From the Hermeneutic of Continuity blog:
by Fr. Tim Finagen
An over-emphasis on the Mass as a social gathering is a problem that has many practical consequences. In England, I think that we are blessed with the priest generally having quite a close familial contact with the people. If the Mass is generally seen as another social gathering, the priest can therefore seem stand-offish if he tries to make the Church a place reserved for prayer and worship, rather than a continuation of all the other social activities of the parish. A renewed sense of the sacred in Church would allay such fears and provide a sensible distinction between what we are doing in the Church and what we are doing in the Hall next door.
Recently we had an interfaith Thanksgiving service at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church. One Catholic who attended remarked afterward that Methodists really know how to "fellowship"; it comes naturally to them. By this he meant the friendly atmosphere in the church prior to the service. People really enjoyed being in the presence of their fellow church-goers. It was as though the fellowship was a sacrament for them.
And yes, I do believe this to be true. Certainly, they don't understand their fellowship in the strict sense of sacrament, but they do recognize that where two or three gather in the Lord's name, Jesus is present. It seems to me if a church does not have a highly developed sacramental theology, then fellowship become the sacrament of choice. Even in Protestantism, you will find greater fellowship and conversation prior to worship amongst Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and congregationalists as compared to Lutherans and Episcopalians who expect more silence in their churches especially before worship as their form of liturgy is more "sacramental."
What Methodists and most Protestant denominations don't have, is Catholicism's full-blown understanding of Jesus Christ present in the Most Holy Eucharist at Mass and the Most Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle. For us, fellowship has traditionally been practiced outside of the confines of the Church building, what Protestants would call the sanctuary. In really traditional Catholicism where complete neighborhoods in fact comprised the parish, fellowship happened naturally; it did not need to be contrived in a church setting, either the church building or fellowship hall. The Church was for formal worship, praise and adoration of God. Our worship is vertical and focused on God. Outside of the Church and preferably in our neighborhoods, we focus on one another and the needs of others because of our Catholic faith and the grace that God offers us when we worship Him. Our good works are "horizontal" if you will as these flow from our "vertical" worship of God at Mass.
With the loss of the sense of the sacred after Vatican II, especially our traditional reverence in the presence of the Most Holy Eucharist and that the Mass is an "unbloody" representation of the Sacrifice of Jesus, somehow our spirituality and worship in the confines of our church building and liturgy became more and more horizontal or people oriented, focusing in on the neighbor at Mass and not always on the God whom we expect to be present on our altar and who will return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. Just look at what liturgists decided was best for Church architecture and how bishops and building committees bought their "horizontalized" view of Church and worship lock, stock and barrel. People had to see the face of not only the priest at Mass but of one another, so churches in the round became the norm. I have yet to find a post Vatican II document from Rome mandating this sort of set up. But alas I digress.The only thing concerning architecture is from bishops' conferences on the Liturgy and its first edition was quite flawed. While I respect their opinion, these documents are by no means infallible nor must we follow them blindly as so many liturgists of the 1970's and beyond expected.
This shift from the vertical nature of Catholic worship focusing on the majesty of God and His humble embrace of humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ led to a focus on the congregation and the priest who celebrates Mass. But you know what, whereas Jesus Christ never disappoints us, our fellow Catholics and some of our priests do. When there is scandal in the parish whether focusing on the laity or the ordained, those who hype fellowship as the sacrament of encounter with God certainly become overwhelmingly disappointed and disillusioned. But those whose prayer life and worship life focus on God as alone being Holy (we only share in His holiness) are never disillusioned by the Church or anyone in it. God is the source of our spirituality and our placing into context the sin sick person who is in need of forgiveness, penance, reconciliation and redemption. That's all of us my brothers and sisters. Let's admit it!
Let's keep fellowship in our neighborhoods and in our social halls. Let us keep the Church building focused on God and His grace of salvation. Let us find a sanctuary of silence before and after Mass for us to contemplate the Lord's real presence and to find strength to carry our cross. Let us fellowship with the Lord in Church and bring the Lord to our fellowship with each other in the social hall and in our faith communities where we live.
I think this would be a great recipe for a healthier Catholic spirituality especially during times when we are most disappointed with those who call themselves Catholic, like those amongst us who dissent from the teachings of the Church, pro-choice politicians and others who fail the Lord and the Church in miserable ways and are most in need of God's mercy. Your thoughts please.