LITURGICAL QUESTIONS: Parishes become centers of prayer
Our churches are open again for worship and prayer, and everyone is welcome. Rather than turn around and go back to pre-COVID ‘normal’, let’s listen to what the Spirit is saying and seize the moment to act boldly and be open to the renewal of our community worship and prayer. .
I like the word “become”. It recognizes that as individual disciples and communities, Christ always invites us to conversion and renewal.
At the Synod, we heard the voice of the people who long for the parishes to become centers of prayer. This does not mean that parishes are not centers of prayer. Rather, he recognizes that we are always on a journey between the already and the not yet. So while some of the 100 percent of Catholics view parishes as centers of prayer, a large number of Catholics do not. And among those who do, some ask for more.
As we continue to reflect on this aspiration, we become more and more aware of certain opportunities and pitfalls that invite us to listen carefully and to be bold.
Enriched by diversity
To state the obvious, parish prayer is not limited to what is happening in the church building. This includes what happens in homes and other buildings where there is space to meet, and primarily in the hearts of the one hundred percent of the faithful. At the same time, the building of the church is an important goal. To a large extent, what goes on in the building sends a message about who is welcome and who owns. The building can be an easily identifiable home for those unrelated to the parish community or its worship. The church building is a public place where people can gather for all kinds of prayers and worship. The possibilities for hosting more varied forms of prayer and worship are increasing exponentially for parishes with multiple church buildings.
The parish is enriched by the diversity of the community. For parishes with several church buildings, this diversity takes the form of what one might call âsmall ecclesiastical communitiesâ whose âhouseâ is a stationary church within the parish. How can we imagine this diversity as an opportunity to help shape the parish as a center of prayer?
First, we would need to reflect on our understanding of what we do when we come together to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist. On Sundays, the domestic church and the small communities meet as a parish community, ideally in the parish church. We bring all our diversity of mission and prayer to our celebration of the Sunday Eucharist, open to formation in the one Body of Christ. We are sent from the Sunday Eucharist, back to our homes and small communities to be the face of Christ for one another, to continue the mission of Jesus in our neighborhoods and to support each other in a variety of prayer and prayer. sharing of faith both in and beyond our religious buildings.
The model of joining a larger community on Sunday reminds us that we are part of something bigger. We are stretched and enriched by the experience of this greater diversity. Too often, we place all of our prayers, worship, and community expectations at Sunday Mass. The voice of those who yearn for parishes to become centers of prayer is an opportunity for us to free Sunday Mass from unrealistic expectations as we begin to reinvent worship and prayer. life of the whole parish community.
Reinventing the schedule of the parish liturgy
A second step would be to reinvent the calendar of the parish liturgy. In the living tradition of the Church, Mass is integrally linked to Sunday. Mass is not an integral part of the celebration of weekdays. Specifically, the Church’s prayer – morning and evening prayer – belongs to the days of the week.
For years, the Diocesan Liturgical Council has invited parish communities to consider this and vary the liturgy schedule on weekdays in the hope of welcoming and developing the prayer life of more people. . Perhaps we could celebrate Mass for one or two days, morning prayer one day, evening prayer another day, a liturgy of the Word another day. Such a change could invite us to reflect more deeply on the celebration of Mass on weekdays, which can become more of an exercise of personal devotion focused on the reception of communion, than a celebration of the Eucharist in accordance with the rich understanding of the Church. Neither the Church Prayer nor the Liturgy of the Word requires an ordained minister to preside.
The options mentioned above are part of the official rites of the Church. Other options could be considered, including, for example, silent mediation. One hundred years ago, when I was a novice, the community met early in the morning in the chapel and prayed in silence before the morning prayer. The experience of sitting together in silent prayer – meditation, contemplation, whatever you call it – has a formative and unifying power that is beyond words.
Parishes with stationary churches, often of different designs, are uniquely positioned for small church communities that come together around them to provide a home for a rich and diverse range of prayer and worship opportunities that meet aspirations. of the large Catholic community. Without the emphasis on Sunday, perhaps there could be an easy shift of some furniture to better accommodate other forms of prayer. Perhaps there is an opportunity to invite nuns or brothers from the community to help present the Church Prayer. Such communities would become an integral part of the parish, becoming a true center of Catholic prayer.
Expanding existing prayer opportunities
Third, many parishes already have a variety of groups that meet weekly for prayer, such as the Lectio Divina or the Rosary. Existing groups provide a wonderful opportunity to extend the invitation to those who are not âin the knowâ. Could such occasions for prayer appear on the parish prayer and liturgy calendar? Would existing groups be willing to split up to form additional groups allowing new people to join? How can we spread the good news of these opportunities in a way that invites participation from larger and larger circles of people?
Both our diocesan synod and the plenary council stress the need for the parish to renew its missionary nature. Expanding prayer and worship opportunities to meet the aspirations of those seeking different ways of praying, especially those that include faith sharing, could be part of this expanded missionary action.
No U-Turn – Discover the New Normal
As a society, we are told that getting out of lockdown is not about going back to what we knew to be ânormalâ in 2019. Rather, it is about taking the path to find out what will become our new normal. The same wisdom applies to the church, to our worship and to our prayer. The pandemic offers us the opportunity to reassess and renew ourselves. The Holy Spirit is always calling us forward. There is no turning back in the Christian life. Let us seize the moment to let some things die and to nurture the new life that echoes the aspirations of those who seek other meaningful experiences of prayer, worship and sharing of faith.
What do you hear the Spirit inviting us into this space? How could you extend the conversation in your community? Letâs be bold!
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