I will pray at home…I don’t have to come to Church!
All of us at some point in our lives have heard the statement: “I will pray at home, I do not need to go to Church.” This statement is rooted deeply in the individualistic culture we live in which encourages peoples egos to thrive. It is my private relationship with God that will bring salvation into my life–some would say–but at the same time Church is not needed.
There are many reason why Church is not needed in the eyes of those who think that they do not need the Church: either their priest is bad, or other people or simply they are too lazy to leave the house and join their brothers and sisters in Christ in the Church to pray. Whatever it might be, it shows two things that are quite clear: strong ego and (willing) ignorance.
What does the word Church mean?
In Greek the word is ἠ ἐκλησία which means gathering. Often times when we say praying in the Church we think about praying in the actual physical building. Rather than invoking the image of praying in the actual building, we should think about it as praying withing the gathering of the people of God the way this word Church was understood Biblically.
Why is it important to pray within the congregation?
When the Jews of old were freed from bondage to the Egyptians they were not freed individually but as a group of chosen people of God. God made a covenant with all of them as a congregation (Church) not with individuals. This also further meant that if they are to survive as a nation, they were to perform the acts of remembrance of this deliverance. In the old times they would eat bread and drink wine and eat herbs and they would talk about what God has done for them.
We do something similar within the congregation as the continuation of Ancient Israel. We drink Jesus’ blood and eat his flesh to remind ourselves of the deliverance from death that happened to us due to Jesus resurrection. But, it is important to notice that these signs of the covenant were given to a group of people to perform them, not to individuals!
Does this mean that God is not present in my life if I don’t come to Church?
God is present in our lives BECAUSE OF THE CHURCH and not because of our individual relationships with him. He knows us as members of different congregations individually and not vice versa. Whatever blessings I am experiencing in my “individual” life it is due to the fact that I am a faithful member of the group of people that are being saved together and participate in the signs of the New Covenant – body and blood of Christ.
Additionally, back at home we cannot prepare the body and blood of Christ for ourselves. Our relationship with God is based on his body and blood which makes him truly present and alive to us and our lives. Without partaking of Jesus’ body and blood within the congregation, our individual relationship with God and willing separation from Church community shows that we still do not spiritually know and appreciate the sacrifice of God and his acts of mercy shown to all of us as parts of one Body which is his Church.
Is my individual prayer worthless then?
No! However, our individual prayer serves the purpose of preparing us to participate in the body and blood of Christ which is the ultimate gift God gives us within the congregation. If our prayer does not lead to chalice, we should ask ourselves why…or even better, ask our priest why this is the case for me.
Nothing can replace participating within the liturgy in the Church, not even our individual prayer rules that we perform at home. We should make every effort not to miss Church and even if we miss it, we should know that whatever we did back at home, even praying all day, did not replace the liturgy we missed. As for bad people in the Church or even priests, we should get over ourselves and not romanticize the Church which is called the HOSPITAL for souls not the place where the angels dwell. If we are coming to the Church we are spiritually sick and we need healing and everyone around us as well.
What ultimately should give us joy is that all of us who are gathered in the Church, regardless of how great sinners we are, travel towards the same destination as a group, as brothers and sisters in Christ gathered around Jesus Christ whose embrace invites all sinners to participate of his body and blood within the ark of salvation which is the Church. Whoever does not think that the Church is necessary in their lives, will be swept away like everything which did not enter the Ark of Noah in the days of the flood.