Bishops Reaffirm Approach to Communion During Coronavirus Situation
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in these confusing and challenging times. In the midst of so much that is unknown and frightening, we have been gratified to see our diocese come together as the Body of Christ to support each other, to persevere in prayer, worship and study, and to care for our neighbors in need. In all these things, we see the face of Jesus Christ himself, and we trust that Christ is with us.
As sacramental people, we are used to having Jesus with us in another, unique way: in the consecrated bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist. Earlier this month, when we suspended in-person public worship through at least May 17, we did so as an extraordinary measure grounded in Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, and guided by the best public health information about how to “flatten the curve” of novel coronavirus transmission. This was a Lenten fast none of us would have chosen, and your bishops would never have prescribed, if we did not firmly believe it was the loving and faithful thing to do in these exceptional times.
Some of you may now be wondering if the consecrated bread of Holy Communion could be distributed to the faithful outside the context of a service of public worship, in a way that would satisfy public health concerns. We are directing members of our diocese not to do this, for deeply-held theological and pastoral reasons.
As bishops in Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, we believe firmly that Jesus is really, truly and uniquely present with us in the Holy Eucharist’s Liturgy of the Table, and in the Body and Blood of Holy Communion. And we believe that he is also really present in the Liturgy of the Word, in the reading of God’s holy Word, in our prayers spoken and unspoken, and in our song. Whenever we gather together in his name, whether in the same physical space or, as is currently the case, connected through computer and telephone links, we believe Jesus Christ is with us. With faithful, wise saints from the Church’s earliest days, we believe that when Christians desire to receive Holy Communion and cannot do so for reasons beyond our control (such as personal illness or a public health crisis), we do still receive all the unique benefits of his Body and Blood without physically ingesting them. And, as The Rev. Dr. James Farwell, professor of Theology and Liturgy at Virginia Theological Seminary, recently noted, “we are still baptized, still the Body of Christ,”[i] even in this time of physical fasting from the Body in the bread. As we keep this fast together, we embody the unity and mutuality of Christ’s Body, and we look forward, together, to the day when we will again receive physically that uniquely nourishing food that we deeply desire.
On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” After his resurrection, as he was about to return to God the Father and would not be visible to his friends in the same way he had been, he asked them to “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Our faith in Jesus Christ’s true presence in his Body, and our conviction that Jesus will always draw near to all who desire him, console us in this extraordinary Lenten fast that has been thrust upon us all. Please know that you are in our prayers, and we are deeply grateful for yours, as we persevere together.
[i] James Farwell statement posted to Facebook, March 19th, 2020