David Mills in his column in the New Oxford Review recalls some words from Romano Guardini. They are good words to remember. Don’t run through the church doors but think about what they mean, writes Romano Guardini in his small book Sacred Signs. Pause a moment beforehand so as to make your entering-in a fully intended and recollected act. Nobody pauses before a door unless they are uncertain about where that door leads. But should we? Should we pause before entering the door to the Church? Or should we bust right through on our way into the presence of God?
I doubt whether most folks think much of doors. They are like intersections on the road or turn lanes on the highway. They are simply there to guide and guard as people get from one place to another. When I watch on Sunday morning, I see people rushing for the door and then slowing down. For some that reduction in speed is to greet old friends and acquaintances. For others it is because they are still a bit unfamiliar with things and they need to take stock of where things are and where they are going. Still others survey what is between them and the nave as a gauntlet and stop for a moment to figure out how to make it through the sea of faces and hands to the relative safety and comfort of the pew.
It is in the pew, after all, that most of us believe things begin in earnest. Whether kneeling or sitting, head bowed or hands folded, in prayer or meditation, the people of God settle themselves for what is to come. Entering the House of God is not considered part of this preparation by most of us. But should it be? Guardini suggests that it should. Guardini explains:
“Between the outer and the inner world are the doors. They are the barriers between the market place and the sanctuary, between what belongs to the world at large and what has become consecrated to God. And the door warns the man who opens it to go inside that he must now leave behind the thoughts, wishes and cares which here are out of place, his curiosity, his vanity, his worldly interests, his secular self. Make yourself clean. The ground you tread is holy ground.”I wish I would have read this a long time ago. I wish my people would read this regularly. There is much wisdom here. Doors are barriers and lines of demarcation that define spaces. Between the world and the nave, we pass through doors to help us transition into the holy space that belongs to the Lord. The doors do not do it all and certainly not without our recognition that they exist and mark the dividing lines of the world and God's holy presence but it is helpful to us to see doors in this way.
After the announcements, I usually say to the congregation something like this: During the prelude let us turn the thoughts of our minds and the direction of our hearts to the Lord so that we might be receptive to His Word and worthy of His table. It is a door. The time for casual gabbing has ended and we turn toward the presence of God -- literally! It is not long, perhaps 4-5 minutes, but this prelude time is my attempt to draw attention to the space, to the domain of the world that must now give way to the domain of God. In head and heart we surrender to the Lord. We are His people, washed in baptismal water and marked with the Holy Cross. We are here at His beckoning and by His invitation we will hear the sound of His voice and feast upon the very flesh and blood of Christ. It is impossible to make the shift from parking lot and lives defined by the world's pressures, stresses, and demands to the Lord's grace, mercy, and gift without at least this pause.
I will quibble a bit with Guardini. We do not make ourselves clean. Even that preparation is done by the Lord through the confiteor and the ego te absolvo. He rescues us from our sin that stains our lives and He renders us worthy in His sight. Even more reason for the pause between one world and His holy ground. Oh, well, you know how what I read can get me thinking. . .