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Extending Hospitality to our Fellow Worshippers
Sometimes the comment is made that there seems to be less reverence among Catholics at worship today than there was a generation or two ago.
Part of the problem may simply be that we have changed the way we express reverence. In the past, we tended to show reverence by not doing things: not talking in church, not chewing the host, not touching the chalice and not setting foot in the sanctuary. While those were valid ways to signal our reverence, the reformed liturgy calls for different expressions.
Reverence is a matter of recognising and responding to the presence of the divine. The Second Vatican Council reminded us that Christ is present in the eucharist in at least four different modes: in the bread and wine transformed into his body and blood, in the word proclaimed in the midst of the assembly, in the presider who leads our worship, and in the assembly itself.
Most Catholics seem to have a basic recognition of Christ’s presence in the first three modes, but it is the fourth one that we need to relearn. Christ dwells in each of us, and when we gather for worship, our very gathering makes the body of Christ more clearly visible.
When we make the effort to greet those with whom we worship, when we treat others with dignity and respect, we show the kind of reverence that we owe to the Christ in each person. This is why hospitality at worship is so important. It is not a matter of just being friendly or making people feel good. It is truly a matter of reverence, of recognising the presence of Christ in one another and responding to that presence.
This is most clearly evident when we make the effort to reach out to someone we don’t know or perhaps don’t like for some reason. Focusing our efforts at hospitality on people we know is easier, but then it’s not clear whether what we are expressing is real reverence or just common friendship. When we reach out to strangers or to people with whom we are less comfortable, that is more clearly an act of reverence, for we are recognising Christ in them and treating them accordingly.
When we welcome with respect the teenager who seems unhappy to be at church, we welcome Christ with reverence. When we welcome the disabled man or woman, we welcome Christ. When we welcome immigrants from other lands as brothers and sisters in Christ, we show reverence. When we greet and welcome someone with whom we have had differences, we express our recognition that Christ dwells in them too.
Reverence, like hospitality itself, is a contagious thing. People who are treated with respect are more likely to be respectful of others. Those who experience reverence in you are more likely to be reverent themselves. Those who sense that you recognise Christ in them will be more likely to recognise that same Christ in others around them.
Reverence at worship is certainly important, a reverence that begins with recognising Christ in our brothers and sisters as we gather.