Many of us who attend Mass regularly are familiar with the ebb and flow of church attendance throughout the year. There is often lower attendance during summer as people travel or go on vacation. Weekday Mass attendance increases during Lent and Advent as people utilize these seasons to attend to their spiritual life. Unique occasions such as Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday draw people to church for the tactile and symbolic aspects of those liturgies. Communal celebrations of First Communion and Confirmation can be large, especially if a parish is associated with a school. Depending upon the cultural context, unique feasts like Our Lady of Guadalupe can also draw many people. But the most well attended Masses throughout the year are generally Christmas and Easter.
For many of us it’s a delight to see so many people at Christmas Mass. There’s a sense that the entire community has come together. The mood is joyous and there’s a sense of shared values. The church is festively decorated, and many people have dressed up for the occasion. We hear some of our favorite Christmas hymns and the story of Jesus’ humble birth is told. We are both flooded with memories and filled with possibilities. I imagine this year all of those experiences will be heightened as people may feel more at ease returning to church compared to Christmas last year in the midst of the pandemic.
While there is much to be thankful for, many of us also suffered great difficulties and losses. Here at Emmanuel we lost Very Reverend Anthony Schueller, SSS. He was editor of Emmanuel from 1990-2002 and 2013-2019. More recently he had taken on the role of Senior Editor and continued his always concise and thoughtful reflections in the “From the Editor” column. His breadth of reading and knowledge were always on display in the numerous sources he would weave into his writing. But, for those of us who had the gift of knowing him personally, we will miss his gentle pastoral spirit. Never one to draw attention to himself, Father Schueller would likely be embarrassed by these words. Instead, during this season especially, he would likely redirect our attention to Christ and the Eucharist.
One thing Father Schueller exuded was eucharistic hospitality. He delighted in inviting people to the table and sharing a meal with them. At Christmas this was all the more evident with the abundant meals and conversations he would share. For him Eucharist easily flowed into hospitality and a celebratory Christmas dinner. This, of course, is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
So, as we gather for Eucharist this Christmas, whatever challenges or losses we have experienced, let us in true eucharistic fashion “remember” and “look forward.” Remember Jesus our savior who unites us all, born in Bethlehem. Look forward to being reunited with our loved ones seated with Christ at the heavenly banquet. And let us be lovingly present to one another this Christmas in gratitude, as Jesus is eucharistically present to us. Father Schueller would love that.