A guest post by Mary DeTurris Poust
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My teenage son came home from school last week and reported that he took his younger Catholic school “buddy” across the street to our parish church to walk him through the Stations of the Cross. After they were done and were getting ready to leave the church, Noah had a strong desire to stay – and not just because he likes missing class. It was something he had never felt before, he said, something comforting that made him want to kneel down in the midday silence.
I know that feeling. I’ve been in our church when it’s semi-dark and completely empty. It feels deeply spiritual and powerfully peaceful. It feels like home.
It’s really not surprising that it would feel that way. After all, ours is a faith that centers on a shared meal, a spiritual version of the kitchen table, a sense of home even among strangers, even in a foreign land, wherever Jesus is present in the tabernacle.
Holy Thursday drives that point home for me. I can easily allow myself to slip back in time and imagine Jesus and the Apostles gathered in the home of a friend. Bread is broken and shared, wine is poured, but this time the meal becomes something more, something miraculous, mysterious, mystical, monumental. And it happens not in a great temple or grand cathedral but around a simple table among friends.
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Tonight, as Catholics gather for the Mass of the Last Supper, we focus on basic, everyday things taken to transcendent, extraordinary levels. The washing of feet, the blessing before a meal, the sharing of food and drink. It all sounds so average, so “normal” – things we might do in our own homes each night — but we know it’s anything but.
If we stripped away all the external trappings of church — the stained glass and statues, the choirs and cantors, the ornate altar clothes and chalices — and gathered around a table, any table, the Mass would still maintain its power. Because the Mass, using the same words Jesus said during his final Passover meal, is not about pomp and circumstance but about faith and mystery.
When I was speaking with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York recently, he mentioned celebrating Mass in the hospital room of an ill priest. The hospital tray became the altar. The priest, too sick to stand, concelebrated from his bed with a stole draped across his shoulders. By the end of the liturgy, the priest’s family was near tears, so moved by the experience of the Mass at its essence.
Sometimes I think it’s easy to get caught up in what I guess we could call, for lack of a better description, the “entertainment factor” of church. We sit in our pews and hope to be wowed by the music, inspired by the homily and awed by the architecture, forgetting that all the inspiration and awe we need is right there on a table in the appearance of bread and wine.
Mary DeTurris Poust is a Catholic columnist, blogger, and author of four books, including The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass and Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship. She blogs at OSV Daily Take and at her own blog, Not Strictly Spiritual. For more information, visit her website.