Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The source and summit of Christian life in a pandemic

By BISHOP BERNARD E. SHLESINGER, Commentary | Published March 4, 2021  | En Español

During the pandemic, a general dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation has helped ease the consciences of those who were unable to be present at Mass due to risk of illness to themselves or their families. Now that people are venturing out to venues such as restaurants while vaccinations are increasing, the general dispensation from the Sunday obligation may soon expire for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III

Should the general dispensation be rescinded or simply expire, this should not be interpreted as if the church no longer cares about the physical health of her children during a pandemic.  Those who are at high risk to being exposed or exposing others could ask to be granted a dispensation for serious reasons. The end of a general dispensation should be seen primarily in the light of Holy Mother the Church caring about the spiritual health of her children.

The church reminds us that the Sunday Mass is the preeminent venue of our week and the reception of holy Communion is paramount to our spiritual health: “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53).

As we hunger and work to eat and be satisfied in our earthly life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that what material food produces in our bodily life, holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life (CCC 1392). Receiving Communion provides us with a strengthening of grace for any spiritual battle against sin. The martyrs and saints of the church who have gone before us knew the importance of the Eucharist and they put themselves at great peril in order to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. For them, the Eucharist served as a medicine of immortality and a pledge of eternal glory.

The Catechism further tells us that the Eucharistic sacrifice wholly directs us toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion (CCC 1382). It is Jesus himself who invites us to “take and eat’ and “take and drink.”

We should dispose ourselves properly as we accept the invitation to dine with him. Our preparation should include the following at a minimum:  Examine one’s conscience and confess any mortal sins prior to receiving holy Communion; observe the required fast (one hour from food and drink); and practice proper bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) which ought to convey the respect, solemnity and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest (CCC 1387).

The church has strived to keep her doors open during this pandemic and to have Mass and Eucharistic adoration when possible if facilities can be sanitized, safe social distancing can be achieved and the requirement of masks observed. Our part as Catholics is to cultivate a proper Eucharistic hunger for the Lord since only Jesus can satisfy the deepest longing in our hearts.  Our priests have taken great strides to keep Christ at the forefront of our lives during this pandemic. They have reminded us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian Life (CCC 1324).