Go in peace to love and serve the Lord (or just come to coffee…)

I already had my mind on how we are sent forth from eucharistic liturgy to be Christ for the world when Brett Salkeld’s wonderful post on “Real Presence and Mission” appeared here in Pray Tell on 9 November 2021. His is the fourth of a series on real presence and offers substantial theological reflections on the implications of the ritual dismissal for our vocation of justice in the world. My contribution is humbler in goals with some questions about ritual structure and retention of ritual patterns in these months of re-grouping and re-thinking how the body of Christ gathers post-pandemic in proximity and presence.

Of the many oddities which get in the way of “authentic” liturgy (to borrow Nathaniel Marx’s “genealogical and performative categories”), I have always wondered about the parish sequence of being sent forth, “go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, or “go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit” (being two common Anglican versions of “ite, missa est”) only for the community to head off to coffee hour where small groups of friends or like-minded cohorts often gather to chat while newcomers, strangers and introverts are left to their own devices.

As communities begin to re-gather for in-person liturgies, the coffee hour has often been the last to return because it requires a certain element of being unmasked to drink and eat. For those in temperate climates and with adequate outdoor parish space, these gatherings were quicker to return, sometimes with just conversation, then coffee (or beverage) added, and finally with some food. I have heard and experienced first-hand how the parallel pandemics of loneliness and disruption have made this ‘communion’ of great importance for many. But like several other liturgical elements, I wonder if we might take advantage of the rupture of common patterns and practices to re-think this “eighth sacrament” in many parish communities…

First – many liturgical scholars and those deeply invested in living out liturgical scholarship have noted how over-looked and yet important being sent out to be Christ for others is. The emphasis often lands on other parts of the liturgy and the dismissal becomes an after-thought of ritual dialogues. What if we did the unthinkable – changed the pattern in this time of changes? In the past I always thought it odd when the occasional community gathered before the liturgy for coffee and conversation – now I wonder (and yes, of course, I know the issues about not eating before the liturgy etc – a queasiness that extends beyond Roman Catholicism into other catholic communities).

But, what if people did gather first instead – with a bit more attention to include outsiders – then moved to prayer and liturgy – then were sent out. What would that change? How would it help make the connection between the liturgical dismissal and the living of Christian lives? (and, what if the announcements came right before the blessing and dismissal – and were focused not on Christmas bazaars and social events within the community but on the social justice actions of the community)? What if the re-formation of the worshipping community began before the opening song and continued through the various elements of our gathering rites, especially in communities where there are many households of one person attending?

Second – where else in the liturgy have many of us been hoping to see a shift in emphasis? What other ritual/liturgical elements have grown out of proportion, or have moved from their secondary placement to one of primacy in the eyes of many who come to worship God?

I can think of two other parts of the liturgy for which I sighed with relief at the changes enforced by pandemic restrictions. The first was the collection of money and its often triumphant procession to the front to become the primary “offering”, overshadowing and replacing the bread and wine of the eucharist. The continuing prohibition in many places of ‘passing the basket’, along with the increasingly common move to make one’s contributions to the parish electronically, may very well present us with a chance to return to the preparation of gifts and table as well as the actual efficacious “offertory” in the midst of the eucharistic prayer (“recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts”)

I would also have a go at the kiss of peace – not because it is an unimportant part of the liturgy – but rather because it is so important. Unfortunately what happened in so many parish communities prior to the pandemic was coffee hour without the coffee. Long extended conversations with friends and acquaintances (and my personal favourite, being ignored as a stranger and guest in many communities as people walked around greeting the people they knew and liked). It had become in many places a mockery of what it actually is. Now most are instructed to remain in their places and bow or make a discreet sign of greeting to others around them – now is our chance to undo the antithesis of the social sign of peace and return to reconciliation and the recognition of Christ in each other at its heart.

So much of our liturgical and ritual lives were disrupted during COVID’s isolating power, but the effects of the pandemic are, of course, much greater than ritual disruption. Death and grieving, serious illness and set-backs in education and assistance continue, poverty enhanced in many places, social tensions exacerbated, and serious re-learning the skills of socialization still in process. But, just to dwell on how we enact faith in our common ritual lives – what else might we imagine having an opportunity to fix, change, re-order in these times of return and reflection?

2 comments

  1. Thank you, Lizette, for your very thoughtful comments! I appreciate your efforts to get us from our comfortable patterns to a more truly Christian stance as we go out from the Sunday service into the world! And, to use the disruptions of these comfortable patterns by the pandemic as a springboard to such changes.

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