Last week in response to President Trump’s declaring that churches were essential and need to be reopened right away the Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Missouri; Deon K. Johnson wrote:
"The work of the church is essential. The work of caring for the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed is essential. The work of speaking truth to power and seeking justice is essential. The work of being a loving, liberating, and life-giving presence in the world is essential. The work of welcoming the stranger, the refugee and the undocumented is essential. The work of reconciliation and healing and caring is essential. The church does not need to “open” because the church never “closed”. We who make up the Body of Christ, the church, love God and our neighbors and ourselves so much that we will stay away from our buildings until it is safe. We are the church."
In much of what he writes I agree with him, however in one significant and major way I disagree: One of the defining features of our Catholic faith is our sacramental life. Our sacraments put us in real physical contact with our God and nothing can substitute for this. The prayers of “spiritual communion” that we offer while watching the liturgical ministers receive physical communion are a “bandage” for us in these difficult times of coronavirus, but it is no substitute for consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Another and perhaps better bandage is Eucharistic adoration where we can look upon our Savior even though we do not consume His flesh and Blood.
It is a hardship for a sacramental church to have to limit its capacity for the sake of public health. I have not fought against the restrictions and I am not certain that I entertain reopening while the cases of the coronavirus are still rising in Minnesota. It is in trying to find a balance in which those who are longing for full sacramental reception and yet keeping the congregation as safe from illness as possible that we begin taking steps to re-open the doors of our church.