Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Private Communion

The whole thing was a surreal experience. It had been quite useless calling the parish office. All of the employees had been sent home weeks ago and calls simply went to an already full voicemail box. Seeing phone contact to be useless, I got out a piece of paper and scribbled a little note:

"Father X, would it be possible to make an appointment for my family to come receive Holy Communion and receive a blessing? We have not been able to receive the Eucharist for a month. Please call me and let me know if you'd be willing."

I scrawled my phone number on the note and stuffed it in an envelope with the priest's name on it. I drove to the parish and walked about the abandoned campus. The rectory was a sprawling complex with a couple of different buildings and multiple entry ways; I was not certain which door the priest was most likely to come or go from. I found took a guess as to which door looked the most used and affixed the letter to the door, then went my way.

Two days later, after dinner one evening, I heard a text come through. "It's Father X, please call me." I called him back and he said he would grant my request. Distribution of communion has not specifically been forbidden in my diocese, so as I understand it, this was basically a discretionary judgment left to each priest. I told him how many persons I had: "There will be myself and four of my children receiving." We made an appointment for the following day around 11:30 AM.

I called my children in and explained to them that we would be receiving Holy Communion the following day and to prepare themselves as best they could. There was palpable excitement. Receiving any sacrament in the age of Covid-19 is a challenge. They were joyful at being able to receive Christ.

The following morning we arrived at the church a few minutes early to pray in silence and dispose ourselves. We each took a squirt from the massive canister of hand sanitizer by the door and then knelt in silence. A few moments later the priest walked in, vested in a stole. He removed the ciborium from the tabernacle, approached us in the pews, and began proceeding through the text of a communion service.

"Behold the Lamb of God," he said, holding the Body of Christ aloft immediately in front of us. I'd never been so close to a priest at a moment like that. He administered the sacrament to each of us, on the tongue. There was no contact between the priest's fingers and my tongue; indeed, in my 18 years of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, no priest's finger had ever touched me.

After communion, the priest gave us his priestly blessing and departed. We stayed behind a few moments to pray in thanksgiving. It reminded me very much of stories I had read in saints' lives; I remember in the biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, it talked about how before she entered religious life, when she wanted to receive communion she had to approach the parish priest, ask for permission, explain what preparations she'd made to dispose herself, and then receive at a particular Mass scheduled for that purpose.

It was certainly more of a challenge to orchestrate, but this communion meant a lot more. I was more prepared. My children were more prepared. The extra work made it more meaningful. And I started thinking there really is something to the argument that less communions can be more beneficial. Of course I've always known that it was superior to receive fewer communions better prepared than more communions less prepared, but until this present darkness I had no experiential knowledge of the fact.

When this is all over, I think I may voluntarily receive Holy Communion less and spend more time in preparation. Maybe once a month or something.

Also, I am very grateful for this priest for accommodating myself and my children. I suggested a friend in another diocese try the same thing I did for herself and her family; her priest categorically told her no and simply forwarded her a link to an Act of Spiritual Communion. She was understandably disappointed.

May the Lord bless and keep you all.