The Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association (PNCEA) is creating a parish renewal program called “Living the Eucharist” to be launched in 2012. I am happy to be one of several writers who will be contributing to the project.
In one of my preliminary conversations with Fr. Ken Boyack, he said something which struck me. You know how dutiful and grim people can become when going about the serious, serious business of church. Yet this is not the tone of the project at all. Rather, he said: “We want to delight people.”
How wonderful, I thought. And what a breath of fresh air. Celebrating the Eucharist and living the Eucharist—whatever else it may be—is a joyful thing. Joy is characteristic of Christian discipleship. Worship should indeed delight people.
Psalm 43, long associated with the Eucharist in Christian history, expresses it well:
Bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place of your dwelling.
That I may come to the altar of God,
to God, my joy, my delight.
Then I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.
Admittedly, we are living in a not-so-delightful time. The atmosphere of conflict and controversy so dismally termed the “liturgy wars,” not to mention the day-to-day pressures of life itself, can make the experience of worship go stale. Yet even despite all this, I believe there is much in the liturgy to delight us.
People have shared with me some surprising examples of their own delight. “Watching the communion procession—that’s my favorite part of Mass!” or “Just knowing that I can be who I really am there; that’s so wonderful.” A few weeks ago, I shared my hymnal with a little girl of about eight in the pew in front of me. After Mass, I overheard her say to her grandmother with a little sigh “I love church.” Well, melt my heart. Clearly, she had experienced something there which delighted her.
What delights you in the experience of the Eucharist? I’d like to know, not so much to start an argument as to hear some of the variety of experience that is no doubt out there. To start the ball rolling, I’ve assembled a partial and personal list of Things I Find Delightful About Mass (offered in no particular order). You may wish to comment on one of these, or add others I’ve missed.
- Its antiquity
- The fact that it is laced through with the Scripture
- The structure and movement of the celebration
- The fragility of the signs of bread and wine
- Singing in a resonant space
- The presence of Jesus
- Moments of silence
- The words of the Eucharistic Prayer
- Seeing people of all ages and walks of life engaged together in the event
- The scent of incense, old wood, beeswax
- Touching holy water
- The taste of bread and wine
- Each of the readings
- Grasping my neighbor’s hand at the Sign of Peace
- The splendor of rare gifts (e.g. in the arts)
- Ordinariness, sameness
- Knowing the people around me and what it means to them to be there
- Feeling connected to perfect strangers
- Intense prayer
- Intimations of heaven
- Strength for the journey