Fr Tristan writes:
When I was twenty-three, I went to India and taught English in an orphanage up in the Himalayas. I found the Indian headteacher who ran the orphanage (who, as it turned out, was a Pentecostalist Christian) and her family online, in a village called Subathu. The village was perched high up on a great sweeping curving road, on a cliff edge sharp as a knife. Every day I would ride pillion on a motorbike driven by Raju, the pastor, along that edge, winding higher and higher up to the little school, and the wooden house at Thari, where his kindly ninety-year old mother lived. As we would speed along, I would look down over the tops of other little houses, higgledy-piggledy beneath us – while cows wandered up and down the mountain side streets, and children played around the pumps as their older siblings drew water. The whole scene seemed almost to float over the wisps of cloud beneath our feet, through which could be glimpsed the backdrop of the lush Himalayan forest plunging down to the valley floor four thousand feet below. It was magical.
Apart from one thing. Looking at a map, Subathu appeared to have a Catholic church – but when I arrived there, it turned out that the priest had died, and all the Catholics were long gone. I was heartbroken when I discovered that I would have to live several months without the sacraments – and that one week of that would be Holy Week.
At so I began life without the Christ in the Eucharist. It was painful, and every Sunday was a miserable experience. I would read through the readings in my Missal, say the Rosary, and long for Holy Communion. I still remember Holy Thursday in particular; I was up in Thari in the little wooden house in the attic that had been given to me to isolate myself in, as I was really quite ill with stomach cramps. I washed from a tin jug heated on a wood fire, and then crawled up the ladder to the attic. I could see the old lady who lived there moving around through the many gaps in the rough floorboards. I sat on the bed and pulled out my Missal, thinking how strange it was to be the only Catholic for miles around. My thoughts drifting back to a Holy Thursday many years before, when I was ten years old, where I had attended the Mass of the Lord’s Supper back in Arundel. I remembered going alone to the Altar of Repose, feeling strangely grown up, and powerfully desiring to be near the Host. I said sorry to the Lord Jesus for my sins, and asked Him for so many favours for myself and for people around the world. The memory made me very sad to be alone in that hut in India; I didn’t want to be there, even with those kind people – I just wanted to go to Mass.
After I left Subathu, I stopped for a few days of fiery heat in Delhi. The first thing I did was seek out a Catholic church. Funnily enough, I didn’t feel anything special to be back at Mass; but I was back – and I promised myself never to under-value the Eucharist ever again.
Jesus never abandoned me. I’ve abandoned him many times and broken my promise, attending Mass in a half-hearted manner on countless occasions. Perhaps now, in this extraordinary new world we are living in, here right at home in England, God is trying to show me to appreciate better what we have and to be filled with a greater love for His sacraments and for His people.
How can I pray, now I can’t get to Mass?
I now realise that what I had been doing in India, alone with my Missal, was actually a very old practice in the Church called making a ‘spiritual communion’. This basically means that we receive the effects of the Blessed Sacrament through earnestly desiring to eat it prayerfully.
At this distressing time, it may not seem much. But God draws good even out of sorrowful situations, such is His mercy and power, who sent His Son to die of love, to bring new life. Speaking of the latest measures to forego public worship, Cardinal Nichols explained that, even though isolated in our own homes, we must not “fail in the rhythm of our prayer, day by day, Sunday by Sunday”, and that our prayer remains Eucharistic – rooted in a desire to receive Jesus. He added “Don’t lose heart…when a plant is derived of some surface water, it has to put down deeper roots. We are going to have to put down deeper roots of the Spirit…God has never been limited by His sacraments.” He also noted that we will learn, perhaps painfully, when all this is over, how much to appreciate the Mass, and never take it for granted again. We are going to learn, all of us, a lot about prayer, about the Holy Spirit’s comforting presence, and God’s love for us – and re-discover our affection for one another.
Catherine Christmas, Diocesan Liturgy Advisor, writes:
At a time when we may not be able physically to receive Holy Communion, we may experience a deep, painful longing which can help us to pray in solidarity with those who are denied the Eucharist, those who cannot receive it because of persecution, and those who are to be initiated and waiting to receive it for the first time (at Easter, Pentecost or whenever we’re able to celebrate together again).
For many centuries in the history of the Church, reception of the Eucharist was a rare occurrence. This challenging time will enable us to treasure it all the more and anticipate with great joy the time when we can receive it again.
We can still join our prayers with the whole church, living and dead, with Mary, the Mother of God, and all the angels and saints. We may be isolated but we are still in communion with each other, with the Pope and with our bishops. And, in this Year of the Word, we have an opportunity to reflect and focus all the more deeply and intensely on Scripture, listening to what God has to say to us at this time. “Not on bread alone are we nourished, but on every word which comes from the mouth of God.”
A QUARTER HOUR BEFORE THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
This wonderful guide to how to pray before the Tabernacle can be used in church, or else before an image of Our Lord (e.g. The Sacred Heart) at home.
To please Me, dear child, it is not necessary to know much; all that is required is to love Me much, to be deeply sorry for ever having offended Me and desirous of being ever faithful to Me in future. Speak to Me of the poor you wish to comfort; tell Me all that now fills your mind and heart. Are there any you wish to commend to Me? Tell Me their names, and tell Me what you would wish Me to do for them. Do not fear, ask for much, I love generous hearts, which, forgetting themselves, wish well to others. Speak to Me of the poor you wish to comfort; tell Me of the sick that you would wish to see relieved. Ask of Me something for those who have been unkind to you, or who have crossed you. Ask much for them all; commend them all with your heart to Me.
And ask Me many graces for yourself. Are there not many graces you would wish to name that would make you happier in yourself, more useful and pleasing to others, more worthy of the love of Me, the dearest Lord, master, and Spouse of your soul? Tell Me the whole list of the favours you want of Me. Tell Me them humility, knowing how poor you are without them, how unable to gain them by yourself; ask for them with much love, that they may make you more pleasing to Me. With all a child’s simplicity, tell Me how self-seeking you are, how proud, vain, irritable, how cowardly in sacrifice, how lazy in work, uncertain in your good resolutions, and then ask Me to bless and crown your efforts. Poor child, fear not, blush not at the sight of so many failings; there are Saints in heaven who had the faults you have; they came to Me lovingly, they prayed earnestly to Me, and My grace has made them good and holy in My sight. You should be Mine, body and soul; fear not, therefore, to ask of Me gifts of body and mind, health, judgment, memory and success. Ask for them for My sake; that God may be glorified in all things. I can grant everything, and never refuse to give what may make a soul dearer to Me and better able to fulfill the will of God. Have you no plans for the future which occupy, perhaps distress, your mind? Tell Me your hopes, your fears. Is it about your future state? Your position among My creatures? Some good you wish to bring to others? In what shall I help and bless your good will?
And for Me you must have, have you not, some zeal, some wish to do good to the souls of others. Some, perhaps, who love and care for you, have ceased, almost, to know or care for Me. Shall I give you strength, wisdom and tact, to bring these poor ones close to my heart again? Have you failed in the past? Tell Me how you acted; I will show you why you did not gain all you expected; rely on Me, I will help you, and will guide you to lead others to Me. And what crosses have you, My dear Child? Have they been many and heavy ones? Has someone caused you pain? Someone wounded your self-love? Slighted you? Injured you? Lay your head upon My breast, and tell Me how you suffered. Have you felt that some have been ungrateful to you, and unfeeling towards you? Tell Me all, and in the warmth of My heart you will find strength to forgive and even to forget that they have ever wished to pain you.
And what fears have you, My child? My providence shall comfort you. My love sustains you. I am never away from you, never can abandon you. Are some growing cold in the interest and love they had for you? Pray to Me for them; I will restore them to you if it be better for you and your sanctification.”