by Elizabeth Harrington.
A young lady wrote recently in “The Tablet” about her failed attempts at meeting people at Mass in a new parish. A Lutheran friend of mine felt completely at sea when she attended Mass at the local Catholic church and had to find out for herself what everyone else seemed to know, namely, where to pick up a bulletin and hymn book so she could join in the liturgy.
When we are welcoming visitors to our home, whether family, friends or strangers, we normally tidy the house, greet guests at the door, provide enough food and drink for everyone and make sure that all are comfortable and included in the conversation. For some reason, however, this accepted and expected behaviour is forgotten when it comes to the worshipping community, as the stories above indicate.
While many parishes have established a ministry of hospitality and roster people to be “greeters” at the church door, others have not. Having parish ministers of hospitality is not a “cop-out” for the rest of us. Everyone at Mass has a ministry of welcome and warmth to the community and is called to “be present” to others as fellow members of the Body of Christ.
This isn’t just a “feel-good” fad or part of some trendy push to be inclusive. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal doesn’t pull any punches about our attitude towards others at Mass. It clearly calls on the faithful to share “charity toward all who share with them in the celebration. They, therefore, are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their mind that they have one Father in heaven and therefore are all brothers and sisters to each other. They should become one body …….. There is a beautiful expression of this unity when the faithful maintain uniformity in their actions and in standing, sitting or kneeling”.
Liturgy is not a time for ‘doing my own thing’ or ‘my time with God’. We’re all in this together!
Besides, we know that Christ is present in the assembly and that we must reverence this presence in the same way that we acknowledge Christ’s presence in the presider, the word and the consecrated elements.
Hospitality is everyone’s ministry. It is up to each one of us to “pay attention” to those who are with us at Mass and to make everyone welcome. We are all expected to give of ourselves as much as possible to whatever prayer or action or song or silence we are helping to create.
Within the community some have a particular role to play in creating an atmosphere that is inviting and welcoming:
· Presiders through their manner of presiding and preaching
· Readers by proclaiming clearly so that all can hear
· Music leaders by inviting all to join in song
· Church cleaners and decorators by creating an attractive and comfortable worship space
· Ministers of communion by serving graciously at the table of the Lord
· Ushers/greeters by providing a warm welcome at the church door and offering information to visitors.
A parish which puts energy into developing the ministry of hospitality will soon transform a group of Mass-goers into a welcoming and life-giving community, an assembly that generates faith, hope and love.