I’ve been thinking for some years about a rather surprising custom of many mass attenders: taking the seats in the last pews. This is particularly noticeable when I say mass for Polish congregations. At the theatre or the opera it is the price that decides where you sit. But we don’t have tickets for mass. So, in this case it is not the price. Maybe this custom is associated with the personal hygiene of the celebrant? But I really use water, soap and toothpaste so you can get closer to me. So, probably that’s not the reason. Another thought concerns the height of some people. I’m quite tall and big, so I could be a serious obstacle for smaller people behind me. But I realise there is no connection at all here. Being honest, I really don’t know why some people prefer to keep themselves away from the altar.
I have to admit that when I go somewhere where I sit among the congregation I take a pew in the middle of the church, because of different local liturgical customs. Once I stood up when everybody else remained sitting. With my height that was quite embarrassing – I drew everyone’s attention to myself like a lone tree in a desert land. But when I’m familiar with local liturgical customs I prefer to have a seat close to the altar. Just to see and hear better.
Today’s second reading reminds us of what we are about when we take part in liturgy. First part of the reading recalls the experience of the Israelites on Mount Horeb, where they were given God’s law after leaving Egypt: “a blazing fire, total darkness, a storm, trumpeting thunder”. When they saw and heard all those things, they were so frightened that they begged Moses to speak to God on his own. That experience shaped the priesthood of the Old Testament.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews explains that this old way of worshipping God has passed away. The people of the New Testament don’t need any mediator between them and God, because the only one needed is Jesus Christ himself, “who brings a new covenant”. There is no fear in approaching God. But this second reading must not be seen to favour individualism: “with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and citizen of heaven”. With the Church and in the Church every Christian has “come to God himself”. To understand it better let me use a simple example.
As you know I’m Polish and that’s not my fault. When I want to visit my family I have to pass over a thousand miles in one direction. There are several ways to cover that distance: on foot, riding a bike, driving a car or flying by plane. Finally each of them can bring me to my destination. But not every one is as convenient or as fast. Because I’m getting older I don’t want to waste the remaining part of my life, so I choose an airplane. The airline provides a chance to reach my destination in the quickest way.
We believe that the Catholic Church provides all means of reaching our eternal destination in the most certain way; that is through the sacraments and the church’s teachings. We all are invited to consciously make use of them. The only person that can make the decision to do so is you.