For several weeks, we will be hearing the Bread of Life Discourse in our Sunday Gospels. These passages reinforce in us again, that in the Eucharist, Jesus nourishes us with his body and blood. When we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we celebrate both a holy sacrifice and a holy meal.
In a world where eating at a table is often defaulted by a fast food drive thru, this might be a good time to review our Sunday Mass table manners.
Good manners begin before we leave home. How do we choose to dress for this banquet? Of course Jesus welcomes and accepts us as we are, however, how we dress puts us in a certain frame of mind. How did you dress the last time you went to a nice dinner? Remember, Jesus will come to you at the eucharistic meal, not even a five-star restaurant can make that claim!
Be on time. Arriving fashionably late or sliding in for the Gospel, so that the Mass “counts” does have an effect on the encounter we can have with Christ. Likewise, unless a serious reason dictates, excusing oneself from the table before Mass is concluded shows a lack of respect to Jesus present in the Eucharist.
When you are at a meal and the host begins the meal with a prayer, it is appropriate for all to join in. Occasionally, if one finds the prayer to be contrary to their beliefs, they may stand quietly. In the case of liturgy, we have all been baptized into a common faith and belief. Participate in the liturgy. Respond to exchanges with the presider (“The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.”). Sing as best you can. Listen to the readings. Remember that during the homily the Scriptures are broken open for us in a practical way. It is not the time to check the messages on your cell phone.
Bring a gift for the host of the dinner. At every liturgy the bread and wine are offered as our gifts but we also have the opportunity to put our humble gifts on the altar — our sacrifices, good works, our need and brokenness, knowing that in return we receive the Lord’s own life, bursting with power to heal and transform us.
Ask if you can help. You will be surprised. Unlike most meals where the host or hostess says “No thank you, I have everything under control,” the church will respond with a resounding “Yes, please.” Has God gifted you with a beautiful voice and good leadership skills? Perhaps you are needed as a cantor. Do you have speaking skills that allow you to animate the written word? Consider volunteering as a lector. Are you a people person? Serve as a minister of hospitality. Detail oriented? You might do well as an altar assistant. Are you more of a behind the scenes person? Do we have a job for you! Just ask, how can I help?
Extend your gratitude. You would not think of leaving someone’s home without thanking them for inviting you. Say “thank-you” to Jesus be it in a few moments of personal prayer after you have received Communion or possibly even staying after Mass for a few moments of private prayer.
Many of us remember the infamous kids table. The good news, Jesus welcomes all of us to the big table and even if our manners are not what they should be, Jesus will never relegate us to the kids table.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.