Think of how strange the very setting of a parish church is in our world today. What else is similar to it? We might think, “It’s like a movie theater.” But a movie setting does not ask you to interact with it; if you sang, spoke, or moved around during a film, you would be more than “shushed” by the other moviegoers.
Perhaps we come to our church services with images of the way other people attend large events. We might think it’s like attending a show, or a Broadway musical, or even a sporting event.
In our world, so much comes to us through a screen of one sort or another, ever larger high definition TVs or ever smaller mobile platforms. As a result, we have all become spectators. Perhaps we might react to things we see on the screen, but our yelling “Yeah!” or booing stays within our little circle. These days, even in large groups, we are mostly spectators.
At church we are drawn together from our various households. We enter a space unlike any other in our experience (unless a parish is using an auditorium as a temporary worship space): pews, tall ceilings, muted lighting, stained glass. We enter a space that needs thresholds to bring us into the liturgical experience: greetings, opening hymns, personal reflection, an opening prayer.
What is most different, however, is the way the Mass asks us to interact. Although we sometimes think of it as something we’re looking at, the Mass asks us to respond, to sing to acclaim, to profess, to process, to express peace and love to those around us, and to go forth with a renewed mission. In fact, how we do these things profoundly affects the whole experience of being at church.
It’s not a stadium, a store, a cinema, or a theater. It’s a church, a parish, a congregation, with a whole other way of involvement and participation.
How active do you feel during the Sunday Mass? Do you feel engaged or disconnected? Why? If so, what can you do to feel more engaged?
The next time you go to Mass, try to be very conscious of your gestures, and those of the other people worshipping with you, the times they stand, sit, kneel, respond, move. See if you can think of the Mass in terms of “people dynamics”.
Lord Jesus, you gather us together as a community when you call us to worship. You ask for our response, both individually and as a community. You nourish us with your Word and your Body. You send us forth. Help us to see you, open us to you, and let us respond to you more fully in worship. We pray this in your name.