“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” says the Lord.
I know this line best as sung in the Gospel Acclamation I heard nearly every Sunday during my JV year. I never thought that such small gatherings would be the only gatherings I am a part of, but to try and slow the spread of COVID-19, our in-person faith communities, too, have become extraordinarily small.
The Archdiocese of Boston has made the difficult but responsible call to cancel all liturgies until further notice. This was my turning point, when the fact that we are in a pandemic really hit home: the moment on a Friday afternoon in Lent when I learned I would not be going to my parish that Sunday. I would not be teaching my third grade Faith Formation class, and I would not be worshiping on Thursdays with my school community. It broke my heart a little bit. A lot, actually. My Catholicism is grounded in the Eucharist. It draws me back in, it keeps me in this church when the institutional church fails me, fails all of us. When everything else was uncertain, when the hierarchy hurt me, I had the Eucharist.
And now I don’t. For many of us in the United States, going without the mass and the Eucharist is a new experience for us. I grew up in a suburb with multiple Roman Catholic churches within a 15 minute drive of my house, and now I cannot attend mass. I am forced to contemplate what will sustain me without the Eucharist in this time, and I am lucky enough to have friends who thought through a plan for praying together on Sunday before I even could.
A small group of friends and I did what the faithful have done since the time of the Gospels, and gathered together in the name of the Lord to pray. We gathered in a living room, with a homemade altar. We dragged out purple fabric scraps and saint icons, old hymnals we had borrowed and meant to return, and we sang and prayed the liturgy of the Word together in a living room. We committed to gathering in that small group until we can celebrate the Eucharist together again. Already, we have decided, ahead of any ruling in our local area, that it is too risky to gather even five people together for prayer, so all our future gatherings will be online. We might even be celebrating the Triduum together in that virtual space.
Amidst the spiritual challenges of going without the sacraments, and the sadness of not gathering as a community in one location, there are some consolations. All of us gathered, most of whom are theology students, will have the opportunity to preside and preach on Sunday regardless of gender or ordination status. That is a small gift, a small consolation, and a great practical training opportunity for those of us who are working towards lives of service to the church.
It is my turn to preside for our little virtual liturgy on the 4th Sunday in Lent, a Sunday in which we will sing Psalm 23. I know it best in the setting by Mary Haugen, singing as the refrain “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.” And the famous verse: “Though I should wander the valley of death, I fear no evil for you are at my side. Your rod and your staff my comfort and my hope.” All we can ask of God is to shepherd us through this time, through this valley of death and disease. We can love our neighbors from afar, and draw near to those we love, to our faith communities, in new virtual ways.
O God, our comfort and our hope, protect and guide us through this valley of disease and uncertainty. Draw near to those affected by this pandemic, and send your Spirit of Wisdom to guide all of us to act in ways that protect the most vulnerable among us, for the common good of all.
“The Church, in Twos and Threes” by Julia Erdlen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.