“Since, however, the celebration of the Eucharist, like the entire Liturgy, is carried out by means of perceptible signs by which the faith is nourished, strengthened, and expressed, the greatest care is to be taken that those forms and elements proposed by the Church are chosen and arranged, which, given the circumstances of persons and places, more effectively foster active and full participation and more aptly respond to the spiritual needs of the faithful.”
― from “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Liturgy Documentary Series Book 14)”
Do we forget why we go to church? I think this happens all the time, it is an epidemic of our times. The modern era has brought the mega church, a place that provides for all life’s needs. Childcare and Sunday school are the bare beginnings, these large churches usually feed everyone breakfast and lunch, they have soccer leagues through the week, numerous bible studies, help groups, networking groups, they teach family finance and last but not least give prizes for church attendance, kind of like the subway card you punch each time you get a sandwich, hoping to get the ten punches for a free sandwich!
Placing myself in the role of a new visitor to Christianity, I would think that I come to God because of what I will receive. I go to church and I get a veritable country club, and I get heaven to boot! Sad to say, but I think this is the proverbial road to hell paved with good intentions.
So why do we go to church? We go to worship and bring others to Christ. Thats it, we worship God and spread His Word.
We worship through prayer, through song, and through attentively listening to His Word in scripture and preaching. Many cultures have traditions of bringing gifts to the doors of those who help them, or perhaps are venerable for something they have done. We likewise, need to understand we come to God’s house, bringing and leaving our gift. But lets take one step at a time so we can fully understand.
- We were made by God, it was not our right to exist, but God gave us the greatest gift, that of life. This life is not simply 70-100 mean years here on this broken world, then we die; it is an eternal gift! We should therefore want to say thanks at least once a week! This is our first issue, so many of us do not feel grateful for life. We can many times feel like abandoned children in the worst section of a big city, lost, weak, afraid and having no hope. But if we stop and think this through, to be lost would mean we can’t find home; how far is it to the nearest church? This might be a good study regionally, but here in the metroplex I don’t think we are ever more than 2 miles from a church. How can we be lost? Our fathers home is so close! I have never in twenty years of ministry known a church regular that does not have their needs met. Feeling alone? Go to church!
- When we go to church, we are expected to bring a gift. Interesting how many people want to be given things in order to visit God’s house. I’ll come if your feeding me, I’ll come if there is that good preacher speaking; this list goes on and can be quite lengthy. All the while, we are the ones suppose to be bearing gifts. Sound strange? When you are invited to another house, is it not customary to bring a gift? I have to admit to not being the best guest here, I have often gone to eat at another house and showed up empty handed…they fed me anyway! And God will also take us even if we are empty handed, but we need to improve our manners. What can we bring?
- Our treasure, regardless how meager. A gift that comes form a wealthy man is certainly welcome, (really, at any time!!) but a gift from one who I know has very little has a depth of meaning that eclipses our language’s ability to explain.
- Our talents, through preparing, reading, serving and singing.
- Our time. If I were to limit all dinner parties to one hour, would that be enough time to gather, socialize, eat, and have desert? It would not! What if I came over, sat in the back of the living room, said nothing but occasionally checked my watch, tapping my foot. Good guest? I would say not!
- While visiting, we should be good guests! Is there anything more offensive (maybe it’s just me??) than a visitor that treats your home as if they own it? I’ve had guests that light cigarettes (I’m asthmatic), rearrange my furniture, use my bed for a nap, and even told me how pitiful my house was! I want folks to be comfortable, to “feel” at home, but not assume it’s their home! We come to God’s house, it’s His. I know, we may have paid for it, built it with our own two hands, and therefore believe it is ours; but who gave you the money? Who gave you the talents to build? It all came from God. We need to get better at the art of helping others, even God, without feeling we possess that which we helped build, or are owed a favor in return.
- (Really 3B but the program won’t do that…) While visiting, we should be good guests! Don’t fight, cuss, spit, nor make yourself a general nuisance! Yes I have seen ALL these done in God’s house. Best behavior! Be ready to be helpful, be ready to be forgiving, and yes be ready to give up your comfort for the comfort of others.
This bring me back to my beginning
“the greatest care is to be taken that those forms and elements proposed by the Church are chosen and arranged, which, given the circumstances of persons and places, more effectively foster active and full participation and more aptly respond to the spiritual needs of the faithful.“
If we have learned one thing from this short study, it is that we are not at church for ourselves, we are there for others. God, and those who do not yet know God. Do we accept others eagerly? Even if it means losing our pew? We all like our places at church; our pew, our job. We are not there to be comfortable, we are there to bring others to Christ. We should always ask ourselves a few questions.
- Is our church growing? If it is not, why not? What about the church is causing us not to grow? This should be THE paramount question in all churches. What can we do to bring more visitors, or should I say seekers into our church? What did Jesus say? Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mt 16:18). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.
- If we are not growing, we are dying, how could this be given the above verse? This should bring panic to any small church. Why? Because if we are dying we are working against God, as He would help us mightily if we were pleasing to Him.
- Is our church welcoming? Who is the first to greet our visitors? How many doors and turns must they go through to be greeted? Do places of business that are “walk in customer” focused make themselves hard to find? No. Greeters are right behind the priest in importance to every church, and they are the job that is lacking in most. We also need to look and see if the same people are doing the same jobs every Sunday. If so, many sitting in the pews are missing the opportunity to serve. We need to be ready to step aside and share the blessing of serving at the altar.
- Is our service uplifting and easy to follow? One of the main efforts of Vatican II was to take a service that was confusing and even off putting to so many and “modernize” it. Many scoff at Vatican II for the effort to take away “their” mass, but it is not about us is it? We are at church to bring others to Christ, and that is hard to do if our visitors are lost from the word go. If we want intricate and complicated services then it is up to us to find a way to educate the visitor so that they can follow easily. If we can’t do this, then we should should have a simple worship service that is not aimed as ourselves and our wants and desires, but at those who might be seeking Christ.
A lot to think about I know, but something every church must take seriously if we are to be part of the Church Catholic. After all, we go to church to worship and bring others to Christ; so that all may be a part of the universal Church.