The Challenges of Lockdown

Brother Antony Jukes OFM, based in Killarney Friary, Ireland, reflects on the challenges and opportunities that the Pandemic Crisis has presented us with:

With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, the Catholic Church recently took the decision that all Masses would be celebrated behind closed doors for the foreseeable future. But despite the good reasons behind the decision, it is understandable that many of the faithful were extremely upset and frustrated at no longer being able to attend Mass, and no longer being able to receive Holy Communion. I know that some felt as though the Church was depriving the people of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, at a time when the people need the grace of the Sacraments more than ever before.

It is also understandable that many priests, myself included, felt a great sadness at being separated from the faithful, and a great sadness at not being able to give Holy Communion to the people whilst they themselves continued to receive the Eucharist behind closed doors [I know of religious brothers and sisters and nuns who feel the same way]. It felt as though the Eucharist was being treated as the exclusive privilege of the clergy only, even though this is not the intention of the clergy or the bishops. The intention is to protect the people from the virus by helping to prevent the gatherings of large numbers of people in an enclosed space.

But in this time of physical separation, physical separation from one another and also physical separation from the Eucharist, in some ways it is an opportunity for us to open our hearts up to one another. For in continuing to offer the Mass for the faithful, albeit behind closed doors, the priest may, in a unique way, open his heart up to receiving the Eucharist for and on behalf of all the faithful. I can remember when my dad was in hospital after having suffered a serious stroke, and I went to Mass at my home parish in Chingford with my mum and other family members, and as I went up to receive holy communion, the words suddenly entered my mind, “Receive holy communion on behalf of your dad”. I did not understand what it meant or where those words came from, it was like a thought that entered me from outside, and even though I was studying theology at the time I wasn’t even sure whether it was theologically correct what I was being asked to do. But, as I received holy communion, with tears in my eyes I opened my heart up to receive for and on behalf of my dad who died just a few days later.

It is only now, in this current moment of crisis, that that experience finally makes sense to me. Now is the time for all priests to open their hearts up to receive our Lord in the Eucharist for and on behalf of all the faithful who are physically deprived of the Eucharist at this time. For when we receive our Lord in the Eucharist, we are truly receiving the Body of Christ, not just Jesus Christ Himself, but also the whole Church which is the mystical Body of Christ. In other words, when we receive the Body of Christ we are also, in a spiritual sense, receiving one another, and, in this moment of crisis, I believe that priests are called to receive the Body of Christ for and on behalf of one another, for and on behalf of the faithful.

In some ways, priests are called to follow the example of Our Blessed Lady, Mary our mother, Mary the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. For when Mary said yes to God (Luke 1:38), when Mary received the Body of Christ inside her, conceiving the child Jesus in her womb, did she not receive Christ for and on behalf of us all, for and on behalf of the whole Church and indeed the whole world.

And, if we as priests are holding you in our hearts when we receive the Eucharist in our hearts, then in some ways there is a spiritual encounter between you and Christ within my heart and within the hearts of all priests and religious brothers and sisters and nuns who are still able to physically receive Holy Communion at this time [or who are at least still able to pray before the Blessed Sacrament]. And in return, all we ask is that you hold us in your hearts, because if I am in your hearts and if you are in my heart then even though we are physically separated from one another, in a spiritual sense we are closer together than ever before. If you are in my heart and if I am in your hearts then we are truly one, just as Jesus and the Father are one, just as Jesus prayed that the Church may be one (John 17:21).