In time past, going to church looked different to what it does today. Certainly a lot of that has to do with how the church looked and how the Mass was celebrated. But it also has something to do with the “little things” that we do.
Dressing up in our “Sunday best” was just the beginning of a whole collection of gestures and actions that were considered signs of reverence for our God who we worship and who is present with us when we worship.
Some people comment that such reverence is lost today, or at least not what it used to be. Yet within our rituals, acts of reverence are still present and encouraged. Genuflecting to the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle; bowing to the altar upon which Christ is made present, also to the Blessed Sacrament before we receive it; signing ourselves with the cross at the proclamation of the Gospel; the postures of standing and kneeling; observing periods of silence before, during and after Mass. These are just some of the acts of reverence that we are asked to observe.
Now some people may rightly point out that observing such external acts of reverence doesn’t mean that a person is necessarily committing themselves to a reverent attitude or manner internally. Only that person and God will ever know for certain. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are irrelevant or unnecessary.
Mindful and well-informed encouragement of reverent actions from a young age helps to shape a reverent attitude. Furthermore, movements, actions and visuals (for all, but especially for children) can instantaneously communicate a profound meaning that is often harder to successfully articulate in words.
There’s a hardware retailer that has large, green stores all over the country that clearly trains its staff to do a very simple task. Almost every time you pass an employee in the store, they make a point of saying hello.
The whole point of this is that people feel welcome. If they feel welcome, then they’re more likely to return. That’s why many churches and parish communities have turned their attention to the hospitality they provide when people come to worship.
We certainly do our part; there may be people at the door handing out the Carmel and saying hello. There may be tea and coffee available after Mass in the parish centre. Yet this is only one part of the hospitality we need to provide.
The manner by which the priest leads the community in prayer, the way the Ministers of the Word prepare their readings and proclaim them well, and the way musicians support the assembly in the singing of acclamations and hymns are just some ways our liturgical ministers provide hospitality to those who gather to pray.
Yet we are all called to show hospitality to others. It can be as simple as moving a little further down the pew to let someone else take a seat. It’s the warm smile that comes with the words “Peace be with you” at the sign of peace. If a visitor has a question, can we answer it, or direct them to someone who can help them? Making sure that the church is clean also helps contribute to hospitality.
Hospitality, therefore, is everyone’s business. It’s not just a job a few people volunteer to do, but something that is part of the culture of vibrant, welcoming parishes. Not only does it encourage people to participate fully, consciously and actively in the liturgy, but it’s also crucial to us achieving our vision to help families feel connected, supported and valued.
The quality is closely linked with service. We must be prepared to put aside our own interests and place ourselves at the service of Christ, with whom we are united in our worship.
The liturgy also unites us with each individual who worships with us, and in whom Christ is present. It is only when we recongise the presence of Christ in others, and we place ourselves at the service of our brothers and sisters that we truly and completely place ourselves at the service of Jesus.
The great example Christ gives us of humble service is his washing of the feet of his disciples. Peter originally refused to have his feet washed because he realised what Jesus was doing – placing himself in the position of a servant or slave, someone who would never have been considered ‘great’ in the society and culture of the time. When we think about it more deeply, Peter’s refusal may not have only been to the confronting act of Christ’s humility, but also to the confronting realisation that Jesus would expect the same from him.
We can find words in the liturgy to express our humility; the Penitential Act and our response to the invitation to Communion (Lord, I am not worthy…) being probably the most obvious. Yet for us as Catholics, both within our worship and within our daily lives, we are challenged to make humility part of our way of being.
Over the past week, thirty-four of our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion participated in the annual formation workshop.
We reflected upon the participation on everybody in the liturgical celebration. The Mass is the celebration of Christ and his Church – the Church present at this time and place, united in prayer and faith with the Church universal and those gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
The focus of this workshop was to consider some of the qualities that our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion possess. Blessed (Pope) Paul VI, in his 1973 instruction, Immensae Caritatis, described those suitable for this ministry being people “whose good qualities… recommended them”. We shared a number of qualities that are displayed by our ministers, and focused on four in particular:
We will discuss these qualities in greater detail in the coming weeks. We also considered how these qualities, displayed and modelled by our ministers (and hopefully by all our parishioners), allow us to contribute in a small way to the realisation of our parish vision that all families feel connected, supported and valued as they live and grow in their faith. That is why you will find some of our discussion recorded and displayed on our parish vision board in the narthex today.