We are blessed with such beautiful church buildings around the Diocese of Green Bay, but how often do we take the time to slow down and appreciate what is right in front of us?
During the Christmas season, my home parish, St. Mary in Algoma, is particularly beautiful. The decor heightens the majesty of the intricately carved altar, and the side altars are a sight to be seen. I notice that when pictures of the church are posted on social media, people from all over the country, both Catholic and non-Catholic, comment on how beautiful it is.
We have many such churches in the Diocese of Green Bay, each with its own character and style of architecture. They are beautiful because they house the greatest treasures of our faith: In our church buildings, the sacraments are available to us and God’s people gather to worship him from whom all blessings flow.
The greatest treasures of our faith are right on our church doorstep, but we don’t always take the time to appreciate what is right in front of us.
A few years ago, I began to lector regularly at the parish, which has helped me to focus on the upcoming Sunday readings and their application more intentionally to my life. As a result of the pandemic, many of the protocols for lectoring at Mass and distributing the Eucharist changed due to social distancing requirements. Some of the changes were temporary, but some have remained, including where I now sit as a lector.
Instead of being seated in the main body of the church, when it’s my turn to lector, I am now seated in a chair off to the side of the altar which affords me an entirely different view of the Mass as it unfolds.
The first time I sat in this new place, it seemed as if I was seeing the Mass for the first time. The colors of the stained-glass windows seemed different, more vivid. I could now see the detailed images of the angels carved on the candlesticks beside the altar and, because I was closer, I could see, as if for the first time, the Mass unfolding differently through small details that my eye had skipped over out of routine and habit. In this place, I received a new understanding of the gift of the Eucharist.
After Communion, while I was praying, an older gentleman received the body of Jesus, stepped to the side where I was seated, and whispered gently, but audibly, “thank you” to the image of Jesus on the crucifix. My eyes filled up with tears and our eyes met for a moment.
After the Mass had ended, this man approached me and told me his name. We shook hands and he said, “You may have overheard my little ‘thank you’ to Jesus today. I’ve done this for years now. When I receive the body of Jesus in the Eucharist, I say ‘thank you’ to him right away.
“Jesus saved me from myself,” he explained. “You see, I used to drink too much, but faith helped me to give all that up. He also saved me when my wife of 34 years passed on and I didn’t think that I could cope. But I did and I’m still here!
“So every time I go to Mass, I remember what Jesus did for me, for all of us, and the only words that I can ever think of are ‘thank you,’” he added. “The Eucharist is my greatest gift.”
We stayed a while and talked some more, but I left that day with a greater understanding of the gift of the Eucharist and how people approach the Eucharist with love and devotion in their hearts, even when we don’t see it.
Just like everyone else, at times, I have been guilty of a lack of attention at Mass. Our minds can drift and be distracted by the noise of what others are doing, who is at Mass, who is not at Mass, what people are wearing, what we are hoping to hear from the homily, etc. But this interaction reminded me of who is most important at Mass — Jesus.
The word “worship” (in Hebrew) means to “bow down to.” We bow down before God, recognizing his majesty and great love for us and, in the face of that love, our hearts should overflow with thanksgiving, just as this remarkable man explained to me.
How would we change and our world change if we approached the Mass this way and saw the Eucharist as the “greatest gift” in our lives?
Stanz is director of discipleship and parish life for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Braving the Thin Places: Celtic Wisdom to Create a Space for Grace” (Loyola Press).