LITURGY MATTERS: Are we truly living as the Body of Christ?

One of the themes emerging in the plethora of theological writing on our experience of COVID 19 focuses on the question of whether we, the People of God, are seizing this moment as an opportunity to live more fully as the Body of Christ, or whether a reliance on streamed masses is reinforcing a dependence on the clergy to be all things to all people. The way we celebrate liturgy matters because it is meant to shape us for the former, not the latter.  Fiona Duque, a member of the Diocesan Liturgy Council and the Ministry Co-ordinator at St Bede’s Catholic College Chisholm, has been reflecting on this question in the context of her life and ministry.  I invite you to ponder with her and to reflect on your own experience through the lens of this question.  Over to you Fiona.

The past few months have seen significant change in our societies, communities, parishes and schools. There has been anxiety, suffering, disillusionment, sadness, confusion, and pondering. Some of the significant changes are the closure of our churches to parishioners, the inability of schools to hold liturgies and Masses, and a postponement of sacramental programs.

This has certainly caused many of us to think about how we can go without all these religious puzzle pieces of our normal faith lives. We have been questioning, and rightly so, how it is still possible to go to the supermarket, but not to Mass. Don’t we need spiritual nourishment as well? Don’t we need to receive the Body of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist?

Personally, as someone who has Coeliac Disease, I didn’t share in the Eucharist for six years. This was mainly because of misinformation. It was a real desert time for me. It caused me to reflect and meditate more deeply on the Word of God. When, many years later my parish priest informed me that I could receive communion from the cup, I recall that the first Mass where I went up to communion to receive the Blood of Christ was very special. I felt a different connection to the community of faith. Then some years later someone gave me one of their Coeliac hosts. It was an incredibly moving and emotional moment. I had spent ten years without sharing in the Body of Christ. Those who were there would probably not forget the effect it had on me. So, I get it. Not being able to share in the Eucharist can be difficult, but it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t still experience the Body of Christ, fill up on God’s Word and learn what the Spirit is trying to teach you at this moment in time.

In St Paul’s letters we see four different ‘senses’ of the Body of Christ: there is the historical Jesus, who physically walked the earth at a particular time; there is the crucified Body of Christ, whose death freed us and raised us to new life; there is the Eucharistic Body of Christ through which we join ourselves to Christ and on which we are fed so we can live in his memory: “Do this in memory of me” and then there is the fourth, the Church as the Body of Christ.

This fourth sense is the one that we need to remember and practice more fully at this moment. We need to remember that being sacramental isn’t just about the Sacraments. As Bultmann wrote in the 20th century, to be sacramental, you need to “embark on a new way of life that is fully authentic”. By worrying about not receiving one Body of Christ we can forget that to be truly authentic in our faith means that we need to also be the Body of Christ and be the presence of Jesus to others. St Paul warns of complacency in this regard in his first letter to the Corinthians.

I am always reminded of the prayer from St Theresa of Avila when I think about how we are to live as the Body of Christ. I have included it below. By the sacrament of Baptism we are plunged into the life of Christ and so called to live as members of his body. This is not just the work of our clergy.

So how is it possible to maintain our life as members of the Body of Christ when we are in a state of social distancing?

We are truly blessed as Catholics when we look to our tradition. It has a wealth of beautiful ways that we can be the Body of Christ, in particular through a deep, strong, authentic prayer life. When the government continued to change the allowable sizes of gatherings, in my role as a Ministry Coordinator at a high school, I had to continue to rethink how we could come together as a Catholic community. Masses, liturgies, and assemblies were not possible. I am always looking for ways to strengthen the prayer life of the school and I saw this as an opportunity. Each school day, students now receive a College Prayer. There have been many varieties of prayers provided, from simple reflective prayers, to active prayers, intercessory prayers, and themed prayers. During Holy Week students were provided with a family prayer service that the student had to lead in their own homes. We have also developed an online community prayer request form to enable the community to submit prayer intentions. Students have been encouraged to think about and pray for others, assist their families, reflect on what they are seeing in the world, and what they can do about it. What a valuable time this has been.

There are other ways that we can explore prayer in this desert time. Some options include praying with the daily Gospel reading using the ancient method of Lectio Divina, reading the scriptures listening for God’s word to us, participating in an Examen, praying the Rosary, listening to some hymns, creating a prayer space in your home, writing a prayer journal to God, calling a friend and praying with them, forgiving those who might not be ‘getting it right’ at the moment (you don’t need the Sacrament of Penance for this), cooking an extra special meal for your family, being kind or being still.

Let us all try to be more sacramental and Christ-like at this time. We must let our homes be re-established as the church, because wherever we are, so too is our church.

Christ Has No Body (St Teresa of Avila,1515–1582)

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Suggested reading:

As I indicated initially there is an expanding volume of reading on this question and far more relating to our liturgical response to the COVID 19 lockdown.

You might find this one from the Pray Tell: Worship, Wit and Wisdom blog worthy of reflection.

Take care, Louise

Accompanying Image: Fr Sanchez Fernandez J 2020 (Murcia, Spain - translated by the Seminarians’ Musings team.  All rights reserved.

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Fiona Duque Image
Fiona Duque

Fiona is the Pastoral Ministries Officer - Worship and Prayer.

Formerly, she was the Ministry Coordinator and Religious Studies Coordinator at St Bede's Catholic College, Chisholm.