I’m wonderfully distracted today, looking out the window, marveling at the sheer lifeforce of all the wildflowers on display. I see California poppies and yellow pansies everywhere. Spring is here and I want to go outside! But more than that, honestly, I want to go inside, to someplace other than my own house and be together with friends I haven’t seen in over a year. I want to meet with all of you face to face, in some place other than on a screen. I’m like a child in the car, constantly asking from the back seat, “are we there yet?” while poor Dr. Fauci keeps looking over his shoulder saying in his beautiful New York accent, “weah not theah yet.”
Spiritually speaking, my deepest longing is for us to share the eucharist together. Included in this newsletter is a pastoral letter from Bishop Marc Andrus addressing issues of safe church reopening and eucharistic practices in the Diocese of California. The Bishop’s Committee will be discussing his directives and advice and will develop a plan for safe re-opening in the future. In short, we’re getting close, but we’re not there yet.
This means another Easter Triduum on Zoom; however, this year for Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday we will be celebrating the eucharist virtually using an approved rite for Spiritual Communion.
What is Spiritual Communion? St. Thomas Aquinas described it as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him” at a time or in circumstances when we cannot physically receive him. The Episcopal Church has a long-standing practice of providing a means for people to receive the eucharist spiritually when it cannot be received physically.
Consider this rubric (liturgical instruction) from the Book of Common Prayer:
If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but, by reason of extreme sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat and drink the Bread and Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth.Book of Common Prayer, p.457
The pandemic has made it impossible for any of us to receive the eucharist physically, but when we celebrate next week, we can have this assurance: that “all the benefits of communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth.”
For Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday, when we gather virtually, I will be celebrating mass from a home altar. We’ll pray the Great Thanksgiving prayer together, spend a few moments in eucharistic adoration, then offer a prayer for Spiritual Communion. As you anticipate this, consider the following prayer, which we will be using in our liturgy. I first prayed it at the altar of Grace Cathedral at my ordination mass last year. It was written by St. Alphonsus Liguori in the 18th Century:
“My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you above all things and I desire to receive you in my soul.
Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come spiritually into my heart.
Remain with me and never permit me to be separated from you. Amen”
I look forward to praying this together.
The Rev. Dr. Scot Sherman
Image Credit: Photo by Monsignor Timothy P. Stein, “BREAD OF LIFE,” mosaic at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona, PA.