intimate religion

Today, I went to Benediction at the University Catholic Center. Attendance varies quite a bit since Mass was no longer being offered afterwards. I had yet to go myself this semester but I was at the Center when Deacon Ed proceeded to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
In the Chapel was only four people including myself and Deacon Ed. The rite was done very well with song- including the English and Latin of Tantum Ergo. It was also Deacon Ed’s first benediction since his ordination earlier in the month.
Before going on, the more people brought to Christ through the sacraments, the better. At many times, this means very large assemblies, which is not at all a bad thing as they do assist in helping people find their way on the pilgrim pathway towards salvation.
That being said, there is something special about small gatherings. The old 5 p.m. daily Mass at the Catholic Center- with an attendance of 10-15 people- would be considered one of these gatherings. It adds a different element to “small Christian communities”.
When we talk about our personal relationship with God, of course that indicates an intimate aspect of our religion and spirituality. However, when we talk about the Mystical Body of Christ- the community of believers that forms with Christ as the center and head- we many times think of the entire community. Currently, that number is up to 1 billion Catholics and close to 7 billion people in general worldwide. The relationship between all the various members of the Mystical Body can seem quite remote and distant.
Something that is important to fully realize is that the Mystical Body is us, we are affected by it and we have an effect on it. If we see ourselves as 1 Catholic in a sea of 1 billion fellow faithful, or 1 person in a chapel full of 500 other people, it is hard at times to see how we all connect. Many times people sit in the same places in the church every Sunday and form smaller groups inside the larger church. We may not be close to them but we know “that couple with the young child” or the “widow that always wears a hat”- that is us developing the community that exists already as members of the Mystical Body.
Back to the point, sometimes it is nice to gather together in a much smaller form. Today at Benediction, I was with Deacon Ed and one gentleman- both of whom I knew before and in non-liturgical contexts- as well as one young lady whom I had never seen before, except outside the chapel to answer her question that St. Austin’s had a 5:20 p.m. Mass and that the UCC only had Benediction.
I have no idea who this young woman was, no idea what challenges she faced yesterday or today or will face tomorrow, no idea what talents and gifts she brings to share or what graces she received by joining us in prayer. I don’t know her story or even her name. I saw her face but I doubt I could pick her out in any crowd. The Benediction was small and she followed my lead on the responses to the Deacon.
Although I know nothing about her, being in the small setting helped me to remember that she is part of the Mystical Body. She is working in whatever way she knows towards her happiness. Being in such a small setting allowed me not to pass her by as another face is a vast sea of faces, but forced me to be aware of and acknowledge her presence.
That is not the only reason why I like smaller liturgical events.
I am someone who I believe is well-formed in my faith and while I have my struggles, I am properly disposed of to participate in the liturgy. I am aware of the actions taking place- by the people, by the priest, by the Holy Spirit. At times, while participating in a Sunday Mass, I find myself saying the responses under my breath or just enough to be heard by the person next to me. I am participating; however, I allow my mind to wander off the beaten path. While this is not always bad, it takes me away from my full participation in the liturgical event.
When in such a small setting, every person’s voice counts and is needed. I must participate fully if there are only five people in the chapel! God deserves my praise and I freely give it to him! I must share in proclaiming it! God is faithful and will not forget or abandoned me. Nor can I abandon him during the liturgy! The smaller setting reminds me of this and helps me to ensure I am fully participating in the rite.
Smaller liturgical settings help remind me of the true nature of the Mystical Body of Christ. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, while sometimes nameless, each with our own life stories that precede us. We are interconnected through faith, hope and love; diverse yet similar in our quest towards imitating Christ and reaching the salvation he gained for us. Smaller settings also remind us of the true nature of Liturgy. Liturgy, from the Greek leitourgia, is the work of the people. The sacred ministers have very important and required roles in the liturgy and the public celebration thereof, but it is for the people- clergy and lay faithful- to allow them to join together to praise God, to receive his forgiveness, to accept his saving waters, to join hands in marriage, to be ordained to his priesthood, and on the broadest level, receive graces that flow from him.
Our Catholic faith is both vast and intimate. At times, we have to be reminded of just how it is truly intimate while surrounded by so many.






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