LITURGY & HOSPITALITY
Last Saturday, St. Matthew’s hosted a very successful Liturgy Workshop. Many enthusiastic ministers attended the morning. Thank you to all who attended. For those of you who were unable to make it, Moya McGinn Matthews, liturgical director at Christ the King in Minneapolis, was invited to return and share her thoughts on Liturgy as an act of hospitality.
Every minister of the liturgy is first and foremost a minister of hospitality, “for Christ will say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’” (Rule of Benedict, 53:1; Matthew 25:35)
Moya presented a thoughtful reflection on the four primary ways in which Christ is present in the liturgy: 1) the Gathered assembly, 2) the Word of God, 3) Holy Eucharist, and 4) the Ordained Presider. We focused on the first three.
Working backward, Moya challenged our Eucharistic ministers to look every congregant in the eyes. This is not something that we are very comfortable with, especially in a post-Covid world. But Moya reminded us that everything we do inside the church must be counter-cultural. When our Eucharistic ministers say “the Body of Christ” they are saying that the individual receiving communion is the body of Christ at the same time that it means the mystical presence of Christ in the species of bread and wine.
The Word of God is the entire first half of our liturgy, and an important way in which we experience Christ’s presence at Mass and in our community. Moya guided us through a prayer practice known as Ignatian contemplation, part of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Praying with the imagination involves reading a passage of scripture and placing yourself in the scene. Imagining with as much detail and using all of your senses to play the scene out in your mind. When we place ourselves in the scene, we might be one of the main characters or a bystander. This kind of prayer helps us to remember that scripture is based on the lives of real humans and helps us to connect with God’s message to real people the same today as God did when Christ was on earth.
Finally, Christ is present in the liturgy through the Gathered Assembly. For where two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is there. Moya reminded us that God does not need us to do liturgy. We do liturgy so that we can find ways to connect more deeply with God and so that we can help each other connect more deeply with God.
One of my primary goals in assisting with the spiritual direction of our parish is for every member of our community to feel a radical call to hospitality. As a volunteer parish, this is already happening on many levels. We have greeters who meet you as you walk in, and provide you with a hymnal, a bulletin, a worship aid and a smile. Members serve reverently and faithfully as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, cantors, gift bearers, and behind the scenes decorating the church, keeping our sanctuary clean, contributing resources to our new library, or participating in one of our councils. Our Rosary Society and Men’s Club are always busy planning social events and meeting the needs of our community through preparing funeral luncheons, or supporting one of the many guest ministries in our buildings, and so on. There are many formal ways to participate in hospitality at our church and I encourage you to ask yourself if any of these ministries might be a good fit for you. But the ministry of hospitality is bigger than just service. It’s the way we engage our neighbor in the seats next to us.
When I was in graduate school in Los Angeles, I was surprised to find myself at the beginning of the school year attending my university’s Catholic Center. I was not planning to get overly involved. But when I got up to leave after that first Mass, students were lined up in the back of church to greet new students. Not to sign us up for anything in particular, but to ask a few simple questions. What are your gifts? What do you like to do? Do you want to learn to surf? We can get a group together to do that. You enjoy running? Let’s start a running club. Are you a knitter? Let’s find time to knit together. It came as no surprise after this warm welcome, when I learned that the Catholic Center at USC was voted the number one student organization on campus. Not religious organization. Student organization. Because it was a place of welcome.
I invite you to reflect on ways that you can welcome your neighbors when you come to Mass on Saturday or Sunday. How can you grow connections with the individuals in the seats next to you? Learn who they are and what gifts they already bring to our community? Let us find new ways to welcome the strangers among us as honored guests. Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est. Where charity and love are, God is there.