Many of the readings in the early weeks of Lent have reminded us of God’s call to break the rod of oppression, to feed the hungry and care for the homeless poor, to learn to do good and to love our neighbour. I know people who live their lives faithful to this but they may never explicitly call themselves Christian. I look at the impact Pope Francis has on people of all faiths and none and it reminds me of the words of Psalm 42 “Deep is calling to deep”. It is as if the Spirit alive in Pope Francis calls out to the Spirit alive in others, at the heart of their humanity, whatever their faith, spoken or unspoken.
So many of these people see Pope Francis wash the feet of prisoners, visit a survivor of the holocaust, reach out to a child who has a disability and they know they are tapping into something vital, something which matters. They ‘get’ the idea of service, of care, of living out the ideals that each person is worthy of respect and love. I think of the way so many and particularly young people respond to the urgent call to look after the environment. They have an intuitive sense of the sacredness of the earth, of how we need to care for our planet and protect it from destructive greed and consumerism. Whether or not these young people talk explicitly about faith – and they probably don’t – they could teach us a lot about the sacredness of creation.
But what about Eucharist? Do people ‘get’ Eucharist in the same way? What do people think about Eucharist? We have all heard and perhaps contributed to the conversations that run along the lines of, “Ah it’s a handy Mass, all done and dusted in twenty minutes”. Have we turned the Mass into a commodity, something to have and to do as efficiently as possible? In many ways the experience of the past year, of relying on a virtual Mass online is the ultimate disconnection of Eucharist from what happened in the Upper Room. And maybe there is a very valuable challenge to us there to think again about how we experience and understand Eucharist – and how we communicate that to anyone else.
Eucharist is of great importance in my life but I’ve been really challenged by my experience over the past year. I know that priests around the country have provided an important resource to people with online Mass but more and more I feel that Eucharist without a community is not really Eucharist. We are slipping back into that era when laity were utterly passive and the Eucharist began and ended with the priest. When we could go to Mass in small numbers I found it challenging because although I wanted to be there, the whole element of ‘a faith community’ had been stripped out of it with social distancing and masks. We have been disconnected.
So is this how some people feel when they come to the parish simply because their child is preparing for First Holy Communion? If they feel disconnected, not part of the faith community can Eucharist really make any sense to them? Perhaps before running sacramental preparation programmes we need to take a step back and build community. It might sound mad but I dream of digging up the parish lawn and planting vegetables together, watching them grow, gathering families together for picnics. If we listen to each other, talk about what has kept us going over the past year, about what we have missed, what we have learned, what we will treasure, we could create real “washing of feet” moments where people feel nurtured, understood and accepted – part of the community. And then when we gather to celebrate the Mass together we will both receive the Body of Christ and more fully be the Body of Christ. I think that the community, which remembers the Upper Room, could discover anew the meaning and power of Eucharist.