I am sure saying so will not win me many friends, but I wish clergy and laity alike would stop taking to the media to tell us what a wonderful opportunity we are living through and implying that digital sacraments are the Lord’s latest plan. For example, the cardinal who declared that the forthcoming Holy Week without public cult would provide “an opportunity for faith and a beautiful and profound celebration of Holy Week”.
Cardinal Beniamino Stella says that, through technological means, the Holy Spirit will allow us to live a communion which “is not just virtual because I believe that the Holy Spirit also passes through these new things in today’s world”. The Spirit can blow where he wills, but the action of sacraments is physical and not merely spiritual. They derive from Christ’s Incarnation, death and resurrection in a human nature and Christ is the minister of the sacraments because they continue His saving action in our incarnations.
“What was visible in our Saviour has passed over into his mysteries,” St Leo reminds us. Yes, sacraments are actions of the Holy Spirit, but at work on a body, that is, the Church, transforming our bodies into living stones and temples. The human person is not just spirit. The fruit of participating in the sacraments is that the faithful are united in a living union with the only Son, the Saviour. Perhaps it’s just my age, but I think this is a different thing to a virtual union; a difference like Skyping your loved ones rather than embracing them. I wonder whether it would be possible to be as sanguine about the present situation – unprecedented in war, famine, plague or persecution – if we didn’t live in a world numbed by reliance on virtual reality.
Worldwide the Church’s public cult of liturgy and sacraments are suspended. Churches are closed, the faithful are deprived of participation in the mysteries of salvation. Enclosed religious orders have no access to the Mass. The ceremonies of the Holy Week will not be publicly celebrated and only privately in abbreviated form. I am sure that the Evil One thinks this is a great opportunity.
I am all for faith and hope in the present crisis, but the situation ought also to involve a degree of soul-searching and, I would suggest, a certain degree of grief and wailing. I think we are living through a massive privation. It is surely only an opportunity for the Church if you think you can put something equal or better in place of the celebration of the sacraments by the faithful.
Another commentator rhapsodised about how the Lord would bless with his Eucharistic presence all the homes in which the faithful watched Mass being live-streamed. This is a pious denial of reality, unless the Blessed Sacrament is not a Real Presence but only a virtual one. By this logic we need never go to Communion again and one could quench one’s thirst just by watching adverts for cool drinks online.
Sacraments do not just signify grace, they also effect and confer it. Since the human person is body and soul and we are not gnostics, we believe they confer it on those physically present and participating.
This is an opportunity to beg God to make us appreciate them more by recognising what we have currently lost, not by living in denial.