Friday, February 15, 2019 - Updated: 12:36 pm
QUESTION: I go to Mass each weekend, but never really feel welcome. I feel that most Catholics do not make any effort to welcome people at Mass. I wonder if other people feel that way and what the church can do to change that?
ANSWER: In the earliest days of the church, welcome or “fellowship” was clearly a part of the Eucharist. In fact, St. Paul speaks strongly against those who were not extending fellowship (see Chapter 11 of the First Letter to the Corinthians). That deep concern for one another, especially at the Eucharist, changed over the centuries.
Eucharist came to more resemble the Temple worship of the Old Testament than the Last Supper. As time progressed, even until the mid-1960s, the celebration of Mass reflected that. In that context, Catholics came to Mass clearly with the purpose of worshiping God in a way that was very focused. It was a corporate event that was at the same time rather private.
There was an unwritten rule that one kept silent in church and “minded one’s own business” until after Mass (outside of church). The liturgy itself supported this view. There were many who saw in this picture of worship a beautiful context of peace, privacy and intimacy with God.
The theological perspectives of the Second Vatican Council moved in a different direction. A fundamental perspective was presented that God dwells within the word (as proclaimed and heard), in the sacrament (Eucharist) and in the community (made in the image and likeness of God). From this perspective came a new vision of liturgy (Mass), a renewed emphasis on the community as participants not spectators.
While today most Catholics understand the new perspectives on the Mass, one area still to be unfolded is the way we deal with one another in church. For many, “church” is still supposed to be a place of quiet, peace and great reverence and awe. Talking, greeting, welcoming, etc. are fine, but not in church.
For others, however, nurtured within a different mindset, greeting, welcoming, etc. are an essential part of being “church.” That point of view is certainly reflective of the teaching of the church and the spirit of the liturgy. That viewpoint attempts to see Mass as the location where one builds up the body of Christ, which is a parish community.
The challenge that remains for parishes and their leaders is finding a way that we can worship and still be welcoming. Is it possible to be both reverent and welcoming? Is it possible to have respect for the house of God and respect for the people who come there?
Those are significant questions. The answers have to be built on solid principles. The Eucharist is clearly the worship of God. We come to Mass to give praise to God. That can’t be obscured. But there must be ways to do that so others feel welcomed and valued. There are simple things that make a difference. Every parish has to reflect on what they are.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.