We continue to be separated to do our part to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. I miss seeing the people. I miss gathering together to celebrate the Eucharist. Celebrating the Eucharist is the most important thing we can do. In our celebration at Mass, God makes present the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross so that our sins might be forgiven. The bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood, we are strengthened to fulfill the mission we have been given to proclaim the gospel (for more on the Eucharist, watch my recent presentation).
If the Eucharist is the most important thing we can do as a “church”, does that mean we stop being “church” without the Eucharist? No! We can still proclaim the gospel in the way we live our lives. Even with social distancing and staying home, we can still love God and our neighbor.
What do you think of first when you hear the word “church”? Is it the building where we gather for Mass? We do call the building a church. The building is very important as the place where we normally gather. Our church buildings need to be worthy of what we do there. The way we build and decorate our churches needs to be signs of what we believe.
However, church is more than just the building. We read in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, “The word Church is a translation of biblical words: the Hebrew word qahal, and the Greek word ekklesia, both of which mean “gathering of people or community” for worship” (113, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 751-752).
It is the gathering of the people as a community that is church. Coming together, we celebrate the Eucharist. It is the priest who presides at the Mass as the one called by God and gifted in ordination to fulfill this calling. However, the people are not just to be spectators at Mass. Look at the words in all of the Eucharistic prayers at Mass. They speak of “we” celebrating the mystery of the Eucharist. The priest acts in persona Christi as but it is as a community that we celebrate Mass together. Even now when priests are celebrating Mass privately, it is still for the people.
So, church is the gathering of people. Which people? If someone asks you what church you belong to, on what level do you respond? Do you think of the church building where you go for worship? It used to be that parishes normally only had one church building. Now, a parish might have several church buildings. Do you identify yourself to the name of the church building or by the parish name? How about the diocese? How about the worldwide Catholic Church? How about the Church that transcends this earthly realm?
We need church buildings. We need an institutional church with a hierarchy that leads us to be who God calls us to be.
“Who God calls us to be”? Hum. “to be” points to some kind of action doesn’t it? We are not supposed to gather for Mass for one hour a week and forget about church the rest of the time. Even now, when we cannot gather for Mass, we are still called to fulfill the mission of proclaiming the gospel.
Jesus tells us ” the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). We are called to follow Jesus’ example to serve others. Again, with the Coronavirus, the ways in which we serve others might be limited but “service” to others does not stop. We can always serve others by praying for them. We can serve others by checking in on the elderly and infirmed with a phone call. If we have the means, we can serve others by donating to charities that serve those in need.
We also serve others by sharing with them the Truth that God proclaims. We are not to force it on others. It is their choice how to live their lives. However, they only truly have a choice when they know what their options are.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “thy kingdom come.” We are called to work for the spread of God’s kingdom here on Earth. We need to be a voice for Jesus. We need to stop letting what the world says is good dictate our beliefs. Instead, we need to embrace the Truth of Jesus, and live in a way that changes the world for the better. This is part of how we are called to be “church” not just for ourselves but for all God’s people.
What I have offered here are some general thoughts about what it means to be a church. This is not meant to say the examples I give are the only way to be a church. For more on this, I invite you to watch my presentation, What It Means to be a Church?
We miss coming together for the Eucharist but we are still a community of believers. We are still a church. God will give us what we need to be who He calls us to be.