Liturgy Corner #4
"For where two or three are gathered in My Name...."
This is a Scripture that is very familiar to us. It is Jesus' promise that He will be with us when we gather in His Name--in some mysterious way, He is there. This has a particular significance for us when we consider His presence at our Liturgies. In order to more deeply appreciate His presence, let us look at this verse. The whole verse reads: For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (St. Matthew 18:20, RSV.) This verse is actually Jesus' restatement of a concept in Rabbinic Judaism. In a section of the Mishnah (the second of the holy books of the Jews, the first being the Bible, i.e. our Old Testament), it states: "If two sit together and words of the Torah are spoken between them, the Divine Presence (Shekinah) rests on them" (Pirke Aboth 3:2). For the Jews, the study of the Torah was of the greatest importance. It was one of the three actions that maintained the world--the other two being worship of God and acts of charity. Here Jesus restates this rabbinic tradition and uses it to proclaim His divinity and His Presence to His People. "Gathering in His Name" replaces speaking "words of Torah". He is the Word, the Word made flesh, and to gather in His Name is to be present to Who He is; it is to call down His presence upon us. When we do this, what rests on us is the actual presence of Jesus Himself, the Divine Shekinah. Thus is His prophetic name fulfilled: Immanuel, 'God-with-us.' For the follower of Jesus, "gathering in His Name" has the same importance that studying the Torah did for the Jews.
Therefore, it is helpful to remember that making the sign of the Cross at the beginning of the Mass, the action by which we gather in His Name, is not simply a symbolic way to remember the Trinity. It is a prayerful action that calls down upon us the presence of Jesus Himself. It is a holy action, it makes Jesus present to the People He loves. We always run the risk of forgetting the meaning and importance of ritual gestures that may have become automatic for us. To gather in His Name, to let the words of our mouths, the movement of our hands, and the content of our hearts be in unison results in His divine presence resting on us. This reminds us that at the Mass the People are never merely passive observers, they no longer simply "hear" Mass while the priest "says" Mass. They are called to fully, consciously, and actively participate. This is one of the reasons why the more recent liturgical documents call the priest at Mass the 'presider' i.e. the one who presides over the Christian assembly, rather than calling him the 'celebrant.' This is because all the People of God present, in a certain sense, 'celebrate' the Mass. This begins the moment we gather in His Name. And we do this, not as individuals in a privatistic only 'me and Jesus' way, but rather, gathering as a People, we consciously join with our brothers and sisters around us to worship our Father through His Son in the Spirit.