The Assembly


When we meet here on Sunday, a lot of what we do is centered on a book, and a lot of what we do is centered on a table. What is this book? It is simply hundreds of pages on which are written the words of our scriptures, our Bible. The words of scripture are set down there according to the Sundays of the year. Much of our time together on Sunday, then, is spent in reading aloud those words and in reflecting on them in the psalm and homily.

And what is this table? Just as the book is made to be a beautiful and worthy way to carry the words of scripture, so the table is a beautiful and worthy way to hold bread and wine. Over this bread and wine, our community gives thanks and praise to God, then shares in holy communion the body and blood of Christ.

Gathering around the book and around the table-that is what we do together on Sunday. Because this is so central to our identity as Catholics, so important in our lifelong striving to be good Catholics, we need now and then to think on this Sunday liturgy and how we do it together.

Before the reader ever opens the book on Sunday morning, several things have to happen. The most basic thing is: There has to be an assembly. The liturgy is not done by a priest-presider with help from a musician and a lector. The liturgy on Sunday is done by an assembly-people gathered. Baptized Catholics come together. We do not come to be an audience, to be spectators while the specialists do their work. None of us is here to watch. That's hard for us to grasp. Most of our buildings are set up still as if there were the watchers and the watched, the audience and the performers. That is a carryover from a time of several centuries when "pray, pay, and obey" was the way to be a Catholic. The liturgy that is developing now from the reform begun at the Second Vatican Council is a liturgy that all of us baptized people do together, that we know how to do and love to do.

Somehow we are all both privileged and obliged to come here on Sunday-not to "go to" Mass, not to "attend" Mass, but together to celebrate the Mass, together to do the Mass. It is the privilege of the baptized: Only those who are baptized into the death of Christ and live now in Christ can make the prayer and communion at this altar. And it is our obligation: We baptized must do this on Sunday. The Church has a rule about attending Mass on Sunday. The point of that rule is not to burden Catholics. The point is to make one thing very plain: Each baptized person of this parish is needed here on Sunday. What we do here takes all of us. We aren't obliged to come and watch, but to come and do.

During our time together each Sunday, the church is doing in this room what the church needs to do, hungers and thirsts to do, in order to be the church. The deeds are done not simply by one individual and another individual, but by the church here assembled. The body of Christ is proclaiming itself to be the body of Christ. The body of Christ-you and me-is identifying itself, remembering itself, preparing itself to live as Christ all week long. When we come into this room, we do not come to pray alone for an hour or so. We come to place ourselves beside brothers and sisters and to give all that we have to give to the work the church has to do here. It is the church that listens to God's loving word, it is the church that then intercedes, it is the church that gives God thanks and praise over bread and wine, and it is the church that takes and is the holy communion. None of us does this alone, yet the church does nothing without each of us doing all we can.

But we come here as very human, very distracted, very preoccupied with our own worries, our own agendas, even our own prayers. How then can there be a church, a body of Christ? Maybe the question is: In a world with so many worries, agendas, and prayers, how can there not be a church? How can we not be filled with an eagerness for this one time a week when we can gather all that worry and agenda and prayer and so much else up into the very body of Christ? It is hard, certainly. Everything around us says we are to live and strive and suffer and grow alone. We are so private, so on our own. So it is difficult to come here and be told-yes, you as an individual person are God's beloved, as is every brother and sister of ours of every race and religion and condition in all the world. Yes. But here, here we are to set all that aloneness aside, because this is the church. God called us in Christ into a church, a body, and it is that body God speaks to; it is that body that prays here today; it is that body that sings and gives thanks and is nourished in holy communion. We are that body! Baptism made us so. God's word each Sunday makes us so. The Eucharist we do here and the Communion we share here make us so.

Each Sunday we follow many paths to these doors. We come through these doors into the house of the church. Our house. We come into this meeting place-a meeting place for each other, a meeting place for the church and its saints and its Lord. In some parishes, the doors of the building bring the assembling people right up against the baptism place. Sunday after Sunday, the font and its water recall that this is indeed the entrance to the church-baptism into Christ's death, baptism to life in Christ's body, the church. In places where the font is so approachable, the people assembling each Sunday can take its water and sign themselves with the cross. But in all of our churches, water is placed by the door. All of us take this water on our hand and with it sign ourselves with the cross. Here, we say, "I acknowledge that in this room I am conscious of what I am a part of and who we are always: the body of Christ. In this room I let water remind me of my baptism into the church. In this room I let the sign of the cross remind me of the one to whom I belong. And so do I prepare for this deed, this Mass, we do together."

Copyright © 1992, Gabe Huck. Used by permission.
These homilies may be copied and adapted for your own use;
however, they may not be commercially published without permission of the author.