The Exodus took Israel through a long period of profound physical penance and spiritual purification: the two seem to be inseparable in the spiritual life. The desert became the only way for Israel to reach the Promised Land, and by God’s saving will, the people could only traverse this barren place by turning to the Lord each day for manna and quail. Israel had to learn radical trust in God, to recognize her utter dependence on him for everything: the direction of travel, the way to order the community’s life, and, of course, the reception of sufficient food and water.
An essay touching upon the same topic, but much shorter. Still, it refers to the same two sources, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Augustine's Journey to Easter by C. C. Pecknold
Yet it is precisely in this exile that we must find our way to Calvary this year. We may be weary pilgrims, spiritually gaunt for so much sacramental fasting, but we are still pilgrims who must press our lips to the Cross. We cannot enter into the Paschal Triduum through Skype or Zoom. So what are we to do, we poor banished children of pandemic?
St. Thomas Aquinas gives us a hint: “the reality of the sacrament can be had through the very desire of receiving the sacrament.” He makes a distinction here between the signum and the res—the sacrament and the reality that the sacrament communicates. It is a distinction that goes back to St. Augustine.
There is at least one objection to this in the combox, concluding that if it is true, it renders going to Church superfluous. (Actually, it would render receiving the Sacraments superfluous.) I would think that desire is not enough -- one needs to ask God for the gift of life and trust in His goodness and mercy.
Αἰτεῖτε καὶ δοθήσεται ὑμῖν. -- Matthew 7:7 (cf. Luke 11:9)