I really shouldn’t venture into the field of liturgical theology because I know next to nothing about it! However, as priest I do, of course, care deeply about the Eucharist because it is at the heart of my life. Indeed, it is at the heart of every Christian’s life because it is the joyful celebration of the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb, foretaste of heaven where we are united and transformed with Christ through the offering his ‘single, holy, living sacrifice’. In these current circumstances, we are all struggling to find the best way to continue to place the Divine Liturgy at the heart of our life of faith. Do we continue to celebrate it with the priest being the only person present in the building as we pray the Liturgy together? Does the impossibility of assembling in one physical space and receiving the life-giving Gifts in the way we usually do make the whole celebration a long-distance spectacle? These concerns are very real, but I have a strong sense, having served the Liturgy a couple of times now online as the only person present in the church building, that I was not alone. Furthermore, those who joined with me in offering the Liturgy either as active participants (pre-recorded) or as equally active online pray-ers, also report that they sense that they are not alone. More than that, they tell me that they feel profoundly connected to the Liturgy being celebrated and to the Body of Christ gathered in this way.
I am not going to attempt a metaphysical justification for this because I do not have the intellectual equipment to do so, but I will offer some words by one of the few liturgical theologians I actually read as a way of explaining why it seems right to me to keep on doing what we’re doing:
Genuine faith lives not by curiosity but by thirst. The “simple” believer goes to church in order primarily to “touch other worlds” (Dostoevsky). “And almost free, the soul breathes heaven unhindered” (Vladislav Khodasevich). In a sense, he is not “interested” in worship, in the way in which “experts” and connoisseurs of all liturgical details are interested in it. And he is not interested because “standing in the temple” he receives all that for which he thirsts and seeks: the light, the joy and the comfort of the Kingdom of God.
I don’t know what Fr Schmemann would have made of our current situation, but his words provide all the reason we need to continue to offer the Liturgy – our thirst compels us.
The quotation is from Alexander Schmemann’s The Eucharist, pp. 46f; SVS Press 1987