ENLIVENING THE CHURCH BY EMPOWERING THE PEOPLE
I believe we need to question why the Church is in the position it is at present with many parishioners choosing not to attend the Sacraments. Maybe we need to re-examine and redefine what we believe Jesus wants of us as Church.
The title of this paper refers to our Church becoming enlivened by the empowerment of the people. It is my belief, for this to occur, there needs to be a major change in our attitude as people of the Church. In addition, the Church hierarchy could examine the current relationship it has with us, as ordinary Church members, and consider what changes might need to be made in order to align itself more closely with the people it serves.
The Role of our Priests
As I see it, when we come together to celebrate The Eucharist, (or attend Mass as some would still call it), the Priest does all the officiating. Sure, we get to take up the collection and the Offertory gifts and we even get to read Scripture but only Priests can read the Gospel. We can help distribute the Eucharist but this, I feel, is more to get the communicants through and back to their seats so Mass doesn’t extend beyond 1 hour, or some parishioners might start to complain.
Historically, it has just become acceptable that a Priest will handle all spiritual expectations and all we need do is keep God’s 10 Commandments and attend the Eucharist each Sunday. Our Priest will be available whenever we need him, day or night. Apart from preparing and delivering an appropriate homily on Sundays, we accept that the Priest is aware of the activities of different groups and societies operating in the parish and is also knowledgeable about events happening in our world and area that affect our communities. He is expected to officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals, provide absolution for our sins and be there for us when we are sick or as we near the end of our lives.
Our Priest is expected to instantly provide a blessing for everything from rosary beads to new cars and must always be on time for Mass. Is it any wonder vocations are on the decline?
We expect so much from our Priests and when we attend our Eucharist, other than providing the minor assistance mentioned above, we greet each other, follow the overhead liturgy wording, listen attentatively to the Scripture and the homily, pray, receive the Eucharist, contribute to the two collections and go home. Sadly, some of those who come to our Eucharist are just ‘attendees’. Coming together to celebrate the Eucharist should be more about continually growing our relationship with Jesus and with each other.
By virtue of their studies and professional qualifications, our Priests are our spiritual leaders and advisers. They are human like us, as Jesus was. Jesus led the disciples, He showed them the way to the Father by telling them stories with which they could easily relate.
Our Role as Church
As members of the Catholic Church, we need to be more aware and thankful we have been given the gift of Faith and that we use the Church and the Sacramental life to maintain and constantly grow that gift. I believe this gift is very much like the love we give each other when we receive the Sacrament of Matrimony. I feel Faith, like Marriage, is an ongoing commitment that needs to be constantly worked on and developed so it becomes richer, stronger and deeper. Like love, our faith is not just a feeling or emotion, it is a decision of the heart.
While our Priests deserve to be treated with respect, we need to be more aware of the selfless service with which they provide us. We, in turn, need to not only be prepared, but be willing, to make ourselves available to help them, and members of our Church community, in whatever way we can that will support and maintain each other on our journey. We should no longer see our Priests as the Reverend Father up on a pedestal, but our earthly spiritual leader and our friend working with us and among us, towards our salvation.
The Empowerment of our Parishioners
I don’t believe we can empower parishioners without loosening some the existing man-made rules, regulations and control that is maintained by the Church hierarchy. I believe the congregation at our Eucharistic Celebrations has to individually feel they are a worthy, vital part of the celebration that assists our spiritual growth. We have to see ourselves as today’s apostles and need to have the same desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as those in the early Church. We have to be more than just attendees; we have to eagerly look forward to our attendance so we might experience Jesus afresh and commit more deeply in our personal relationship with our God. We need to be able and willing to live by example the Good News of the Gospel.
So, how can this enthusiasm be injected into our people in our present situation? Many of us, although aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, are not fully aware of the power that presence can generate, particularly when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 3:16 states, “In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self”.
To help us become more aware of how the power of the Spirit within us can be used effectively, I would like to offer the following suggestions, purely as a means of initiating discussion that hopefully will lead to more enthusiastic church attendances.
Our church environment
At the Last Supper Jesus shared the meal at a table around which all the apostles sat. In those churches where the altar is positioned where the people sit around it, then, this form of authenticity might allow us to feel we are attending an invitation to a meal with Jesus.
I can’t imagine Jesus wore clothes any different from his friends. If our Priests were to wear a simple stole to signify their leadership role, I believe that would be sufficient to align them more with the congregation.
We come together to celebrate the Eucharist, ‘the summit and source’ of our existence. The Last Supper was Jesus’ farewell meal with his friends. He not only instituted the New Covenant where He promised to always be with us, but gave his apostles the means of remembering him forever. ‘As often as you do these things you do them in memory of me’.
The Eucharistic Prayers, which only the Priest recites, obviously are designed to cover the aspects of the Last Supper that lead us to the Consecration and the distribution of the Eucharist. We, the congregation, do get to say ‘Amen’ during these prayers, indicating that we agree with all that has been said.
I feel if our celebrant was to use the current Eucharistic Prayers to involve us, in the way Jesus would if he were present, then the laity would feel more aligned with the events of the Last Supper. It would allow our Priests to re-tell these events as story, for, in reality, the Bible is basically a proclaimed and spoken word, a book of stories. Our Priest would hold our attention, be in direct eye contact with us and enable different parts of the Eucharistic Prayers to be more fully explained for our better understanding.
Since the Council of Trent, the church rules and regulations only allow ordained priests to perform this rite. Perhaps if we re-examine what Jesus wants of us, we might relook at His words, “As often as you do these things, you do them in memory of me”. Jesus made no mention of only ordained Catholic Priests being able to ‘do these things’. Are we not all apostles responsible for taking the ‘Good News’ to the world?
Fortunately, Priests and most Catholics believe that it is the Holy Spirit on which we rely for transubstantiation to occur. (some Catholics might believe it is the Priest who performs the miracle on the alter).
The Consecration prayers during our Mass are always performed with much reverence by our Priests and the same reverence is given to this sacred part of our Eucharist by those attending. If this exclusive rite were extended to include all those present at the Eucharistic Celebration, the congregation would feel so much more an integral part of the re-enactment of the Last Supper.
I believe it would more align the congregation with their Priest as pastor and leader and take those present to a deeper relationship with their God.
Transubstantiation or Transfiguration
In our current Eucharistic prayers, we ask the Father’s blessing on our offerings as Jesus did at the Last Supper and our Celebrant asks the Holy Spirit to come down on our offerings of bread and wine and change them into the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
I have always wondered why our Priest needs to ask the Holy Spirit to come DOWN when the Spirit is already down and present within each one of us as baptised Christians.
If the Church were to accept this situation, then, instead of the Consecration part of our existing Eucharistic Celebration, the important role of our Priests would be to share the wonder of the Eucharist by assisting us prepare for the coming of Jesus into our individual heart and soul.
As John the Baptist prepared the people for the coming of Jesus, so too our Priests would prepare us. It would be a time during our Mass when, with the help of our Priest, we could individually and reverently prepare for the miracle that would occur within each of us as the blessed food from our offerings melds with the Holy Spirit within us and our heavenly Father says quietly to us, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased”.
This ‘transfiguration’ is one where we can honestly and humbly say, ‘I thank you Jesus for although I am unworthy, you have still come to me and allowed me to become one with you and the Father and the Holy Spirit’.
Just as we believe and trust in the Spirit changing the bread and wine by the Priest on our behalf, so too must we trust that the same Spirit within each of us would make the same change.
It is my belief that the ramifications of this reaction would also engender a greater understanding of the power of the Holy Spirit within us and have us wanting to be a part of our Church Eucharistic Celebrations. The excitement, hopefully, would soon spread to lapsed Catholics who would recognise that the Holy Spirit has come alive and is blowing as a gentle breeze through the Church. I am sure many would recall the words of the Hosea song, ‘Come back to me with all your heart. Don’t let fear keep us apart’.
Go in peace, the Mass is ended
After our Communion, our Priest can remind us we have received food for our journey and it is our responsibility as Baptised Christians to take the Good News of the Gospel out to others. I feel we would be enthusiastically leaving the church building as the apostles left their room on that first Pentecost – excited.
Perhaps a more appropriate ending to our Eucharistic Celebration might be, “My brothers and sisters we have received the Eucharist as food for our journey. Let us go into our communities and love one another as Jesus directed us to do. Love is a universal language and recognised by all. They will know we are Christians by our love”.
This submission puts forward for consideration the following suggestions:
- Parishioners need to be more than just ‘attendees’ as we celebrate the Eucharist together, we need to build up and enhance our Gift of Faith.
- More emphasis to be placed by our spiritual leaders on the role of the Holy Spirit within each of us.
- It would be more realistic if the church environment were to be more aligned to the Last Supper setting.
- The Eucharistic prayers to be told as story rather than recited from a book.
- The Consecration part of our Eucharistic Celebration to become a blessed preparation for the receipt of the blessed symbols of bread and wine by communicants, so they will be fully aware of the role of the Holy Spirit within each of us to convert these symbols to the holiness of the Eucharist.
- Following our Eucharistic Celebration, it would seem more appropriate to have an enthusiastic farewell and a reminder of our responsibility as committed Christians.
It is my wish that this Plenary Council will result in a greater interest and involvement by baptised Catholics in practicing their faith and in the development of deeper personal relationships with God.
I believe the hierarchy within our Church needs to pivot from its current mode of operation to one which will enliven and empower the people.
It will be essential that any changes agreed upon are enthusiastically driven by our hierarchy from the top down. I feel the biggest challenge will be to communicate to all of us the Church’s acceptance of the changes and to ensure we fully understand how they will strengthen our faith and our individual relationship with Jesus.