“He took bread…”

Tonight marks the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, with the Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday Mass.[1] This year the Paschal celebration will be very different, as churches across the globe is closed. But what we can do today, as many people plan to watch streamed celebrations of Mass on social media, is to reflect on what the Eucharist means for us, also when we are in the middle of a pandemic. First, I want to quote the Psalm for tonight’s celebration, 116:1-2, 12-19 (according to the Revised Common Lectionary), before I reflect on how ‘online celebrations’ of Mass actually have value for those who watch them.

Now, let’s turn to Psalm 116:12-16:

1 I love the Lord,
because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant,
the child of your serving-maid.
You have loosed my bonds.

This Psalm is part of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) which is sung during the Passover Seder or Passover Meal. And this Psalm is sung specifically in conjunction with the blessing for the fourth cup.

But how can ‘online celebrations’ have any effect on us? In her seminal work on the liturgy, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy, Catherine Pickstock notes that the Eucharistic celebration is not for the individual alone but is a communal celebration. She cites a rhetorical question supposedly posed by Martin Luther (but actually from British cleric and Protestant reformer Thomas Becon): “Can my eating slake your hunger?”[2] The claim made by Becon is that your eating of the sacrament cannot do me any good. But this is a very individualistic understanding of liturgy. The mere fact that liturgy is being celebrated on our behalf – even if we cannot be there physically – is beneficial. Yes, we cannot partake at the moment, and that is a loss, but we can still remain assured that priests all over the globe is celebrating on our behalf and that Christ’s sacrifice is lifted up.[3] Therefore, let us tune in tonight – on Facebook, YouTube, or wherever – and let us pray together with those who celebrate on our behalf.

And as we do so, we can pray this simple prayer of spiritual communion from the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament (found at this resource for praying at home, p.8, produced by the Anglo-Catholic Church Union and the Society under the patronage of S. Wilfrid and S. Hilda):

My Jesus, I believe that you are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen

Notes:

[1] ‘Maundy’ refers to the foot washing (from the Latin mandatum, ‘command’ in Vulgate version of John 1:34). In Norwegian we call it ‘skjærtorsdag.’ Skjær means ‘clean,’ coming from the Norse word skíra.

[2] Pickstock (After Writing, 155-156, n.122) cites an article by John Bossy, “The Mass as a Social Institution 1200-1700” (Past & Present, No. 100, 1983, 29-61, here: 44). He cites Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961), 283. The quotation, however, is not found there but is found in Thomas Becon’s “The Displaying of the Popish Mass,” 280, found in Prayers and Other Pieces of Thomas Becon, S.T.P., ed., Rev. John Ayre, M.A. (Cambridge: The Parker Society / Cambridge University Press, 1844), 253-286. Also see Seymour Baker, “Becon, Thomas” (in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

[3] For a Lutheran argument for a sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist, see my article.

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