by Andrew Mountin
Recently, I found myself considering the question of hospitality in liturgical worship. For the past several years, I was a member and liturgist of a rather social congregation at a university. Perhaps because it was in a school setting, the students in the congregation were very open to one another, and the minutes just before and after Mass at times resembled a cafeteria due to the many conversations taking place.
When I first was asked to be a liturgist and music minister for this community, I was less than pleased with it. The seeming lack of decorum, of reverence, offended me. It certainly wasn’t what I wanted to have as an experience when I attended Mass. I wanted quiet, and consistency, and personal space. But here I was asked to serve a loud and personable and diverse community, where pastoral needs necessitated an approach to the Mass that would infuriate liturgical purists.
As I began to learn more and more of the specific peculiarities of the community, I found myself drained after every Mass. The liturgy no longer fulfilled me – it exhausted me! I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t get anything out of that Mass. There was just too much noise and energy for me to focus on my own prayer.
That’s when my conversion began.
I started to recognize why I didn’t feel a connection to that congregation. It was because I chose not to. Because it didn’t fit my own preferences, I was willing to remain a stranger, or at best a guest, within the community. Although at first I thought of their forward and social approach to liturgy as silly, I began to realize that by walling myself off from the community, I was the silly one.
As that realization slowly dawned on me, I began to focus less on what I did or didn’t get out of the liturgy, and more on what everyone else got out of it.
I noticed that the community experienced great joy and hope and strength from celebrating the Mass with one another, and especially loved to welcome in new visitors. As that revelation continued to unfold over time, their joy became my joy. Eventually, liturgies with this community became for me what it was for so many others – the highlight of my week.
The point of all this? Having been there myself, I can see how someone could come into those Masses and perceive a lack of reverence. But in reality, that congregation has simply chosen a different style of reverence – a style in which they speak to God before Mass, not by silent conversation within one’s own mind, but rather by speaking to the God dwelling in the person next to them. Their reverence simply takes on a more pastoral, and less introspective, form.
It seems to me that this mentality is one of true hospitality – a genuine, unforced expression of acknowledging Christ present in both community and Eucharist.
Andrew Mountain has masters’ degrees in History from Marquette University, and he is currently studying liturgy and music at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.