14 Mar 2011

Liturgical Hospitality

Liturgical Hospitalilty
Sr M. Louise O'Rourke PDDM

The increasing and varying patterns of migration and the influx of immigrants into Ireland over the past decade have raised the question for many parish communities: how can we welcome the stranger? Many of us have visited churches for prayer and for the celebration of the Eucharist, only to find ourselves excluded from liturgical involvement: the liturgical style seems odd, the postures are different, and the hymns are unfamiliar, and so on. Does uniformity necessarily mean unity? What happens when liturgical hospitality is a pleasant sounding concept and not an ingrained reality within our liturgical celebrations? The task for liturgists today is to offer liturgical hospitality and create welcoming spaces for all yet respect the distance that necessarily exists between persons in public encounters, as well as respecting and integrating the differences and uniqueness that culture may bring. 

Hospitality is an art of making people feel 'at home' when they are in a place that is not their own.[1] It has deep biblical roots recalling how God's elected people were always 'strangers' in the land and dependent on the hospitality of others. Subsequently they extend this same hospitality to others (Gen 18:1-8, 19:8; Judg 19:23). These customs of hospitality overflow into the New Testament and are crowned especially in the text of Matthew 25 [2] allowing us to verify that what we practice on Sunday, we live on Monday and what we practice on Sunday is primarily hospitality. Liturgy or leitourgia[3] meaning "the work of the people" is quite literally the work of all people to ensure that all feel welcomed at our liturgies. True liturgy pulls people together while it also keeps them apart.[4]

The rites and rituals of liturgy form a tapestry of words and actions that provide a "path and shelter" for the identity of a specific group of people. It follows then that by participating in worship a path into the heart of the community is provided—why it gathers and what binds it together. Liturgy also provides a shelter for a community's identity as it maintains a ritual centre in relationship to the influences of society, diverse cultural groups, and other faith traditions.
The Sunday celebration of Eucharist offers us one of the best ritual contexts for seeing liturgical hospitality in action for it reminds the congregation of the dialectic between local congregations and the universal Church. Our neighbourhoods are full of diverse cultural traditions, but these people are often invisible to us as we celebrate liturgy. The Eucharist is the place where God extends his lavish hospitality to all his children who gather in His house or the domus dei [5] and since it is God's hospitality that all guests experience at the Lord's Table, we in turn are called to be ministers of this same hospitality.[6]
Instead of churning out new liturgical innovations liturgists or parish liturgy groups can look to the intrinsic elements of hospitality within the Eucharistic celebration, e.g. "gathering rites", "prayer of the faithful" and the "sign of peace" and then compliment them with extrinsic elements e.g. ministers of hospitality. This brief exploration attempts to show how the horizontal and vertical dynamics of liturgy can teach us liturgical hospitality.

Communication: the liturgy gives us a common language to communicate with. By verbal and non-verbal languages we are engaged in words and actions which compose our ritual worship. Communication is the only way we have of joining person to person.[7] The dialogue between the celebrant and the people, the acclamations and the gestures are all elements which foster community.[8] In this way what was once a group of individuals is now a community of faith engaging in liturgical action. After all the liturgy is the "public and ecclesial action of the community of faith; it is the centre and source of Christian life".[9]

Liturgical Space: The document "Liturgy and Beauty- Experiences of renewal in certain Papal Liturgical Celebrations" [10] reminds us: "The Word made flesh needed time and space in which to carry out his gestures of salvation. The liturgy is the space Christ needs to reveal himself, the time he takes to tell us about himself… Like a musical composition, the liturgy needs space, time, silence, detachment from ourselves, so that words, gestures and signs may speak to us of God."

Liturgical hospitality says "I have space for you and I welcome you in." In Mary's 'yes' to become the Mother of God, she become the liturgical space par excellence that would receive Jesus the Divine Liturgist. We are called in the liturgy of life to offer our space and allow it to be filled with the presence of our brothers and sisters. The First Letter of St. John reminds us that "we have a share in each other's life" (1 Jn 1:7) and consequently we are called to detach from ourselves so as to move in charity toward the other. On a practical level it may mean moving in from our 'usual' place in the pew as a newcomer moves in beside us. It may mean a smile that says: "welcome, good to see you" or responding to the cantor who invites us to open our hymnals and sing or listening attentively to the one who welcomes us to the celebration.

Before the actual celebration begins, the visitor /newcomer will already have formed certain impressions about the community, its ministers and its quality simply by glancing at porch notice-boards or/and around the building itself. Another element to bear in mind when reflecting on liturgical hospitality is the structure and layout of the Church itself. This can prompt questions such as: Which door do the people come in? If there are side doors, are they met by anyone? Is the church wheelchair accessible? Is there a sense of the sacred? Does the layout allow and give a sense of interaction with other members of the assembly? [11]

Rites:Gathering rites: It is also helpful if we think of the first part of the Mass as "gathering rites" rather than "introductory rites" or "entrance rites," because "gathering" names the purpose of these actions and prayers: "to ensure that the faithful who come together as one establish communion".[12] There is nothing more welcoming than a congregation which knows its liturgy so well and celebrates as if it were as natural to them as life itself.[13] On the presider's part, he begins with the liturgical greeting "The Lord be with you". The liturgy offers this greeting as a salutation of welcome to all present. The greeting is dialogical, the assembly replies: "And also with you". The introductory ritual to the Mass is an invaluable medium of communication for both priest and people.

Liturgy of the Word: We exercise liturgical hospitality as a community when we open our minds and hearts to receive the Scriptures in the Liturgy of the Word. We listen to the psalm refrain and echo it back as our response to the reading. Just as we need to make room if we invite a guest to stay with us in our home, in the same way we make room for the Word to dwell within us. However, the 'home' into which we are welcoming guests is the place where "God is present through the means of grace-the word and the sacraments- as well as the place where the people assemble".[14] Therefore, the kind of hospitality we extend should grow out of our experience of the God whom we celebrate. "The hospitality of the sacrament becomes all the more genuine if there is a sense that Christ himself is the true host of the meal." [15] The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner spoke of the "Liturgy of the Word" as a way of 'articulating liturgy's dialogue with human society".

The Prayer of the Faithful: Praying for the needs of the world has been ritualized since the earliest days of Christian worship. Voiced in many forms, the prayers of the people offer the reminder that "every time Christians gather at the Lord's table, they acknowledge their solidarity with the world's poor, with all the outcasts and marginalized—the unlovely, unloved, unwashed, and unwanted of our species." [16]

The sign (exchange of peace): At the sign of peace, worshipers are invited to show their peace and love before receiving the Eucharist, which accomplishes their unity most perfectly. Its purpose is deeper than a greeting as is often misunderstood. It foreshadows our communion and expresses the unity of those baptized in Christ. It is a deliberate physical recognition that we are sharers in the one celebration and in the one bread.[17]

Ministers of Liturgical Hospitality: A ministry which had filtered into parish life is that of Ministers of Liturgical Hospitality.[18] Their ministry is to greet parishioners and newcomers as they arrive at the church and in this way they establish a climate of welcome, helpfulness and order among those who gather. They carry out such tasks as ushering people to their seats and assist the assembly by handing out liturgical resources and hymnbooks. All this allows the liturgy and the Eucharistic Celebration to be celebrated with ease and grace. Their ministry may continue within the celebration itself by gathering the Collection and directing the flow of traffic as people advance to receive Holy Communion. At the end of the celebration they are there to bid farewell to the people.

With broad brushstrokes we have seen briefly how the ministry of hospitality that we exercise at the Eucharist is not simply a sales device. It must be the liturgical enactment of the hospitality that permeates our daily living. Our liturgy is a liturgy of life and in the same way our life is permeated with liturgy. My own vision of a welcoming Church (both with a small 'c' and also a capital 'C') is that of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and its surrounding architecture. Aesthetically it is a space of welcome where the faithful are embraced by "the motherly arms of the church,"[19] and the multitude of statues of the saints on top of the colonnade and inside the basilica reminds us that as pilgrims we are in communion with the saints. The hospitality which they received on earth will be reciprocated to us when we too reach our final destination. Our liturgies are carried out at the frontier between this world and of the life to come and hospitality is a doorway to transcendence for those who are not yet aware of the journey which we make as pilgrims on the same journey back to God. When we experience the beauty and mystery of God and his hospitality to us, is this not incentive enough to extend the same invitation to others "if only you too knew the gift of God" (Jn 4:10).


Notes[1] F. Senn, New Creation- A Liturgical Worldview, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000) 105.
[2] Concern for the needs of others was a primary teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:31–46, when Christ said, "just as you did it not do it to one of the least of these [feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners], you
did not do it to me" (v. 45).
[3] Though we define liturgy as 'the work and activity of the people", we must acknowledge that the divine is at work in the liturgical action. Peter Fink, quoted in "Finding Voice to Give God Praise- Essays in the Many Languages of the Liturgy", ed. Kathleen Hughes, (Collegeville/Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998) 195, says: "Liturgy is not just the work of the people; it is first and foremost the work of God in the people transforming them, us, and all human life into God's own glory".
[4] R.A. Krieg, Romano Guardini, A Precursor of Vatican II, (Indiana: University Notre Dame Press, 1997) 79.
[5] The church building is the house of the Church (domus ecclesiae) but it is also the house of God (domus Dei) and is expressive of God's presence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "a visible Church is not simply a gathering place, but it signifies and makes visible the Church in a particular place, the dwelling of God with people reconciled in Christ" (CCC n.1180). See The Liturgical Environment- What the Documents say by M. G. Boyer, (Collegeville/Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2004) 5.
[6] http://www.luthersem.edu/ctrf/JCTR/Vol08/Boersma.pdf Accessed: 29/10/2007
[7] J. Bryden Rodgers, Liturgy and Communication, (Slough: St. Paul Publications, 1975) 14.
[8] Ibid, 40.
[9] ed. K Hughes, Finding Voice to Give God Praise- Essays in the Many Languages of the Liturgy, (Collegeville/Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998)197. In this essay Richard N. Fragomeni is echoing the teaching which we find in Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.10.
[10] Liturgy and beauty-Experiences of renewal in certain Papal Liturgical Celebrations. See Point 2.3: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/2004/documents/ns_lit_doc_20040202_liturgia-bellezza_en.html Accessed: 29/10/2007
[11] It is the assembly's space: "it brings people together…helps them feel and become involved" (EACW n.24).
It gives 'a sense of being the gathering place of the initiated community' (EACW n.53)
It invites people into liturgy without coercion; it gathers them but does not dominate them. It is a space where the Holy One is experienced. It is a witnessing place which cannot ignore the larger human space which is the human family from which the assembly is gathered." This list is paraphrased from a longer list taken from the book Catechesis for Liturgy- A Program for Parish Involvement by Gilbert Ostdeik, (Washington: The Pastoral Press, 1986) 76-77.[12] General Instruction of the Roman Missal, (London: Harper Collins, 1982), 24.
[13] F. Senn, New Creation- A Liturgical Worldview, 113.
[14] F. Senn, New Creation- A Liturgical Worldview, 105.
[15] Ibid, 114.
[16] http://ascensioncatholic.net/TOPICS/sacraments/eucharist/Liturgy.html Accessed on 31/10/2007.Quoting from the liturgist Nathan Mitchell.
[17] J. Bryden Rodgers, Liturgy and Communication, 73.
[18] The words hospitality and greeter are not actually found in the "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy." However the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of the United States of America lists among the liturgical ministers "those who, in some places, meet the faithful at the church entrance, lead them to appropriate places, and direct processions," but no name is given to this ministry, nor is it described in any further detail. See n.105 ff. http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/current/chapter3.shtml Accessed: 3/11/2007
[19] This is Bernini's own description of his Colonnade of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican.

  • Boyer, M.G., The Liturgical Environment- What the Documents say, Collegeville/Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2004.
  • Bryden, J., Liturgy and Communication, Slough: St. Paul Publications, 1975.
  • Corbon, J., The Wellspring of Worship, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1988.
  • ed. J.C Davies, J.C., A New Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, London: SCM Press, 1986.
  • General Instruction of the Roman Missal, London: Harper Collins, 1982.
  • ed Hughes, K., Finding Voice to Give God Praise- Essays in the Many Languages of the Liturgy, Collegeville/Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1998.
  • Keifert, P.R., Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1992.
  • Krieg, R.A., Romano Guardini, A Precursor of Vatican II, Indiana University Notre Dame Press, 1997.
  • Ostdeik, G., Catechesis for Liturgy- A Program for Parish Involvement, Washington: The Pastoral Press, 1986.
  • Senn, F., New Creation- A Liturgical Worldview, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

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