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THE BISHOP'S VOICE: Pandemic has demonstrated our need for the Eucharist

By MOST REV. MICHAEL SHERIDAN
03/19/2021 | Comments

Several years ago I led a pilgrimage to Ireland.  The most memorable experience of those days in the land of my ancestors was the time that we spent in an area that called us back to the time when the Irish people suffered under the penal laws imposed by England.

The penal laws were passed against Catholics in both Britain and Ireland after the Protestant Reformation.  These laws prescribed fines and imprisonment for participation in Catholic worship services.  Catholic priests, who were found offering Mass, or in other ways exercising their ministry, would be arrested and put to death.  The penal laws remained in effect until the early 19th century.

Those laws did not kill the faith in Ireland, however.  While some Catholics defected to the Church of Ireland (a 17th century ancestor of mine, Thomas Sheridan — a Catholic priest — chose to become a Protestant rather than suffer death), many held their faith to be the most important gift that they had received. They would risk their lives rather than forsake the Eucharist. 

This meant that Catholic worship — primarily the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — had to be offered in secret. One of the ways that this was done was by means of clandestine gatherings in heavily wooded areas, where a priest, at the risk of his life, would offer Mass.  It was to one of those sites that our group travelled. A large stone that served as an altar was still there.  As we prayed the rosary we recalled the many who died rather than allow the Mass to be taken from them.

I have recalled my time in Ireland many times during this past year of COVID.  Early on, when our churches were closed to public worship, many faithful Catholics wrote to tell me how much they missed the Mass.  Some told me that even fear of sickness or death was not enough to keep them from Sunday Mass.  Not unlike the Irish under the penal laws, or the Christians of the first three centuries, it was their Catholic faith that meant everything to them.   That “fast” from the Eucharist awakened many Catholics to just how important the inestimable gift of the Eucharist is. 

Now, thanks be to God, the situation in our country is improving.  Every day more people are being vaccinated, and the numbers of those who are sick or have died are decreasing. We have every reason to believe that we are nearing the end of our exile. Our churches and our schools are safe. 

Again, I thank our priests for providing streaming Masses for those unable to attend church in person. Those who are vulnerable continue to be dispensed from the Sunday obligation, but those who are healthy should now be returning to the in-person celebration of Mass.  If you are able to go shopping, eat at restaurants and otherwise mingle with your friends, there is no reason why you should be absent from Mass. 

The words of Pope St. John Paul II remind us of the necessity of the Eucharist.  “The Church received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift — however precious — among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work . . . When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out.’  This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there.  Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the ages have lived” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11).


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