I have received some suggestions here at the parish about different possibilities for receiving communion during this time.
One suggestion made is that communion be made available to parishioners as they wait in their cars, or that parishioners be allowed to pick up communion at the church and take it home to their families.
Another suggestion is that priests allow small numbers of the faithful (no more than 10) to attend their private daily Mass. After all, the priest is still celebrating Mass every day for the parish's intentions, but are doing so privately. What harm can there be in allowing a few people to join him?
Finally, another option is offered, suggesting that the priest should consider bringing communion to several centralized locations, such as some parishioners' homes throughout town, so that the faithful can gather in small groups (no more than 10) in order to receive communion.
I very much understand and empathize with the desire of the faithful for the Holy Eucharist. After all, it is the "source and summit" of our Faith. It is the "bread from heaven" that feeds our hunger for calm in these uncertain times. Yet, all of these options are not currently possible.
Bishop Malloy has explicitly stated in his latest communication to the priests that "efforts, including proposals for communion [to] people in cars, should not be utilized." At this time, "the distribution of Holy Communion and the administration of the Sacrament of the Sick should be only for emergency situations at this time following the guidance of the health authorities."
Further, he says, "no public Masses on weekdays or Sundays are to be celebrated until further notice. While priests are to celebrate Mass privately daily...this must be done without the presence of the faithful for the time being." Priests must "not gather an informal group for a private Mass as we seek to limit the spread of the virus."
So, you can see that the bishop's instructions preclude us from doing any of the above suggestions. We are being encouraged instead "to make a spiritual union at this time when physical participation is not possible." In other words, let us strive to unite our hearts to Jesus, even when our bodies cannot be so united.
To the bishop's instructions, I would like to add a personal comment. As I said, I deeply sympathize with the desire of the faithful to receive the Eucharist at this time. But, I don't think that some of the suggestions being offered befit the dignity of the Eucharist.
For example, I understand how receiving communion from a car respects the isolation needed to keep the virus from spreading. However, I cannot get over the image in my mind that, by doing so, we turn communion into "fast food," as if Mass were just another drive-thru service. Again, while not denying that this suggestion is well-intentioned, I don't believe that this is a dignified way of looking at the Eucharist.
Another example would be the efforts by some to find a way to "sneak Mass in" under the radar. Sure, it doesn't seem to "hurt anybody" to join the priest in his daily Mass. But, to do so would be to defy the bishop's instruction.
To this situation we hear 1 Sm 15:22: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the LORD's command? Obedience is better than sacrifice." To disobey Christ's representative on earth in order to receive communion seems to be a poor way to respect Christ present in the Eucharist.
If you can't do these things, then what can you do?
First, as mentioned before, continue to make your spiritual communions. In our current age, when Mass and the Eucharist have always been available when we want it, we forget that most believers through the centuries did not get to go to Mass or receive communion at will. Those celebrations could be few and far between because of distance, lack of priests, or disease.
So, what did those believers do to be united to Jesus? They made spiritual communions. They spent time trying to unite their hearts to our Lord. Then, when they did get to attend Mass or receive communion, their interior union made their physical union all the more profound. We can learn from their efforts and do the same. Many prayers for spiritual communion can be found on the internet; find one you like and pray it everyday.
Second, if you are already out, maybe make a brief stop at the church for a moment of prayer from your car. With the recent stay-at-home order in effect, this is less of an option. But, if you are out for a walk or need to run to the store for necessities, maybe make a short detour to the church and say a prayer outside of the church.
This mirrors the long-standing practice of many of the faithful throughout the centuries who would make visits to the Blessed Sacrament during the course of their day. This is something easy to do. So, stop by. Look through the doors of the church. See that the tabernacle light is still on. Take comfort in knowing that Jesus hasn't gone anywhere.
Please know that I am keeping you all in prayer during this time. Yes, such comments sound cliche, but they are true nonetheless. I will continue to keep you apprised of updates when they come through. In the meantime, I wish you all peace.
Fr. Thomas Doyle