The Role of a Fellow Lay-Person – Ethan Dickler

For me, the purpose of the Catholic mass was always interconnected with the formal positions within the service. For a successful service to occur, everyone needed to perform their assigned role. The priest led the mass, the servers assisted him, and the readers introduced tradition into the service. Though the mass itself bored me as a kid, these positions always captivated me.

As a child, I wanted to be near the tabernacle. The tabernacle is a gilded box used to hold the bread after it is transformed into a sacred relic; I used to think of the tabernacle as a mystical portal to heaven. Even though I was a particularly incompetent communicator, I always volunteered to read the Old Testament portions in mass in order to be near the tabernacle. Similarly, in middle school I carried the Roman Missal (the rubric and texts for the mass) as an altar boy in order to maintain close proximity to the tabernacle. For me, the best way to fulfill the purpose of the mass was to be near the tabernacle, and being a reader or server were the best options to accomplish that goal. However, I now realize that my role in the mass is one that I never realized required effort: the lay person. Though the purpose of the lay person appears to be one of listless repetition, it is actually one of enthused growth.

Absolutely no one wanted to serve the role of the lay-person. The lay person is a general member of the congregation, kneeling or standing the entire service but lacking a more specialized role. At least, that was my conception as a child. In reality, the lay person does have specific obligations to the mass. They must recite numerous prayers and perform actions at specific times in the service. Further, they are responsible for interactions with other faiths. In order to have a diverse religious community, lay people must engage with other faiths and share with them their experiences as Catholics. I now understand that the purpose of the mass is not to be physically near the tabernacle, but spiritually near it. To accomplish this, I must understand my own faith and the faiths of others.

My position as an interfaith fellow is an extension of my position as a lay person. Through intentional conversations with people of diverse faiths, this fellowship will help me improve connections with my own religion as well as others, thereby fulfilling my role as a lay person.

How have the roles you played in your own faiths/communities impacted your identities? How might they extend into your work as a fellow?

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