On Holy Communion
My dear friends in Christ,
As you know, we have been working hard behind the scenes to figure out the best way to return to celebrating Holy Eucharist as our principal act of weekly worship. Rapidly changing—and rapidly increasing—Covid numbers in our area and our state have made the task … difficult, at best. As I’ve observed in a number of my previous Newsletter columns lately, it has become apparent that, for various reasons, this virus isn’t going away anytime soon.
Because the virus is still with us, and because it is not likely to abate in the foreseeable future, we are left in a tricky spot: we cannot simply “wait it out” before we get back to Communion; we also cannot simply resume gathering together in the church building to celebrate Eucharist, either. What, then, can we do?
Well, the best we can do is experiment a bit within the parameters of our current situation.
Current diocesan restrictions limit us to having no more than four persons together in the church building for the celebration of Eucharist (including the priest). That doesn’t leave much room for physical participation on the part of the parish. Our current Zoom format actually allows greater interaction and participation in the service than we could have if we just switched over to Communion in the church that’s limited to four people.
Given those factors, here is what I’d like to try going forward: let’s do exactly what we’ve been doing for live-streaming, but let’s add actual Communion to the end of the service. In other words, we’ll still use Zoom to connect to social media for live-streaming the service. We’ll still have lectors and intercessors and psalmists join in the service from their homes, thus avoiding having to have groups of people physically gathered in the church space. But instead of concluding the service with Spiritual Communion, we’ll conclude with literal Communion.
Here’s the catch, though: in the Anglican tradition, and therefore in The Episcopal Church, priests are not to celebrate “solo” Mass. In other words, in order for me to celebrate the Eucharist, there must be at least one other person present with me to share in the Communion of Jesus. Now, the experts are telling us pretty clearly that the next six to twelve months are going to be with worst since the pandemic first broke upon us early this year. I am extraordinarily hesitant, therefore, to take the chance of putting anyone at risk in this climate.
So what I’d like to do, again as an experiment, is to offer this possibility to the church: my wife, Anne, and our children, Emily & Elena, already live together with me in the same space (often on top of each other!) and share the same air. Because of that, if I were simply to bring them to the church building with me on Sunday mornings, we would be able to celebrate the Eucharist because there would be people here to share in the celebration with me. We could then live-stream actual Holy Eucharist for our Sunday worship service.
I realize that doing things that way does not offer the larger parish the opportunity to receive Communion, and that’s what we’re sorely missing after all these months. But I’m seeing this proposal as a very temporary “solution” until the Covid numbers allow us to bump up to larger numbers in the church building. If we can get the pandemic numbers down enough, we’ll be able to move to a lesser level of restriction (perhaps 20 people in the building, instead of four). At that point, we would absolutely adapt our practice to make sure as many parishioners as possible could come participate.
So. A temporary solution. Not an ideal situation. But it has been weighing more and more heavily on my heart that, during a time of great strife and great plague, we ought to be saying more Masses, not fewer. As a priest, the centerpiece of my vocation is a call to celebrate God’s holy sacraments. And our entire Christian tradition is very clear that the celebration of the Eucharist brings immeasurable benefits not only to those who participate physically, but to all those on whose behalf we offer the sacrifice, and indeed to the whole world, the entirety of God’s creation. So if we can get back to celebrating Eucharist, even in a less-than-ideal way, sooner rather than later, I think it’s worth it. And we would be doing it especially with an eye towards expanding the scope of the service as soon as it’s at all safe to do so.
So that’s the plan at the moment, and a bit of the reasoning and thought process behind the current plan. Please let me know what you think, what questions you have, what you’d like to see in the future, etc. – I’d love to hear from you and have the chance to talk about our worship in these trying times in greater depth. Please drop me a line at email@example.com and let’s connect!
Yours in Christ,