This past week we celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The gospel read at Mass takes us back to Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and we hear again the words we hear every time we come to Mass:
He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, saying,Matthew 14.22
“This is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them.
“This is my blood of the covenant.”
We remember that Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist, making a new covenant with us. That covenant is the promise that God will be with us. And he is with us. He is present with us in the Eucharist and his presence is real.
We know that coming to church and receiving Holy Communion is an unparalleled opportunity because we are receiving Christ. So important is this sacrament that the Church speaks of participation as an “obligation.” As Catholics we are bound to do it. And it was an amazing coincidence that it would be on the Feast of the Body & Blood that restrictions were finally lifted and everyone could come to Mass.
And we want everyone to come to Mass. That’s what we want, but what we want and what we actually experience could be different things. This past Sunday, even without the restrictions, we were only at about a third of our pre-COVID attendance. Surely a return to kids and student programs in the fall, and the continued decrease of risk will bring many more back, but it could be a very long time before we see again the kinds of numbers we previously experienced. And it is almost certainly the case that COVID has accelerated many of the patterns that were already developing in recent years in our country and one of those patterns was decreasing church attendance.
Besides, perhaps the way some people experience and interact with church is forever changed. Over the past year our online congregation, which we had been building for years, exploded in growth. And though our overall numbers have been receding since Easter, at this point thousands more join us online than in-person. Nativity Online can and does powerfully and effectively change hearts, shape believers, and stands as our greatest opportunity to reach the lost. We have heard hundreds of stories of life change and we will, of course, continue to invest in it.
To those online, we invite you back to church, if/when you are able or when you feel safe to do so. We can’t wait to see you.
But please also know this: Christ is truly present to you in your online worship. He is present in God’s Word, and, as he promised, he is always present whenever two or three gather in his name, and he did not say “except when they gather online.”
And also know this: We love you and are thrilled you’re a part of our parish. You count to us.