Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
The Transfiguration of the Lord is such an important event that the Church celebrates it every year on August 6 and also invites us to contemplate it during Lent. If the temptations of Christ make manifest his irrevocable commitment to our human nature assumed by Him, the Transfiguration reveals His divinity. It is the moment when he irrevocably embraces his Passion.
This year, the season of Lent has been particularly affected by the Coronavirus or Covid-19 epidemic, which has already affected our parish life. By orders from the Archdiocese of Miami we have had to postpone our parish picnic scheduled for next Saturday and other school activities as well.
The Archbishop has issued some suggestions for parishes. Some of them are not applicable to ours. The recommendations of the Archbishop, the Archdiocese of Miami and the concern expressed by some of you, allow me the opportunity to address some questions related to the celebrations of the sacraments and share a few thoughts.
There are parishes in Miami that routinely distributed Communion under both kinds. Until a few years ago that was the practice in St. Patrick. Most parishes have now stopped, at least temporarily, for health reasons. Without denying the health risk, which is real, in my opinion giving Communion under both kinds has a greater risk. Some people are led to believe that if they only receive the host, they have not fully received Communion. It is a very ancient error which is known in the history of the Church as “utraquism.” The consecrated host is the Body and Blood of Christ, just as the consecrated wine is the Body and Blood of Christ. To receive under one kind does not mean that one has received “less” of Christ.
Holding hands during the prayer of the Our Father is not part of the Catholic tradition and it is not indicated in the rubrics. Some families have that practice, but it is a matter of personal piety and ought not to be imposed on the community or on the person seating next to me. The Archbishop recommends omitting that practice for epidemiological reasons.
The exchange of the sign of peace expresses our desire to reconcile with our brothers and sisters before coming to the altar. It is not a moment to greet friends or exchange signs that have a political origin, such as a “v” with the fingers. It is enough to turn to those who are around us and exchange a sign of reconciliation. The Missionaries of Charity, for example, place their hands together in prayer form and bow to those who are at their right and their left.
The Archbishop has suggested that we omit the sign of peace. I do not think it necessary at this time, especially because we need to regard one another as brothers and sisters. There are way too many forces separating us, our throwaway culture frequently makes us look at the other as a burden or a threat to our personal welfare. The sign of peace is a reminder that the person who is seating next to me is my brother, my sister with whom the Lord commands that I love.
There is a long-standing tradition to receive the Eucharist on the tongue, even though in the last couple of decades it has become popular to receive in the hand, making a throne by placing one hand on top of the other. When we receive Communion on the palm of the hand, one must immediately and carefully take if with the fingers of the other hand and place it in one’s mouth. The ushers, acolytes, ministers and priests pay special attention to this because on more than one occasion to our dismay and sadness we have found hosts on the floor of the Church. It fills us with sadness, indignation and pain. If anybody cannot receive Communion for whatever reason, let them stay in the pew praying, adoring Christ truly and substantially present in the Eucharist. If we have invited a friend or relative, something very good, but they do not know what the Eucharist is, it is very appropriate to explain it to them before Mass and recommend that when the time for Communion comes, they stay seated in the pew.
To receive the Eucharist on the tongue or the hand is an option that the Church gives to each person. Each one of us according to their piety decides how to receive. It must always be done with reverence and devotion, remembering that Christ Himself is coming to me with all of His humanity and all of his Divinity. The Archbishop recommends that any minister who is afraid of contagion feel free to take a leave from the ministry while the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 remains.
It is also important to remember that going to Mass on Sunday is a serious obligation. However, because it is a law of the Church, unlike divine law, it knows of exceptions. To miss Sunday Mass when one has the flu, is sick or in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia is certainly not a sin. One has also the serious duty to care for one’s health. Furthermore, charity towards my brothers and sisters demands that I do everything that is reasonably possible to prevent spreading any disease.
We will continue to monitor the situation, following the directives of the Archbishop, the Archdiocese of Miami and health authorities, implementing their orders and evaluating the recommendations.
The epidemy of Coronavirus reminds us once again the fragility and vulnerability of our human condition. Our human vocation is great. The horizon of our existence is eternity. Our common human nature subject to suffering, sickness and death has been assumed by God Himself to set us free from the oppression of sin and death. Every time we come to Mass we celebrate the mystery of the love of God incarnate, love to the end that helps us overcome our fear of death and impels us to regard and treat others for what we truly are: sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus, who loved me and gave himself up for me.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid