During this time of crisis, Simon and James are separately celebrating the Eucharist each week, each “standing before God with the people on his heart“. It’s difficult for both us and you not being able to share the Eucharist together. However we should be clear as to role of the priest in the Eucharist as (in some sense) representing Christ to the people, and also as representing the people to God (“standing before God with the people on his/her heart“).
No priest does this because of inherent goodness or other qualities they possess or because of any dignity or status. Priests who preside at the Eucharist do so in the full knowledge of their own unworthiness and as participants in the sinfulness of the world. In the Liturgy, the priest represents the incarnate Christ in His identification with the people, not as someone standing over them, but as belonging to them, and they to him/her.
Michael Ramsey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961-1974, wrote in his book “The Christian Priest Today“, that “Being with God with the people on your heart is the meaning of the daily office, of the Eucharist and of every part of your prayer and service of people.” Sound advice, which is why the book, first published in 1972, is still on the recommended reading list of those in training for ministry in the Church.
As we celebrate the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour in this ‘socially distanced’ way, it’s instructive to read the rubrics in the service for “Communion of the sick” in the Scottish Prayer Book, dealing with the situation where someone is unable to “receive the Sacrament with his mouth“:
“If a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the Priest, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood: the Priest shall instruct him that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and stedfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefor; he doth eat and drink the Body and Bread of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.”
Rubrics in “Communion of the sick” in the Scottish Prayer Book 1929.