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The power of the Liturgy to shine during dark times

By Marc Mollenthiel

The reality for humanity is that our greatest enemies are the unseen ones.

As St Paul said, “we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities” and we fight back against these powers by wrestling with and overcoming ourselves whilst learning to surrender to the grace of God.

Surprisingly, our spiritual enemies and Covid have a lot in common and the liturgy plays a key role in how we can be triumphant on both fronts.

Our spiritual enemies and Covid-19 are both entirely unseen foes. In relation to our spiritual foes, without our faith in God and His revelation, most people would be wholly unaware of this threat.

Similarly, with Covid, without some measure of reliance on competent and credible authorities, the average person would not know what hit them when infected with Covid. This is not to equate our earthly authorities to God but rather to draw an analogy between them.

We fight Covid in a very similar way to how the Church has been fighting unseen enemies for ages. The famous 17th century physicist, mathematician and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal said that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”.

This gives rise to a second commonality between our unseen enemies. They seek to exploit human weaknesses such as our inability to be alone for a time. Both foes can be combatted by mastering this part of ourselves—maybe if only temporarily as a sacrifice.

The battle against Covid is a spiritual one. It may attack the body, but ultimately it will not destroy humanity. Its greatest threat is whether or not it shall prevail in crushing the human spirit!

Persons are faced with the unseeming choice between mental isolation or physical detriment. As Judicial Counsel Laurissa Pena writes in the 13th newsletter of the Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers (CAJO), “These Covid-19 times were categorised by global social isolation: keeping 6 feet apart to avoid being 6 feet under.”

Can we stay united even whilst being cast apart? This is precisely where the liturgy becomes vital, because of what it can do and quite literally does for the human spirit.

The liturgy connects us all spiritually on a level beyond merely the physical. It is the gateway through which collective action coalesces into meaning via united participation within the Body of Christ.

The Corpus Christi (the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist) reminds us that the liturgy unites us in more ways than one. Through the conscious wilful participation in the liturgy (1) we are united psychologically based on our shared testament of faith and Christian identity; (2) we are united physically based on physically acting out and participating with the physical presence of Christ together as a community remotely or not; and (3) we are united metaphysically and spiritually based on the theological inference, transubstantiation.

Transubstantiation, simply put, is the conversion or consecration of the Eucharist from bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. When united in this way, we stand in perfect opposition to the spiritual threat of Covid which seeks to segregate and alienate us amongst ourselves corporally.

Gallup, one of America’s few research panels that is representative of the entire US adult population found that the only group to see their mental health improve during the pandemic was “weekly churchgoers”. It turns out that liturgical activity had precisely the effect we expected given the theology of the liturgy.

Many people who take the vaccine feel the same way before as they do after. ‘Is this really helping me fight an unseen enemy?’ they ask. Ironically, this is what people have been saying about the Eucharist for at least 500 years.

This novel virus isn’t really all that novel after all. So based on the theology of the liturgy, one could reasonably expect significant opposition to the spiritual threat of Covid-19. It turns out that this is precisely what we find.

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