The Church is not a Convenience Store - Part 2 - 10th August 2014

A couple of months ago I wrote about my concern that a consumer mentality is impacting on our worship practice and the church is sometimes treated like a convenience store and the liturgy as a product. I offered as evidence parishioners who expect Mass to be over and done with as quickly as possible, who want everything to be to their liking, and who leave all the work involved in preparing for, celebrating and clearing up after liturgy to others.

Hence the headline “Hopes says Mass has become consumerised” in the latest edition of The Tablet from London caught my eye. The article reports on a lecture by Bishop Alan Hopes, chairman of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales Committee on Liturgy, in which he expressed concern that some Catholics seem to expect that Mass should be available whenever and wherever it suits them and appear to have developed a sense of entitlement about receiving Holy Communion every time they are at Mass.

“The Mass has become the most prevalent service, but we have a rich liturgy and this is something we should look into”, he said. Later Bishop Hopes asked people to consider other forms of worship as well as Mass, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina and the Rosary. “We need to encourage people,” he said. “I was taken by surprise in East Anglia to find that people will come together very early for Morning Prayer.”

“We expect Communion at every Mass. People seem to have the attitude ‘What do I get out of this?’ We have shifted to a practice where everybody gets up for Communion which makes it awkward for those who can’t go to Communion.”

A few years ago I assisted a parish in a more remote part of this diocese to prepare for celebrating Morning Prayer one day a week and Evening Prayer on another day of the week because weekday Mass was available to them only once a week and parishioners wanted to come together more regularly for liturgical prayer.

There was a group of parishioners who happily took up this opportunity to celebrate the Prayer of the Church with the community during the week. There were some however who refused to join in because Holy Communion was not part of the service. One lady actually said to me “I won’t be coming if I can’t get Jesus”.

If that’s not a consumerist mentality, I don’t know what is!

Why is it inappropriate to include the distribution of Holy Communion at Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, celebrations of the word and other such liturgies when some people expect – even demand - it?

When communion is distributed outside Mass, the “holy exchange” of giving and receiving and our participation through the action of the Spirit in the ongoing sacrifice of Christ is not enacted. We receive communion but we do not make Eucharist. Distributing communion outside the context of the Mass contributes to an incomplete understanding of Eucharist.

A eucharistic community is one which gathers to give thanks, not just to receive communion. Eucharist is an activity we do, not just something we receive passively – like consumers.

Elizabeth Harrington