One time I read an account of an interview with the priest who wrote the book “Heaven in Stone and Glass,” and was bothered by a couple of statements he made.
When speaking about church architecture he said, “I think the gathered community is important—but not that important.”
He also criticized a favorite liturgical hymn of mine, “Gather Us In.”
He said, and I quote, “There is a popular liturgical song that I particularly dislike. Speaking of the presence of God in the midst of the assembly it says, ‘Not in some heaven light years away, but here in this place, etc.’ Well, that’s just bad theology.”
Well, I don’t know where he studied theology, but everything I learned about the Mass is that Christ is indeed present in the people gathered for worship.
As I reflected on these statements, by a priest no less, I began to wonder how many church-going Catholics really know and believe that Christ is present in a special way when we come together to celebrate the Mass, the central and most important prayer of the church?
Now this is what I remember from my study of liturgical theology. I hope I was paying close attention or someone may mention me in his column. When we come together to celebrate Mass, Christ is present in the following ways: in the priest who leads the assembly, in the Word of God proclaimed, in the Eucharist — consecrated bread and wine; and in the people of God assembled for worship.
Jesus told us, “Where two or more are gathered together for prayer, there I am in their midst.”
We are, after all, the Body of Christ. We are his hands, his feet, his mouth, etc. We are the ones who carry on his mission to reveal God’s love and build the reign of God on this earth. It’s a big responsibility.
Because Christ is indeed present in the assembly at Mass, a priest celebrating Mass alone is frowned upon by the church.
Actually everyone who comes to Mass celebrates the Eucharist. The priest is the presider who leads the people in the celebration. He is the main celebrant, not the only celebrant.
We each have an active role in the celebration.
Mass is not a show at which we are the spectators. We are not an audience. We don’t just sit and watch what is going on in the sanctuary. We participate.
The assembly has an important role, as do the lectors, Eucharistic ministers, musicians and priest.
The assembly participates by responding to the prayers, by singing the songs, by receiving Holy Communion, and by believing in what takes place. It is not a passive role, but a very active role.
Together we offer the sacrifice of praise to our God, and Christ is indeed present in our midst.
Remember, we are the Body of Christ and God is in each of us. That belief should make a big difference in how we live our lives.
There are big, beautiful cathedrals around the world, but the greatest cathedral that contains the presence of the Lord is his body, the people who are the church.
Sister Margie Lavonis is a Sister of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Ind. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.