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United We Stand? Sit? Kneel?

As a young person growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition and attending Immaculate Heart of Mary weekly, the last thing that was on my mind at Mass was being in community. While subconsciously I was being formed by my faith community; consciously, it was about me and God. I can still recall coming into the church, blessing myself with holy water and proceeding directly to my seat where I would shut the world out with my own personal prayer.

Fast forward about fifteen years; there I am sitting in my first liturgical formation workshop (as I had just volunteered to be a lector), and I am hearing, seemingly for the first time to me, the importance of the community and the vital role they (we) play in powerful liturgy. It was the moment where I came to the realization that Mass wasn’t just about God and me. There were hundreds of people around me who showed up that day for reasons that were similar to mine. God was just as present to them as to me. It wasn’t (and isn’t) about God and me; it’s about God and us.

Please don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that a personal relationship with God is not important. It is in fact, the foundation of our faith. But, when we come to liturgy, from the moment we put our hand on the door of the church, we enter “community”. We come from our personal prayer and preparation and enter communal prayer. We are now, in a very tangible way, the Body of Christ. This truly defines who we are. As Pope Francis said in Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and be Glad): “We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual.” When in community, we pray as community. We stand together, we sit together, we sing together, we listen together, we do everything together. As the hymn reminds us: “We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone.”

While it is true that we all come from different backgrounds and have been taught different things about what to do at Mass, how to pray and what reverence is supposed to look like, it is still so important to remember that unity in prayer and posture trumps everything. In my recent experience of attending Mass, the time in the liturgy when we should be the most unified is the time when we are most divided. I am speaking of the “Communion Rite”. It seems that at this time (more than any other time in the Mass) is when we truly “do our own thing”.

I am not here to say what posture is the correct one, or that one is better than another; I am saying that whatever is the norm for the community you are worshipping in that day, then that should be your posture as well. It is more important to be in community than to be right. Debates about what direction your church should go in are best left for meetings at another time. For this time, we respect and honour the presence of God in our community and our prayer.

Mark Mahoney

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