People ask how it feels to be celebrating Mass in an empty church. It’s given me a fresh appreciation of what is meant by the ‘Communion of Saints’. There’s a man in Brazil suffering from cancer who joins our Mass via livestream. He and his family consider me to be their parish priest. Glen from Sydney, Australia, emailed. I was back in the presbytery having cleared up after Mass. He told me I’d forgotten to blow out the candles. I’ve never met either of them.
Distances shrink during lockdown and separation from family, friends and parishioners also levels out the distinction between the living and the dead. The Eucharistic prayers remind us that we pray each Mass in company with the Church throughout the world; with those who have gone before us as well as the heavenly hosts of angels and saints. We gather around the same altar. We sit together at the heavenly table of the Eucharist. We recite with them the ‘Glory to God’ and the ‘Holy, Holy’. We join with them in the ‘Our Father’.
Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue describes the Communion of Saints as a ‘circle of eternity’. He writes: ‘I believe that our friends among the dead really mind us and look out for us … They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home. They are with God from whom they came … In the eternal world, all is one. In spiritual space there is no distance. In eternal time there is no segmentation into today, yesterday, or tomorrow … I believe that this is what eternal life means: it is a life where all that we seek – goodness, unity, beauty, truth, and love – are no longer distant from us but are now completely present with us.’