Father Louis J. Cameli

The Eucharist and the pandemic

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

So many good and faithful Catholics lament that they do not have access to the Eucharist during the pandemic. It is a message I hear frequently these days.

A live-streamed Mass helps, but it does not have the same sustaining power as going to church, being with other believers and actually — not virtually or spiritually — sharing in the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood. How can we understand our situation from a faith and spiritual perspective?

When people feel the loss of the Eucharist and grieve over it, they reveal a certain instinct of faith. Pope Francis has said in a colorful way that ordinary believers can “sniff out” the truth of their faith. He uses the Italian word “fiuto.” Their eucharistic grief highlights how indispensable the sacrament is for believers.

In this, they echo a group of third-century North African martyrs who told the Roman tribunal in the course of their trial, “Sine domenico, non possumus” (“Without the Lord’s supper/Eucharist, we cannot survive”). Even more, believers who miss the Eucharist know the truth of the Lord’s words, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have no life in you” (Jn 6:53).

Today’s situation breaks the ordinary rhythm of our weekly assembly to celebrate the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day in the Lord’s house with the body of believers. We must not, however, think that our ties to the Eucharist are broken.

The circumstances are certainly different, but we remain a community steadfastly oriented to and centered on the celebration of the Eucharist. In these weeks and months, that orientation and centering take on a different shape.

One of the best ways to understand this situation is to turn to Luke’s Gospel and the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35), a recent Sunday reading. Although when they first meet Jesus on the road they are unaware of it, the two disciples are moving with him toward the celebration of the Eucharist.

Something similar is happening to us and our communities today. We are on the way to the celebration of the Eucharist. It will happen. But there is more to the story than anticipating the future.

This interruption in our customary worship could be a moment of grace that enables us to appreciate and to prepare more deeply for that time when we once again meet the Lord in the celebration of the Mass.

Think of our prayer-at-home, our live-streamed Masses and our spiritual Communion as patterned after the journey of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus — an extended time of preparation and movement toward the Eucharist.

Jesus walks with us today — often as undetected as he was with the two disciples. He listens to us, as he did to them, when we bring him our feelings of sadness, uncertainty and anxiety.

If we listen attentively, his Word found in Sacred Scripture illuminates the questions and dilemmas we face, as it did for the two disciples. And we anticipate that he will one day — we hope soon — gather us around his table, break the bread that is his body and reveal himself to us, again as he did to the two disciples. The story, however, will not end there.

The disciples who knew him in the breaking of bread also knew their own mission and purpose to give witness to him to others. And they returned to Jerusalem.

So too, for us, a mission awaits us. That mission flows from the Eucharist. If we have prepared well for the Eucharist, as we can with the time given us, we will also be ready for our mission in the world.

People of faith know that the Lord is with them. They know that their lives are more than a bundle of circumstances that just happen, even in this sad time of the pandemic.

At every moment of life and at every juncture of our experience, the Lord is walking with us. He is with us now in this painful time, when the Eucharist is unavailable. Yes, for now, the Eucharist is unavailable to us. But we are moving with Jesus toward the celebration of his self-sacrificing love and his self-giving generosity in the sacrament of his Body and Blood.


  • eucharist
  • coronavirus