By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
Not long ago, Pope Francis reminded us that “Communion is essential” in an address delivered to members of the Neocatechumenal Way. Communion is experienced in two senses in the Church and both are essential. These two senses of communion are interdependent and cannot exist without each other. The communion of the Body of Christ comprising the members of the Church and the Communion of the Real Presence of the Body of Christ which is the Eucharist are these two senses of “communion.” They always have an interior connection.
Contemporary treatment or understanding of the value of community or the common good affects the sense of Communion made possible by the Eucharist and vice-versa. The various aspects of the way in which our people worship and conduct common life expresses their sense of communion in Christ as the graced members of His Body the Church and always in relationship with Him truly present in the Eucharist.
On the natural level each of the faithful pre-exists his encounter of faith and sacraments with Christ in Baptism and the Eucharist, but Christ pre-exists each of us in this encounter with us as God. When we come as individuals of faith to enter into the life of communio in the Church, we grow in this sense of Christ’s presence which sets the Church apart among various expressions of communio, or communion.
One of the values that supports life in the community is personal appearance. Appearance is as important within worship as it is for those for whom appearance is important outside of worship. Today many people choose to wear their church clothes to work and, I suppose because they want a psychic break on the weekends, they choose to wear something else to church, inevitably something more casual.
An inversion takes place when they choose to then call their less revealing and more modest church-appropriate clothing their “work” clothes, thereby signaling their refusal to use such for divine worship. What we then end up with is club or bar clothing that reveals shoulders, among other things.
Church-appropriate clothing remains as appropriate for church after it is used for work as it was before it was worn to the office. The choice of the individual doesn’t change this reality. This is one among a number of issues which, when brought up in conversation, is commonly tossed into the “trivial” bin by jaded clergy who are relieved to be able to designate one more issue they can avoid and therefore about which they don’t have to anticipate potential conflict with parishioners.
The idea of prayer has not gone away, but it is also greatly impoverished, especially when community is gathered in large numbers in Church. The prayer of worship in the Mass is not the only expression of prayer that is needed or helpful for the faithful. Community is certainly experienced in conversation because communion is deepened by the fuller communication made possible when persons are present to each other. The prayer of the community when gathered for Holy Mass, however, is impoverished without the vertical dimension made possible by silence.
Community is also experienced and expressed by the silence which offers to each present the opportunity for the conversation with God in prayer.
Sometimes when people are talking in church, I ask them to stop. One time a lady who came for Mass said, “But we like each other.” Worship is primarily vertical, that is, directed by the members of the community toward the Lord. There are other opportunities provided outside of worship for the horizontal expression of community, such as Bible studies and faith formation opportunities. That is why my response to such a person would be: “Come back for Bible study: That’s when we talk to each other.”
Certainly it is a positive value for the members of the community to express common care, for we have been commanded to love one another by the Lord Himself. The church should not become an alternate gathering space, however, for those who like each other enough to chat when they see each other but not enough to invite the other for a visit at home. St. Paul’s injunction in regard to eating and drinking at home instead of at church applies here also. Just as some members of the community were coming to the Eucharist drunk and therefore unable to worship appropriately, so also, some members should not come to the church and talk excessively when they could do that at their homes.
The church is a common space for the whole community, but inevitably becomes one’s personal space when one speaks loudly to another while others are present and may wish to engage in personal prayer.
We always have competing values within the community, and different needs of the different members that sometimes conflict with the common good. A good in our churches which is offered to all together is that of prayer, for our churches are primarily places of prayer. The courtesy of silence affords those who wish to pray the opportunity to do so. Perhaps the discipline of silence will help those unaccustomed to personal prayer the desire to experience this. Christ Himself commanded, “Pray always.”
Certainly this is true at home where perhaps there is abundant opportunity for silence. The constitutive component of silence both within Mass and outside of Mass, for preparation beforehand and thanksgiving afterward, are values that are worth explaining and inculcating within the community. The Church enjoins us to pray in preparation and thanksgiving particularly in connection with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Communion is essential: Communion with Jesus’ Body in the Eucharist and the communion made thereby possible for His faithful members in His Body which is the Church. The ways in which they are expressed vary according to circumstances and sometimes both are experienced in silence. Whenever they happen, however, they unfailingly build each other up in the love of Jesus Christ which must be the foundation of the Catholic Christian community of the Church, the true Body of Christ in the world.
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