I am a cradle Catholic. Like many Catholics, I prefer to sit comfortably toward the middle or back of church.
Tuesday of Holy Week, I attended the chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. In my new role with the curia at the diocese, I was tasked with taking a few photos. Unfamiliar with the best way to do this, while being discreet, I decided to sit in the front pew — the dreaded front pew. As I settled in, it suddenly hit me that people may watch the front pew to know when to sit and stand.
I have been going to Mass for 37 years, but do I really know when to sit and stand? A little pit grew in my stomach, because to stand at the wrong point of Mass from the front pew would be humiliating. I decided right then that I would not go on auto-pilot, I would be highly engaged to prevent any humiliation. However, as soon as I had that thought, I wondered to myself, how often do I walk into Mass with this intention to be completely engaged? If I am honest, I am not certain I have ever had quite that specific of intention. Avoiding humiliation is obviously motivating. It is not to say I am always unintentional, but after participating in a Mass where I fought auto-pilot, it was different. With absolutely no distractions coupled with the act of intentional listening, I felt more engaged — a full participant instead of a spectator.
As Mass progressed, I will admit, I still had some fears. I do not recall the very specific moment, but at one point I was certain I got eye contact from Father. Yep, another little pit in my stomach. I do not know what the consequence is of getting direct eye contact from Father, but what I do know is that my comfort zone is in being the anonymous Catholic.
Somewhere in my head I thought that nobody can judge me from the middle or back of the church. Remember, all good Catholics sit there, so that’s safe! It then occurred to me, if good Catholics sit in the middle and back, do great Catholics sit in the front? If that’s the case, then there is no way I am identifying myself as a great Catholic. If you’re like me, then deductive reasoning says we have room for growth.
I made the decision to journey to the front pew for the triduum services. At the end of the Easter Vigil, I will not tell you I suddenly felt like a great Catholic, but what I can tell you is that I had one of the most meaningful Holy Week experiences. I imagine God chuckles a little as to say, “Amber, I am not calling you to be a great Catholic, I am calling you to follow me.” What that looks like for each of us is different.
So, if you are looking for a way to get off auto-pilot and add some excitement to your journey, I would recommend sitting in the front pew one week to see what happens. Maybe what we will find is that we don’t belong in the back of the church.
Amber Cerveny is the marketing communications and community leader for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.