Lent and Eucharistic absence in the age of coronavirus

It is often not recognized enough that the period of time that follows the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday until the first spark that ignites the wick of the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil is a moment of “Real Absence” of the presence of Jesus Christ. He has died, he now lies in a tomb, and for everyone who associated with or knew him, that was the end of all that once seemed so promising. While we as believers know that in truth this was not the end, we would be mistaken to gloss over the death of Jesus Christ as a type of sleep. Each year as the faithful pass through this point in our celebration of the Triduum we are called and challenged to reflect on the absence of Christ from our lives, which at times can feel tragically, painfully real.

In this extraordinary moment in our human history, where the fears and unknowns of the COVID-19 crisis surround us, this period of the Real Absence of Christ that would be experienced in the Triduum has been drawn closer to us in this Lenten Season. We experience it starkly and profoundly in our inability to gather together, to participate in, and to remember in the celebration of the Mass all that Christ taught us by loving God and by loving one another. The absence of participation in the sacred Eucharistic liturgy is such a great loss, prohibiting this necessary experience of faith that enriches and deepens our relationship with God and with one another.

Yet, we are a people of faith, who know “how the story ends.” We know that the absence of Christ while in the tomb is only temporary and that it leads to the glory and wonder of the Resurrection, which far surpasses the pain and indignity of the Cross. The absence manifests for us in the truth of our Savior who “makes all things new.” Again and again this truth is reaffirmed for us that Our Lord is never absent, but rather closer to us than we are to ourselves.

The Lenten Season is meant to be a time of reflection and renewal. In this particular time of difficulty and pain, when we cannot participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we are encouraged to explore the many other ways in which and through which Christ comes to us. Now would be an especially appropriate time to explore Christ through his Word, which nourishes our Elect during this time of final preparation for Baptism. Consider also more deeply our relationships with each other.  Our care and love for one another, especially if we feel even more separated from loved ones during this time, has the potential to reveal Christ to us in new ways.

This is indeed a difficult time for us all, but it is surely not a period where Christ is absent. May the Presence of Christ always, everywhere, and in so many ways help us to understand and embrace more fully how in breaking the bonds of sin and death, Christ has truly transformed our human history now and forever.

Romans 8:22-27:

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

For...we hope for what we do not see, [and] we wait with endurance

In the same way, the Spirit, too, comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.

And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.