(The Nationalist, 16 June 2006)
Communion is a verb more than a noun. It is not so much a thing we receive, as a sacred event we share in, a hallowed occasion in which we participate. Seeing Communion as a thing lends itself to a materialistic, or even magical, view of it, as if, just by the very act of receiving the Host, we will get God’s grace. But the fruitfulness of any sacrament is in proportion to the dispositions of the person receiving it. And before we can come to the Eucharist we must first be called to faith and conversion.
The Mass is not for spectators, but for participants. Merely putting in an appearance is of little value. Sometimes we may see the Mass as something the priest does while we, the congregation, watch. But there is a responsibility on the whole congregation, not only on the priest, to create an atmosphere of faith and reverence in the church for Mass. We are not asked to come with fear or anxiety, but not casually or as a matter of routine, either.
It is difficult, at times, to notice a sense of reverence in a church before Mass. Sometimes there is constant chatter, especially – dare I say it – among the elderly. And often, the Mass, up to the end of the readings, is wiped out by the distraction caused by late arrivals. Then add the jingle of mobile phones, and the noise of children allowed by parents to roam and shout freely. Behaviour that would not be engaged in during a film in a cinema, or in a café or bar, is regarded as acceptable during Mass. From personal experience I could relate multiple examples of immature, thoughtless and even exhibitionistic behaviour by adults which I would consider to be outside the bounds of acceptability in a church.
The Eucharist is the summit of the liturgy which is the public worship of the Christian community. But a summit can’t stand without a base; the higher can’t stand without the lower. If the Mass exists in isolation, without a basis in daily prayer, reflection or reading, it cannot but be diminished. In the Catholic Church, we have, so to speak, put all our eggs in one basket – the Mass. And that is a losing situation to be in, especially when a sense of reverence for it, and for the church building as a house of God and place of prayer, seems to have declined markedly.
With falling numbers of priests, daily Mass will no longer be possible in all churches. Maybe that is an opportunity for the Christian community to develop by participation alternative forms of prayer, Bible-reflection and faith-sharing. One memory I have of Africa from my time there is that the Mass was best received and respected by those communities which had it least often, and vice versa.
For those in a hurry: ‘If we drop the word “sacrifice” from our vocabulary, then the idea of sacrifice will soon drop from our minds, and, not long after, the practice of sacrifice will drop from our lives’. (Anon)