprived in these Easter celebrations. What would be the repercussions of this deprivation of the Eucharist in the Mystical Body? Deterioration, death. Without the life-giving Body, the Church dies. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”, says the Lord (John 14:6). Take and eat.