Tuesday, October 08, 2019 - Updated: 1:34 pm
QUESTION: Have you ever noticed the “strange” people who attend Sunday Mass? When I go to Mass I want to pray and not be distracted or disturbed. Shouldn’t we be able to do something about that? I am all for some sort of “screening” process at the entrances of our churches.
ANSWER: It is not easy to assess the meaning of “strange” in the above question. But as a priest, I do know that not all the people who attend Mass are the same. But I reflect on the “variety” at Mass from a different perspective.
At the elevation of the consecrated host I have just said the words of consecration. There, I repeat the words of Jesus: “This is my body.” As a priest, I look at the host, and as I do so I also see the congregation behind it. I have thought many times that this image is the New Testament’s vision of Christ in the Eucharist and Christ within the people. St. Paul even tells the Christians of Corinth: “You are the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
The communities of the New Testament also contained varieties of peoples. There were rich and poor, slave and free, sick and well, deeply devoted and wavering in faith. St. Paul was aware of this when he wrote to the Corinthian church about divisions among them (see 1 Corinthians, Chapters 11 and 12).
Catholic theology and canon law reflect this when they teach that all the baptized have a genuine right to be present for the church’s public worship. This includes those whose physical health or development may be impaired. Some young people and adults do not have the same level of cognition as others. Some people are not able to concentrate for extended periods of time. For some, their speech is incoherent as they pray. Parents and caregivers accompanying them are very aware that some behaviors are unpredictable. This is the daily life of some of our brothers and sisters. But they share the same right to have a seat at the Lord’s banquet. How could we ever think of excluding them? They make up the same body of Christ as we do.
In most parish churches those who first encounter people are the ushers and greeters. Their task is critically important. They are the ministers of hospitality who set the tone for welcome and reverence. Ushers and greeters who notice people who have special needs should assist them by providing accommodation that includes them but also provides for any additional needs that they might have. The point is to be of service to the community and to every individual. To Christ, each one matters.
“Different” is not the same as disruptive. People who come to our churches for Mass should feel safe. Disruptive people may cause others discomfort and even fear. Questions of safety and security are real and necessary to address. The challenge is who addresses these issues (and how). Today, some measures are more important than ever. For example, when seats are available, it is important that people be seated. People standing in back corners and behind pillars means something today that it never did before. Pastors and pastoral ministers are constantly evaluating all the issues of welcome, safety and security.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.