When No One Showed Up for Church
One final thing the two pastors shared in common: On this cold snowy morning, the stood there in front of an empty sanctuary. No one was there. Not even the musicians. It was clear to both of them no one was coming to the worship service.
In spite of those similarities, there was a real difference. David was the pastor at the Fourth Street Bible Church. Justin was the pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church, also on Fourth Street. This meant there were differences in what their sanctuaries looked like, and certainly differences in how they typically dressed during worship. But, for this morning, there was another difference just an inherent in the two distinct approaches to worship: how they reacted to an empty sanctuary.
David waited for awhile, occasionally peering at the still dark street to see if anybody might be coming late. No one was. After a few minutes, David took his Bible and sermon notes, got back in his car, and drove to a little coffee shop he knew would be open, even in the snow. He'd go over his notes and be back in plenty of time for the next scheduled worship service.
Justin also felt disappointed. He had hoped at least a few would make it. But, it was time for worship to begin. He went back, and began to enact rituals of putting on the vestments and preparing the elements of the Eucharist. He looked down at his watch. Bowing his head in began the prayers that would mark the Introit, and walked into the sanctuary and up to the table. He would still say the Mass, at least the essential portions. He would still read scripture, intone the ancient prayers, and celebrate the Eucharist.
If they had met later that day and recounted the events of the morning, it would be perfectly understandable if David had asked, "Why did you go ahead and do the Mass if there was no one there?"
The old priest shrugged and said, "It was the time we announced we'd be doing a Mass."
"But," David said, still pressing the question, "no one showed up. There was no one there but you."
The old priest just smiled, "Ah, but there was."
Since worship is centrally a service done to the glory and honor of God, the Mass that had been announced for that hour was done. An appointment had been made and it would be kept.
I can see value in both approaches. The worship of the church is a gathered corporate worship of a community a faith. There is value is understanding the importance of that gathering, even if it were only two or three. But, what about only one?
There is also value in holding fast to the central idea that worship is what we do for God, not for one another. A gathering of a thousand, a hundred, ten, or one should not change that underlying fact. When the old priest is standing there, without musicians or readers or deacons or congregation, he is, even then, not standing alone in a room. The intended audience, though unseen, is still present and, in a phrase borrowed from another sphere of life, the show must go on.
Protestants, like Catholics, acknowledge that God, not the congregation, is the primary audience for which all that is done in worship is performed. It is ultimately something we do for His glory.
I understand David's reaction. Had my church been nearby, I would probably have been joining him for coffee and comparing sermon notes. I understand David. But, I also understand Father Justin. More than that, I admire his approach. I guess, somewhere inside, as I sip my espresso, I'm thinking he's probably more right than we are.