This year we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The Council changed everything, from the way we pray to the way we view the world. For example, The General Instruction of the Roman Missal now says that Mass begins “When the people are gathered.”
That’s a stark contrast to the pre-Vatican II instruction which said “When the priest is ready.”
The Church is teaching us that there is something very significant about the gathered community.
Some people use the gathering time before Mass for quiet prayer, while others might use that time to socialize in the gathering area with fellow parishioners. For most, it’s a mixture of both. In the mind of the Church, it’s not “how” we gather that matters, it’s “who” gathers that counts.
I reflect on those who gathered last Sunday. There was Shirlee, awaiting test results and word of further treatment for cancer. There was Sofia, off to New York to audition for Julliard and other colleges, and Joe, trying to stay sober one more day. There was Tom, eagerly anticipating his ordination to the Deaconate, and Jane, facing yet another week of trying to make ends meet. There was Ben and Lisa, young, in love and planning their wedding, and Terry and Bob, elated that after nearly 20 years of waiting, they will soon have a grandchild.
Behind every face in our gathered assembly, there is a story or two. These are the stories of pain and loss and joy and thanksgiving and hoping against hope; living with something that can’t be explained or fixed. These are the stories that put flesh on what it means to die and to rise. Our gathering, therefore, symbolizes the paschal mystery of Jesus. This is why the documents of Vatican II say that Christ is really present in the gathered community. Before the first note is played or the first prayer uttered, our gathering becomes a holy event. We gather to seek strength from each other and from the God who strengthens us in word and sacrament. Our very gathering becomes a sign of God’s presence in and solidarity with the world. Amen!