Hospitality – the basic liturgical ministry
In the past 50 years lay people have taken on many liturgical ministries, from extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and readers, to visitors to the sick and collection counters. For many parishes the ministry of hospitality holds a special place because hospitality is – or ought to be – the hallmark of every Christian. We might think that hospitality at Mass is limited to providing a warm greeting as parishioners and visitors arrive, or handing out parish bulletins, but in fact it is much more than this: it is the ministry of the whole community.
Welcomers begin the process of forming those who gather into a worshiping community. As they greet each person, they confirm their identity as a member of the body of Christ. By looking them in the eye, they acknowledge that they have our full attention, and are being received and welcomed as part of the faith community. Welcomers need to notice the needs of those coming to church. They need to know what is happening in the parish and be willing to share this information with others. They need to know who to direct people to when they ask about baptisms or weddings or home visits. And they must definitely know where extra copies of the parish bulletin, the Mass sheets, the first aid kit and bathroom supplies can be found!
Mass is not an activity that we ‘do’ on our own; it is the action of Christ, our head, united to us, his members. Greeting people at the door of the church reminds us that we are about to do something with others. All that good work can be undone, however, if those already in the pews, and those carrying out other liturgical ministries, do not continue that welcome inside the church walls. Even choosing where we sit makes a difference. Do we, for instance, always take the aisle seats so that anyone else coming into that row must climb over us? Do we claim as ‘ours’ the same seats week after week, or do we smile and briefly greet those who come to sit near us? Do we ensure that parishioners in wheelchairs or with walkers or walking sticks are easily accommodated?
The way that we join in the opening hymn, respond to the words of the priest, listen to the words of Scripture being proclaimed, sing the refrain of the responsorial psalm, say with conviction the acclamations and responses throughout the Mass, and offer to those near us the sign of peace, contributes mightily to a spirit of hospitality that says, ‘You are welcome here. Together we belong here. We are all part of the body of Christ.’
Those who bring up the gifts of bread and wine represent the whole community, so it is good if the opportunity can be offered to many different members of the community.
Hospitality is not an ‘added extra’ for a Catholic, but something that should permeate our daily living and be most obvious when we gather to celebrate Eucharist. As St Paul said to the Christians at Rome: ‘Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, to the glory of God.’
Jenny O’Brien is liturgy educator with the Office for Worship.
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