Most Sundays at Mass, I have one of the best seats in the house. That’s because I’m in the choir, and in our church, the choir sits behind the altar, facing the assembly. It can be a bit of a nuisance, because you have to think about what you wear (no short skirts!), what you do (not cool to nod off during the homily), and what you have under your chair (water bottles and stacks of music look awful from the congregation).
But most of the time, it’s a great place from which to participate in the liturgy. You get to see the people of God at prayer (or not), in all of what that encompasses. You can watch families grow over the years, and see how relationships change within the community. You can sympathize with the sadness on the faces of those who have lost loved ones recently, and notice those who are suffering from illness. You can see the love between parents and their children, spouses for each other, and friends who sit together almost always.
This past Palm Sunday, I scanned the congregation during the reading of the Gospel. The church was filled to overflowing, and needless to say there were a lot of unfamiliar faces in the crowd. I don’t mind that there are Catholics who only come for Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter Sunday Mass (maybe even Ash Wednesday), and figure that just getting there is an opportunity to be open to grace.
But this year, it occurred to me that if you only attend Mass on the three major feasts of the liturgical year (we’ll cut some slack on Pentecost), you are missing out on the entire life of Jesus – not to mention the stories of our Jewish roots, the letters of Paul, and the history of the early Church from the Acts of the Apostles. All that you will hear is the story of Jesus’ birth, passion, death, and resurrection – none of the in-between that is so important to who we are as Catholic Christians.
The beginning and end of Jesus’ life is important, indeed, but it is the in-between, the everyday comings and goings of the Gospels, where we really learn what it is to be Christian. Here is where the richness of discipleship unfolds over a three-year period, where we come to understand, year after year, all the nuances and details that make Judeo-Christianity such a vital and viable religion for today.
Above all, coming to church on a regular basis allows us to experience the nurturing and support of a parish. That’s what I see from my little perch on the altar; that’s what Catholics miss when they only come to Mass a couple of times a year.