Fr. Michael Niba

April 9th 2020

COvid-19 Holy Thursday: Without Real Presence and Priest

This morning an economist on a news broadcast talked about the BC era. He quickly clarified what his abbreviation BCE, stood for – Before Covid-19 Era. Maybe our world, turned upside down in the past couple of months and the uncertainty that hangs over us in the months that lie ahead may well justify how much Covid-19 has defined and will redefine who we are, our understanding of ourselves, of the world we live in, of our faith. One variable, one ingredient that I pray and hope never enters any permanent equation of the post-Covid Era is empty churches – like the one I celebrate this Mass in, this evening. There is nothing in the Before Christ Era, Before the Common Era nor in the time Before Covid-19 Era that would have made a priest, Jewish or Catholic, to imagine or suspect that on the Feast of the Passover he would offer sacrifice alone, without the presence of the primary beneficiaries of the sacrifices – you, our faithful. Covid-19 has already unmasked and debunked for me, and I suspect for Fathers Barry and Viginus the stiff upper lip attitude to how much the Christian makes the priest. If we fooled ourselves that you, our Christians needed us, I now know how much I need my Christians, how much I have missed looking out towards you; spreading my hands, our hands, our hearts towards you. 

We now know what difference your responses at Mass mean – The “And also with you” at the gospel, at the Preface, the sign of peace; the “Amen” especially at Communion, that affirms the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine. We miss the handshake after Mass, the “how are you, Father?” and “The Thank you, Father.” To miss is an emotion that dwells on someone dear, who is absent. That state of soul is made worse when to it is added the knowledge that the person who is absent is hurting. We know you all hurt from the lack of access to the Church, to the Sacraments, to us. We hurt because we know you hurt. We agonize over what we can do to be agents of hope, of the ever-abiding presence of Christ to you. One thing you can be certain of is: We have brought you with us, lifted each and every one of you, our entire Parish Community, up to Christ, at the private Masses, at the Liturgy of the Hours and other prayers. 

Today, Holy Thursday, begins the Easter Triduum.   On the first day of the Triduum we remember, make present and then celebrate two beginnings: Of the Catholic Priesthood and of the Eucharist. The temptation to cynicism can be real when, today of all days, you recognize, the absence of these two Sacramental realities to you, among you in your real time and space. I know each Christian for whom the Eucharist is rightly the source and summit of their spiritual lives will have a story to tell. It is a story of longing, of a deep hunger and desire to encounter the Eucharistic Lord. The longing for God, is not futile. It is put there by God himself and what is more, only He can satisfy it. Unite yourself with us and receive Jesus spiritually today and everyday as you follow the Mass on tv. The Eucharistic Lord will satisfy your hunger for himself, which he put there himself in the most unexpected ways. Just prepare your heart for him. Pray that He hastens that day of happy reunion in and through his Real Presence, literally in flesh and blood, in Church, with a Priest. Pray for more priests. Pray for holier priests. Pray for more fulfilled, persevering, available and committed priests. 

The Third Commandment, of our Lenten Series prescribes: “Keep holy the sabbath.” It translates to us today as “Keep Sunday holy.” The core to the commandment is attending Mass and receiving Jesus – who worked to create, save and make us holy. There is nothing like resting in and through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit on a Sunday – day recreation, day of resurrection and day of sanctification.
Another name for Holy Thursday is Maundy Thursday. Maundy is from the Latin “Mandatum” which means mandated. Jesus mandates his apostles to wash each other’s feet. “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” The watch word that will lead the way out of the Covid-19 era is “Stay home.” Jesus adds: “Stay home together, not just in political or diplomatic “peaceful co-existence and tolerance.” Rather, while maintaining social distance, completely break down anything and everything that creates spiritual distance, emotional distance, love distance.” Covid time is quality love time, service time. We thankfully raise in the Body of Jesus, a body given for us, for others, those who are risking their lives; who are confronting death everyday in selfless service to our sisters and brothers and to our communities.

On this day of Eucharist, we thank God for the faith that will see us through these times of uncertainty and angst. We do so in the confidence and firm hope that: God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him and who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). 

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