The First Christians stood out in their society for many reasons – their charitable giving to all in need regardless of race or religion, their hopeful spiritual attitude to life, their teaching of a personal God who was interested in the well-being of His followers for this life and the life to come. And, their curious practice of meeting together as a group on a fixed day every week to worship.
No other 1st Century religion had any tradition of regular community worship and even the Jewish Sabbath was primarily a family event practiced at home, not the Temple. All religions had occasional festivals and all religions had a professional clergy who performed daily rites, but no religion had an observance as Christians did on Sundays.
Even among later religions, Islam, for example, was born in the desert among nomads. The image of the solitary Arab and his prayer rug really typifies Islamic spirituality. The mosque is an optional extra. Even in Saudi Arabia and Iran, only about a quarter of the male population (women are usually excluded) attends Friday mosque services. It’s just not that important.
This is why we find the current “lockdown” so difficult. Our religion is centred around a corporate act – the Holy Eucharist. Once, on a Thursday evening, in an upper room, a Passover blessing of bread and wine was accompanied by new words, "Take, eat. This is my Body. This is my Blood. Do this in remembrance of me."
No command, before or since, has ever been obeyed so well. "This" has been done every day for twenty centuries among every race on every continent. "This" has been done for kings at their crowning and for murderers at their execution; for soldiers before battle and for couples exchanging wedding vows; for those setting out on journeys and for the souls of the faithful departed. And why? Because it is in "this" that we experience, as in no other way, the living presence of God in our lives.
Indeed, before great cathedrals were built, before great theology was thought, indeed, even before one word of the New Testament was written down, there was the Holy Eucharist.
And that is why I have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that you have the opportunity to continue to receive this source of spiritual strength throughout this enforced separation.
May Our Lord’s living Eucharistic Presence bless you until we can meet to eat again.