Vicar General Fr Martin Sirju, who recently returned from vacation, reflects on Mass at a church in the United States in relation to the 3Hs (Hospitality, Hymns and Homilies)
My stepmom Marilyn is the epitome of hospitality. It has to be nature, her growing up with siblings on the farm, close to animals and plants. The family of four has been reduced to two—her only daughter Mindy died nine years ago and her husband Robert (Bob) two years ago. It was my first visit since dad’s (Bob’s) sudden death but she had been to see me in 2017.
The Morrow County Fair was on and the last time I had been to that was in 1979 when I first visited Mt Gilead, a sleepy, little town, 41 minutes northeast of Columbus, Ohio as part of a 4H (agricultural club) caravan. About 18 of us came but I seem to be the only one who has kept in touch with the families with whom we stayed. I visited several times over the past 40 years.
Today (September 1), we went to the 9 a.m. Mass in the next-door town of Cardington. This is Methodist and Baptist country; Sacred Heart RC Church is the only one in Morrow County, which is one of 88 counties that comprise Ohio state.
When we arrived there were only a few people at Mass. But no talking. Trini grandmothers take note! And even when the crowd got larger the ambience of reverence was maintained. Many people knelt in silent prayer before Mass. I wish I could see more of that back home.
The church had a good mix of seniors and young couples and children. The congregation was basically middle class but I would say by appearance more lower middle class.
The music and singing were accompanied by organ. The singing wasn’t lusty—audible enough—but the response to various parts of the Mass was vigorous, again something I would like to see more of back home.
The recitation of the Creed was impressive: people were not amnesiac about the Creed as they invariably are back in Trinidad. The Prayers of the Faithful were very well done.
The celebrant was ordained only a few months before; a classmate of his concelebrated. His liturgical gestures were pious and homily very good. He began very well, had good diction and delivery, and explained well the meaning of humility and charity. I thought he could have concretised both a bit more via an example or anecdote.
Reception of Holy Communion was done very piously. I remained kneeling in prayer after Holy Communion until the music stopped. I thought I might have been one of the few doing so only to realise when I opened my eyes many people were doing the same, including a fair number of young people.
Again I wish I can see more of this back home instead of people sitting and talking quietly or children scampering.
As enjoyable as the Sunday experience was they could have scored higher on hospitality. I was the only ‘black’ person in the congregation but only one person said hello, a gentleman in his late sixties who chatted with me a bit after Mass. A few nodded.
I shook the priest’s hand but he never asked where I was from or if I was visiting for the first time. He seemed nice enough as people were very chatty with him after Mass. In fairness to him, he did return a message we left on voicemail and the medium-sized congregation appeared close-knit.
Hospitality could also have been improved through more signage. We visited the church Saturday evening but there was no sign saying times of Mass on that Sunday. We weren’t sure if Mass was at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. The voicemail in response said 9 a.m. The secretary, I presume, whose voice was on the parish messaging system was curt and struck me as unfriendly.
Bishop Robert Barron said a diocese in the US spent tons of money to find out why people were leaving the Catholic Church. The number one answer he said was insufficient hospitality, and sometimes just plain hostility.
As dioceses and parishes, we can all learn from each other in this universal Church we claim as our own. We can certainly do with a lot more reverence and prayerfulness in our churches and we all need to work harder at hospitality.
Before leaving, I gazed at the window above the altar, through which I could see the blue sky. I reminded myself this work of renewal we are seeking in the Church may be amplified from below but it begins from above when “we lift up our eyes unto the hills from whence cometh our help”