While watching Mass on television at St. Mathew’s Cathedral in Washington, I thanked God for technology, and especially its gift to shut-ins. Yet seeing empty pews made me feel something was missing.
Lacking was an aging parishioner ascending church steps with difficulty. He could easily be excused, but Mass means everything to him.
Missing were parents teaching toddlers to make the sign of the cross with holy water from the baptismal font.
Absent was an elderly woman painfully making a reverential genuflection.
Ushers distributing song books and greeting people were absent.
Crying babies were nowhere to be heard, nor were there smiling parishioners greeting one another.
Absent were the collective voices saying, “And with your spirit,” “Christ have mercy” and “Amen.”
St. Matthew’s is beautifully adorned, but on television its awe-inspiring atmosphere seemed hollow.
Nothing is more inspiring than being part of a worshipping congregation — watching parents teach children about the Mass’ meaning and seeing everyone’s reverential posture when the bread of life is raised.
Liturgists point out the Mass is more than said, it is prayed. It is true we can pray silently in our hearts, but praying together as a body reminds us that we are one body together with Christ that is symbolized best by human presence.
It is easy to envision participation in Mass as orchestrated gestures and familiar rituals. That elderly woman bending a painful knee and genuflecting visibly symbolizes that we bend our knee before God acknowledging that all we are we receive from God. The sign of the cross of a little child is a profession of faith in Christ who suffered and died for us. These gestures are more than rituals — they come from the heart.
Church closings is an occasion to reflect on liturgy as a communal event in which our collective gestures, postures and vocal responses are the lifeblood of the Mass. Nothing can truly substitute for that presence.