The Word who is with us always

Dr Lynn Bassett explores how the Word made flesh accompanies us in the word in this time of Eucharistic famine.

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By Dr Lynn Bassett

Across the world the Covid-19 pandemic has imprisoned many people behind closed doors. For those who are members of organised religions this has meant the removal of that which is most dear: the ability to gather in their sacred place for communal worship and prayer.

For many Catholics, the inability to gather for Mass has resulted in a sense of separation from one another and from God. Catholics believe that God is encountered in several ways in the celebration of the Eucharist. He is present in the gathered community; for Jesus promised “where two of three meet in my name, I shall be there with them” (Matthew 18:20). At church, and as Church, we meet God in our midst and in one another.

In the readings from Holy Scripture, God’s word is proclaimed, and we are called to do more than listen passively. The letter to the Hebrews (4:12) reminds us, “The Word of God is something alive and active.” Whenever we listen and hear, the Scriptures speak to us anew.  In the readings at Mass, we have the opportunity to hear God’s personal and intimate message for us, through a word, a phrase or an image that offers a nugget of truth to reflect on in the day or week ahead.  

Perhaps the most visible way that we meet God in the Mass is in the rite of the Eucharist itself. Before our eyes we see bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The technical term for this mystery is transubstantiation; we can only begin to glimpse an understanding of the wonder of this through the grace of God and with the eyes of faith. Jesus comes to us under the species of bread and wine to dwell in us and to nourish us so that we can conform our lives more fully to his; modelled on his example of loving service for our neighbour and our world.

During lockdown, our ability to participate in the Eucharist has been greatly diminished, and for some, completely lost. No longer can we gather physically as a Church community, although, thanks to technology, many of us have been able to gather virtually via our televisions, laptops, tablets and phones. We have been able to hear God’s word and to listen to faithful and creative clergy open the Scriptures in a way that is meaningful and relevant to us today. However, as the Eucharistic prayer proceeds, the sword that pierces the hearts of many is in the recognition that we cannot physically receive Holy Communion. We can only recite a prayer of spiritual communion, in simple faith and trust, dependent upon the Lord to find another way into our hearts and souls.

For me, in those silent moments of spiritual communion, some phrases from the gospel of John began to seep into my mind and take root. “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The reminder of the eternal presence of the Word was both poignant and comforting in this time of fast from Sacrament. After Mass I have turned to my Bible to read more. The Gospel explains that the Word, who has been with God since the beginning of creation, is also the source of everything that followed. “Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him” (John 1:3). It felt profoundly reassuring; the Word who has been with us always, is the foundation of all we are and know. I felt confident that Jesus, who fed five thousand hungry followers with five loaves and two fish (cf. John 6:1-14) will find a way to nourish us now. However, nourishment is never for ourselves alone. John goes on to describe how the source of life is also the source of light for others. It is a light that continues to shine even in the darkest times and it is a light that the darkness cannot overpower (cf. John 1:5). Coronavirus may have left a legacy of dark experiences and memories but the light of Christ is stronger.

In verse 14 we read that, “The Word was made flesh”. It was in the gift of the incarnation that God, in Jesus Christ, came to share our human experience. He left us his teaching, his parables and his example, recorded in Scripture, so that we may come to know him more and grow to be more like him. Inseparable from the gift of the incarnation is the gift of his human life in his passion and death on the cross and in the mystery of his resurrection. This ultimate sacrifice is re-presented in the sacrifice of the Mass, instituted at the Last Supper, for us, for all time. Word and Sacrament are united in the vital act of enabling Christ to be present among his people.

As the Easter season drew to a close the synoptic gospels record the final words of Jesus as he ascended to his Father, “Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:20). In this time of Eucharistic famine, the message is still the same. I am with you always. “I will not leave you orphans … keep my word.” (John 14:18, 23)

Scripture References from The Jerusalem Bible (1968) London: Darton, Longman and Todd

Dr Lynn Bassett was a healthcare chaplain in the Diocese of Westminster from 2001 – 2015. Her doctoral research explored the nature, meaning and value of silence as an element of spiritual care at the end of life.