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Eucharist in a Time of Lockdown

The fridge beside the Navala Church tabernacle
What Do You Do?

By Fr. Patrick Colgan

This time last year, I wrote an article entitled “How to be People of the Eucharist, when there is no Eucharist?” It was during the time of Fiji’s first coronavirus lockdown when Mass was not celebrated for three months, and a number of Catholics were asking: “What does it mean to be Catholic at this time?” In that article, I reminded myself — and them — that Christ is present in the Eucharist in ways other than the sacred species: e.g. in the gathering of the community, in the communal listening to the Word of God, and in actions of justice and love in society. This seemed to bring some comfort and light at that time.

Custodian of the Eucharist in Votua, Mr. Vikatore Rakata
Custodian of the Eucharist in Votua, Mr. Vikatore Rakata

This year, we face a potentially new long lockdown, due to the Indian variant of COVID having broken through our international border. A pastoral issue this year has been: what to do with the Eucharist in a climate which is hot and humid, so that it does not go bad in the various village tabernacles where it is stored with such reverence? To simply remove it, and transfer it, for example, to the priests’ house in town, seemed heartless.

Therefore, with our catechists, we decided on a number of options. In one village, Votua, it was moved to the empty fridge of a senior couple, who spend most of their days in prayer and singing. They adorned the fridge with a picture of the Divine Mercy, and other Fijian traditional cloths, and people are welcome to come spend time in front of the fridge, while a CD plays religious songs from morning to evening. The immediate neighbors, Methodist and Catholic, voluntarily observe a respectful silence while passing close by that house.

The open fridge in Votua with Eucharist stored inside; in the foreground, a Fijian lectionary.
The open fridge in Votua with Eucharist stored inside; in the foreground, a Fijian lectionary.

In another village, Navala, the Eucharist had also been transferred to a fridge in a family house, but when an offer of a smaller fridge by the head teacher of the village school came to us, we decided to move it back to the village church. There is a tradition there of weekly adoration which will have to take place according to the government’s 20-person restriction.

Other catechists decided to gradually use up the hosts in weekly distribution of them to the sick. While Mass has been prohibited, it seems to us that lay ministers, provided they are masked and observe hygiene protocols, can surely continue this work of mercy.

So, various “solutions” to a new situation have been found. What hasn’t changed is the devotion of Fijian Catholics to the Body and Blood of Christ, and perhaps, once again, this time of “Eucharistic famine” will serve to strengthen our sense of Christ in His Word, in each other, and in the poor. Let’s hope so.

Columban Fr. Patrick Colgan lives and works in Fiji.