As we approach the changing seasons of the year and head into the upcoming liturgical commemorations of All Saints & All Souls Day, how do we approach viral contagions in light of our celebration of the Divine Liturgy?
The Covid pandemic and fear from such a viral contagion separated us from the traditions of the Divine Liturgy of the Mass. Such anxiety while filled with good intentions regarding the safety and general welfare of our physical body didn’t address the well-being of our souls. The spiritual desire to be physically connected with our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus was a yearning many felt when the Act of Spiritual Communion prayer by St. Alphonsus Liguori was not enough during a period of lockdown. The lockdown and isolation was difficult for many individuals and families where the home became the domestic church. I recall seeing the joyful expressions on many faces of my fellow churchgoers when they were able to return to worship. Unfortunately, we are not a people of isolation and require those physical grace filled encounters we receive in the sacramental life to help nourish our souls. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal describes the sign of peace during the mass in this manner…
“The Rite of Peace follows, by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament” (82, https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20030317_ordinamento-messale_en.html#C._The_Liturgy_of_the_Eucharist).
It seems that some are fearful to shake the hand of our neighbor next to us in the pew without putting sanitizer on our hands. I myself recalled that deep anxiety and fear of catching something from our neighbor by making a habit of using hand sanitizer before receiving holy communion. My interior conscience and lack of giving an outstretched hand at the sign of peace conflicted with my desire to see my neighbor for who they were as a human being created in His image. I am reminded of Jesus and other saintly figures that saw the inner God given soul of the human condition versus the label of the earthly sickness or disease someone had. Such an example is seen within the isolated leper colonies who were seen as outcasts for the longest time throughout history.
Mt. 8: 1-3 When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And then a leper approached, did him homage, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I will do it. Be made clean.” His leprosy was cleansed immediately.
The other synoptic gospels describe this cleansing of a leper experience in Mark’s gospel chapter 1 and Luke’s gospel chapter 5. How can we overcome such fear in our life and seek to go beyond the human condition of illness, disease and turmoil to focus on the spiritual welfare and inner peace of our spiritual communities and homes of worship?
First off, we should be thankful for God’s gift of developing in us our immune system and body’s natural ability to heal itself. Of course, those among us that have weakened immune systems should take extra precautions, but not to the extent that they become a habit where we fail to acknowledge the dignity of the human being instead of a microbial annoyance.
Psalm 91:5-6 reminds us not to fear disease.
“You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day. Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon.”
When attending the holy sacrifice of the mass and seeing liturgical ministers utilize hand sanitizers, I can’t help but think of the old adage, “what would Jesus do?” Would Jesus have used hand sanitizer in his words to the apostles at the last supper?
Mt. 26:26-28 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.
Life happens & we must ask for God’s grace & benevolence to comfort us when we are sick or have an illness. The divine healer, Jesus the Christ, is always prepared to show us His mercy when we ask for healing strength. We are reminded of St. Francis and his vanity in his younger days in wanting nothing to do with those with a skin disease until God’s grace changed his view with his encounter with someone with leprosy (https://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20001103_tom-da-celano_en.html). Perhaps, saintly figures like Saint Damien of Molokai, the Belgian priest and missionary who tended to the leper colony, thereby contracting and succumbing to the disease himself (https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/saints/damien-of-molokai-539) might place doubt and fear for us earthly vessels destined for a higher purpose? When we cast aside our earthly limitations & fragility to focus on God’s love during the Divine Liturgy will we find ourselves in a better place.
Let us go forth today and not be fearful of pestilence or plague. As the hymn from The Summons by John Bell reminds us, will we kiss the leper clean? (https://stambrose.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/The-Summons.pdf).
May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. Amen