When I was a young priest and only weighed a fraction of what I do now, I went to visit my missionary friend, Sr. Evie Vasquez ICM, in Neuvo Santa Rosa, Guatemala. I accompanied her as she went out to visit several small aldeas, or villages, that were part of the larger, central parish. There were no roads such as we know them, so we went on horseback (as I stated, I was younger and lighter!). One place we went to visit was a village named “La Montaňa” which appropriately was on top of a volcanic mountain. To get there we rode numerous switchbacks back and forth up the mountainside. Because of this, the people in the village could see us from a long way off. When we finally got to the top and rode down the main street the people welcomed us joyously with ringing the school bell (they had no church) and shooting off fireworks. I turned to Sister and said, “Boy, they really like you!” But she replied: “This is not for me, but for you! They have not had Mass here for over six months.”
I recall this now as we are being instructed to stay home from Mass during this caronavirus crisis. In some sense, we are now experiencing what a very large part of the Catholic Church has been experiencing for centuries: fasting from the Eucharist. For so long we have had plentiful opportunities to attend and participate in Mass. On Sundays, within less than a mile of each other, there have regularly been a dozen or so Masses at St Austin’s, the University Catholic Center, and St. Mary’s Cathedral. We’ve had the choice of several styles of music and preaching as well as times that would fit conveniently into our schedules. But that was not the worldwide norm, and perhaps we had come to take it for granted, and were even somewhat spoiled by it.
While this disruption of the usual Mass schedule is inconvenient and even disturbing, perhaps it can also help us to be in greater solidarity with the many, many Catholic communities around the globe who cannot take for granted the availability of Mass at a convenient time. Or even at all! Perhaps in missing the Eucharist we will begin to rethink its value and place in our life, coming to greater appreciation for the great gift that the Mass is. Perhaps in missing the witness and fellowship of the Catholic Christian community, our particular parish, the people we see and greet when we come to church, our appreciation and respect for the great gift that the community of like-minded and like-hearted believers is, and the benefit of our participation in that community of Christians, will deepen our longing for active membership in the Body of Christ.
Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. We are now experiencing the absence of so many things: regular Mass attendance, school, work, travel, so many events and activities postponed and canceled, etc. May we use the absence of Mass to long for, and grow in appreciation of, the wonderful gift of the Eucharist.