For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Mt 18:20
There was an important, and in some circles, still controversial document that emerged from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1979. Entitled Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, and never formally approved by the entire assembly of bishops, it became enormously important for the principles it used to guide architects and liturgical theologians in redesigning Catholic churches after the Second Vatican Council.
One principle especially was very important to me personally. Architects, it suggested, must never forget that when we gather for worship nothing is more important than the assembly of believers. Therefore, they should make sure there was a place, whenever possible, for people to gather in faith in preparation for the Eucharist. This principle resulted in many churches in the United States having large vestibules, sometimes called narthexes or foyers.
There were some who argued that the emphasis on a “gathering space” took too much of the mystery of faith away. Talking, catching up with other believes, some argued, distracted from the sacred action of the Eucharist. No doubt this happened for some, but not for me. To remember that Christ is present in the assembly and all those who “gather in faith,” was very important to me. I was raised in a church that emphasized the role of the priest to the detriment of the assembly. Even though the church in which I was raised insisted that there always be an altar server to represent the church, I was not convinced. The priest's role overshadowed everything else that happened when we gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. That is why is was so important for to hear, and begin to believe, that Christ was present, not just in the person of the priest and the privilege he had to speak the words of institution, but in the assembly as it gathered in faith, in the Word and in the breaking of the bread.
Gathering, the church teaches, is the first action of the Eucharist. When we come together in faith, bringing with us all that has happened to us personally and communally during the previous week, we proclaim that Christ is always among us, always empowering us. Moreover, it is the gathering in faith that opens us to the power of the Word, the breaking of the bread, and the service of the community demanded by Jesus.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” changes everything. God is with us, not only in the person of the priest, in the word and in the breaking of the bread, but when we gather in faith to celebrate Christ among us.