Restaurant parking lots are full of cars. School playgrounds are bustling with children. The garden center at Home Depot is packed. Workplaces are reopening. Activity is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels.
And yet, churches are not as full as they used to be before COVID-19. The pandemic resulted in many Catholics not attending Mass or opting to attend Mass virtually due to health concerns. Recognizing these health issues, bishops across the world granted a dispensation for the weekly requirement to attend Sunday Mass, but the situation has evolved in the past few months.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore recently relaxed its social distancing requirements from six feet to three feet between congregants from different households. While this will allow more people to attend Mass, not every parish will be able to accommodate increased numbers. That’s because the small size of some of our church buildings makes it challenging to welcome everyone who wants to be there since necessary social distancing measures need to been maintained. Some families may also have legitimate reasons for not yet returning to Mass.
But we are moving forward.
Knowledge of the disease has increased and measures enacted at churches can effectively mitigate the risk. Vaccines are now widely available, and with the return of warmer weather, outdoor Masses are an option. Except for an ever-decreasing set of vulnerable individuals, attending Mass does not pose a serious health risk for many.
Will the decline in Mass attendance which began as a health concern became a permanent habit? Will healthy and able-bodied individuals continue attending virtually or not all even after the pandemic?
These questions will be answered in the coming months, and it would be a shame if a decline in in-person Mass attendance was an outcome of the pandemic. While virtual Masses and spiritual communions were a wonderful way to bridge the gap, they do not represent the fullness of the sacrament.
The Year of Eucharist begins on the Feast of Corpus Christi and offers us an option to reflect on the immeasurable graces that flow from regular reception of Holy Communion. Jesuit Father John Hardon has documented these spiritual benefits, and his writings are archived on the website: therealpresence.org.
Below are five benefits of receiving Holy Communion, based on his writings. As you reflect on these graces, consider welcoming back your Catholic friends and family members who have been away from the sacrament.
1. Eternal Life: Jesus promises on multiple occasions in the Gospels that holy Communion is the food that enables and sustains eternal life. Without this food, we do not have supernatural life within us. Mortal bodies, subject to death and decay, will be raised up in a perfected way on the last day, should we partake of holy Communion.
2. Spiritual Joy: Holy Communion is the medicine leading to spiritual joy. Without frequent reception of the Eucharist, we are bound to feel weighed down by the commands of Jesus. Communion nourishes the delight we experience in the practice of virtue, and we should increase the frequency in which we are communing with Jesus in order to grow in Christian joy.
3. Forgiveness of Venial Sins: Communion provides both the remission of the guilt of venial sin and the remission of the punishment we deserve from venial sin. Through venial sin, our soul suffers losses, and we are weakened as these losses accumulate. Holy Communion restores all that is lost in the soul due to venial sin, perfectly restoring our supernatural health.
4. Supernatural Protection: Communion provides the supernatural protection we cannot do without. It both decreases the likelihood that we will sin and acts as spiritual armor against the temptation to sin. Communion fortifies us against our natural tendency to follow our passions, which are humanly impossible to resist. Without the effects provided by Communion, it is certain that we will become slaves to our sins, in particular, the passions of pride and lust. We need the supernatural effects of the Eucharist to have any chance of victory over our passions.
5. Closeness to the Trinity: Every holy Communion made worthily draws us more and more into the life of the Holy Trinity. We are made more pleasing to our loving Father, and he dwells in us more deeply. We are made more like Jesus, and the divine life is multiplied within us.
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