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Heritage of Hospitality lecture explains the Mass

| Thursday, September 20, 2018

Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry hosted the first installation of “A Heritage of Hospitality,” a four-part series exploring the Catholic Mass on Wednesday night. Anne McGowan, the assistant professor of liturgy at the Catholic Theological Union presented “Welcoming God’s Word: From Burning Hearts to Blazing World,” with responses from sophomore Kelly Burke and Marilyn Zugish.

Regina Wilson, the director of Campus Ministry, introduced the three speakers and the idea of perceiving the sharing of the Eucharist as an act of hospitality.

“At Saint Mary’s, the celebration of the Eucharist is central to our faith life,” Wilson said. “However, as we all know, we are a diverse campus and at times the Eucharist can be experienced as exclusionary and not welcoming. We seek through this project to look at the Eucharist as a practice, to look inside the Eucharist and to understand how it actually shapes us to be people who hospitably welcome and include others in the world.”

McGowan spoke on this concept with a lecture calling the audience to listen with “burning hearts.” McGowan said the theme of fire was inspired by an encounter between two disciples and Jesus depicted in the Gospels.

“As the title of this talk indicates, we are going to feast on fire this evening,” McGowan said. “It is Christ who calls us, breaks open God’s word with us and for us, feeds us with nothing less than Himself and then sends us out to speak the word of hope to the world and feed whoever we find there who is hungry. When God’s word is proclaimed and interpreted, the people who hear it are set on fire and called to live differently.

“Just as sharing stories and engaging in conversation are essential components of a memorable meal that heighten our appreciation of the food, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are linked together in an enhanced act of devotion. God’s salvation is proclaimed to us in both words and in actions.”

Spoken words hold great power, especially when delivered by God, McGowan said. For this reason, the Gospels are read aloud with respect and ceremony, she said.

“When God speaks, something happens,” McGowan said. “During Mass, the Gospel in particular is understood as Christ speaking anew to us, and it is for this reason that the Gospel gets the most elaborate ritual treatment among the ancient scriptures. The book of the Gospels is treated with special reverence, and the proclamation of the words of Jesus Christ may be accompanied with candles and incense.”

God welcomes people into the Church through Holy Scripture, McGowan said, extending the warmest of welcomes while bringing everyone closer together in a shared experience of hospitality.

“The Liturgy of the Word begins with God’s hospitality toward us, in presenting us with these words with the power to change us, offered out of a divine love that is not content to leave us as we are,” McGowan said. “God invites us into closer relationship through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. And by extension, we are called into deeper relationship with everyone else who God loved into existence and with all of creation. Like a good host, God stands eager to help facilitate these connections for us, opening a vision for a new way of life.”

Cultural awareness and inclusion can help the Church cultivate this hospitality, McGowan said, and make the experience of attending Mass one that is accessible to all.

“Those who prepare liturgies and those who preach on the readings can exhibit hospitality towards the assembly by being conscious of the diversity of the assembly … and by using preaching where warranted to draw out the relevant Biblical connections,” she said.

Despite differences or divisions in the assembly, everyone who attends Mass and listens to the Liturgy of the Word should share an experience of love, McGowan said.

“The goal at some level should be falling in love with God,” she said. “After a homily, ask yourself the question, ‘Do you love God more or less than you did before?’ The goal for preachers is to craft a homily inspired by the Holy Spirit that leaves people loving God more.”

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