Encountering the Sacred: What you get is what you give. . . .

In the comments following a recent Pray Tell Blog post, one of our regularly appearing commentators, Tom Poelker, initiated a most interesting conversation, worthy of its own (i.e., this) post. Tom suggested that readers might “each to offer [their] own, brief. . . list of [a] first few things [they] want to experience ordinarily at Sunday Mass.”

His request is for a “list of positives without mentioning things you consider negatives.” We do get (and give) a lot of critique here; a positive list “of what we know we and others want” can give a starting place for ongoing conversation “about priorities and whether some things are appropriate or not.” Tom writes, “I think the question of values, expectations, and priorities is a crucial issue. It contains the unmentioned assumptions behind many disagreements concerning liturgy.”

I think this is a worthwhile line for conversation — if I didn’t, obviously, I wouldn’t be moving it from a subset of com-boxes to its own post. But I want to reiterate a frequently heard caveat: liturgy isn’t only about, or even primarily about, what we “get” from going to church. But such thinking is common: how often do those of us, lay and ordained, who work professionally in liturgy (whether as educators/catechists, musicians, liturgists, pastoral visitors or presiders, or what have you) hear “I don’t go to church because I don’t get anything out of it”? However commonplace that sort of thinking is, it misses the mark: what you “get” out of going to church is in large part proportionate to what you give. Praise, thanksgiving, admission of guilt. . . these are the things we go to church to give. And yet — two thoughts:

First, we might not go to church directly to “get” something, whether that’s credit with the Almighty or entertainment for Sunday morning. But our repertoire of liturgical language does include imprecation, petition, pleading and lament: part of what we do in church is acknowledge our utter dependence on God, begging for forgiveness and mercy, and pleading for our particular needs as well as the particular and general needs of the church and the world around us. This pleading, this “prayer of the faithful” (which occurs at various points in most Western Christian eucharists), is a major exercise of the priestly ministry entrusted to all the baptized, though exercised in different manners by ordained and lay members of the one body of Christ.

Second — and more to the point — many of us go to church with the “right” motivation: to give — thanks, praise, worship, adoration — and yet we leave disappointed, frustrated, empty and angry. We give our whole selves, yet our experience of the manner in which public worship is conducted seems to impede that self-offering, or otherwise rob us of the real encounter with the divine that (it would seem, at least) we should be able to expect when we go to worship.

There is much to discuss here, and some have already taken up Tom Poelker’s invitation — for convenience, I’ve included those responses below. Let me reiterate where comments for conversation most fruitfully might go:

“Make a list of a few things you want to experience ordinarily at Sunday Mass. . . [make them] positives, without mentioning things you consider negatives. . . what we know we and others want. . . values, expectations, and priorities….”

Finally, Tom suggests “Please offer things which can be affected by how the ministers perform the service, not those things under only divine control. Let us focus on what the humans do at Mass.”

So far as we are able, let’s include our full readership here — Catholic and non-Catholic — but let’s keep the focus (for now, at least) on the Eucharistic liturgy.

When this conversation first emerged, a few responses came up, reprinted here for convenience:

From Jim McKay:

Wonder and mystery are high on my list of what I want to experience. St Augustine, at the climax of the Confessions, cries out “Beauty so ancient and so new.” Encountering God as new, as ancient, and as new and ancient simultaneously, is mystery and the source of wonder.

I always hope for that. Like a deer longs for living water, newly refreshed though he has tasted water before. I hope for it like I hope for my wife’s laughter, something I have heard many times and which has rarely failed to please me.

I assure you I find that mystery and wonder in the ordinary, whether it is ordinary life or the ordinary form. It is harder for me to find it in the EF, where everything seems more theatrical and the mystery just seems like a trick of language, like a sleight of hand. I am simply less engaged when the priest speaks inaudibly or incomprehensibly. But that is more a reply to those who somehow cannot find the mystery and wonder, than to Tom’s question.

From Charles Culbreth:

[P]ut me down for humility, reverence, cantillation, and all service music that is self evident as “sacred, universal and beautiful.” Posture and articulate movement by all.

And, uh, inspired preaching, neither bellicose nor self-aggrandizing.

Oh, transubstantian and dignified reception of HC, whether standing or kneeling,on tongue or in hand.

From Jeffrey Pinyan:

A sense of living tradition — not of stepping into someplace old and dusty, but of being drawn into something timeless and vibrant, with its own energy

A sense of the heavenly liturgy

Reverence for Christ in all His modes of presence

Priest and people singing the prayers of the Mass with vigor

Scripture proclaimed from the heart, and explained with heart

And for myself? Hearty singing from choir and congregation. . . beautiful language — poetry in prayer and in song — that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is faithful to the truth we have received. . . active and heartfelt responses to greetings and invitations throughout the liturgy. . . carefully prepared and vigorous but not dramatic proclamation of scripture. . . an awareness of community within the assembly — not that this is at all “about us” but that we’re here together for a common purpose, a common work, and a common transformation. . . a sense of the sacred that goes beyond mysteriousness into the heart of the matter: an encounter with the living God who entered into our human experience and takes the initiative to come to meet us when we are gathered in Jesus’ name. . . and much more, of course.

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61 comments

  1. I blogged about this issue (my preferences) in reference to music at Mass over a year ago:
    http://musicforsunday.com/2010/my-personal-church-music-preferences

    Highlights:
    Lots of music, including everything prescribed by the Church (the Propers) as well as hymns for the people (William Mahrt calls this the “Stuffed Mass”, which seems appropriate. I think he means it negatively. Ah, well.)
    In a variety of styles.

    The Ordinary Form is used, and the Priest faces the people. (Prayers are addressed up and out, to God). Gestures are large- slow, and deliberate.

    “There is incense. There are bells at the Elevation. There are Gothic style vestments and deacons in dalmatics. Altar servers wear the traditional black and white. Processions take a long time. Everything takes a long time. There is plenty of silent space around each action, each reading, each prayer. There is no ad libbing (AT ALL), but the spoken prayers are read so sincerely that we all think they are the Celebrant’s own words.”

    Since I’m not supposed to be negative, I’ll say: POSITIVELY no liturgical dancing.

    1. Nothing wrong with liturgical dancing — see the beautiful dancing at the mass for Mother Teresa’s beatification, celebrated by JP2 and Ratzinger; there has also been liturgical dancing at World Youth Day papal masses, if I recollect correctly.

      1. Okay, how about: there’s nothing wrong with liturgical dancing, but not all dancing at a liturgy* is liturgical dancing, and not all liturgical dancing is appropriate for every liturgy.

        * I have in mind the “liturgical go-go dancing” episode at an Illinois cathedral a few years ago.

  2. Adam, since I unveiled Mahrt’s term over at the Cafe (re. circumambulation) I believe he coined the term “stuffed Mass” as benignly tolerant and with gentle understanding, as is his very nature, IMHO. He certainly is “for” a definitive, ideal expression of the Divine Liturgy, one that likely won’t receive much traction here. And that’s okay.

    Fr. Cody, this is a good and well merited idea.
    I’d add to my above criteria:
    If not the “ad Deum/ad orientem” posture of the celebrant after receiving the offertory, then at least the significant presence of an altar crucifix upon which, from his “ad populum” stance, both he and the faithful can focus, like the spectral colors radiating to and from a prism, the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist that leads to union with Him at the Holy Meal.

    1. I find the use of an altar crucifix DURING MASS to be a distraction. Surely, all the congregation (including priest) should be focussed on the Eucharistic elements that are being consecrated? Likewise, the ‘ad orientem’ proposal ignores the coming of Christ, here and now, in the Eucharistic celebration. We are not looking to the east expecting Christ to come on the clouds of heaven, we are looking to Christ coming into our midst here and now, in his many presences – in the word, in the ministers, in the gathered community, and above all in the gift of his body and blood.

  3. A “gathered” community, which, though diverse in many ways, is yet one in clear desire to be together before/with God, with a primary intention. This commonly occurs at funerals, and usually at weddings. (Though at weddings often a significant proportion of attenders do not know each other).

    A “well-sung” Mass where the choir sing with conscious meaning in their hearts – it makes such a difference to the sound of the music and so to the worship of both choir and congregation.

    Mass in the local language. Although I personally only understand English and am not a great traveller, I have experienced Masses abroad in French, German, Arabic, Italian, Flemish and Russian. The “inclusivity” of priest and congregation is the important part. Though at the last Arabic Mass I attended (Melkite) the visiting Archbishop who was “on supply” for the absent pp, off the cuff rendered sections of his homily in English.

    Mature servers – minimum age 13. (There’s a hidden negative there!)

    Audible readers.

    A recognition that ALL the baptised are ontologically different – (aren’t we?).

  4. In the back of my mind, I always have the nagging fear that everyone else is on automatic, thoughtlessly performing a mindless routine. When something happens that reveals someone’s integrity in prayer, I think: “Yes, this is real, we are here to pray to God as a genuine gathering of faithful”, and the Mass takes on meaning.

    The “something” can be as simple as a moment of silence or as the expression on somebody’s face, or as complex as a gripping homily. It can come from impeccably executed, sophisticated liturgy, or from imperfect but well-meaning attempts. I cannot predict it.

  5. The feeling that we are all here together, intentionally — that we want to be here, and know why we are here. As I think how I would sense that I come up with:
    – audible, purposeful participation in song, prayer and dialogues
    – concentration on the word of God in proclamation, eyes up, not in books
    – times for silence that are significant enough to really feel silence, especially a nice long silence after communion
    – people sitting near each other, in the same area, if the church is not full
    – a presider that reads the prayers as if he has prayed them himself, allowing space for the congregation to take in the words and make them our own prayer
    – song — lots of song!

  6. a celebration that seems to break the bonds of time and space, that happens in the here and now but points beyond.

  7. Liturgy that produces in those who worship a deepening understanding and awareness of God’s love, grace and energy. Liturgy that opens us to God and helps us to recognize that God has brought us together, gifts us with grace and calls us to be His Son’s disciples in the world.
    Liturgy that makes personal God’s love in Jesus Christ who willingly suffered and died for us to enable us to enter heaven.
    Liturgy that is a foretaste of the Paschal feast of heaven.
    Liturgy that shows forth the offer of God’s grace to move us to be reconciled to Him and one another, especially those who have most offended us.
    Liturgy that shows that God is in communion with us and calls us to be in Communion with God and one another on a cosmic level.
    Liturgy that shows that salvation, mystery and awe are the works of God that we are allowed to enter by God’s grace.
    Liturgy that follows all the rules in a creative and energetic way, well choreographed, well sung, well prayed, well responded,well read, well preached, with sacred silence, active participation that is first internally contemplative and then vocal. Liturgy that is not self-loathing, open to the past, present and future, open to the EF and OF and respectful of both on their own terms.
    Liturgy that inspires love for God and the Church He gives us, warts and all. Liturgy that is classical and within the hermeneutic of reform within continuity.

  8. I miss bells at elevation.
    Keep the sanctuary lights dim prior to Mass to encourage silence–or at least stage whispers–and prayer.
    Make certain we are always offering our very best to God. Fresh flowers, clean and crisp looking server garb, a spotless church. Not because I’m OCD but because the Lord deserves our first fruits and excellent effort.

  9. My usual Sunday Mass is a solemn Latin Novus Ordo with incense, bells and fine music. But I also love a ‘low Mass’ in English, and have been moved to tears at ‘folk Masses’. The essentials are:

    (1) Continuity between congregation and ministers, so that everyone is part of the sacred action and feels that they are. The sanctuary easily visible to the congregation.

    (2) Whatever the music, whatever the language, a sense of purposefulness and focus on the work, attentiveness from servers, musicians, lectors, EMHCs, clergy. Quality rather than any specific form of music or liturgical language is what matters to me. Reverence shown for the place itself, the people assembled, the work that they are doing together.

    (3) Attention to the word of God proclaimed and preached; even a short homily at a ‘low Mass’ can be wonderful. Scriptures and the homily easily audible. Thoughtful, Scriptural, challenging preaching.

    (4) Naturalness in the liturgical action and a general lack of pomp and theatricality (I am trying hard not to be negative…); the purposefulness and reverence in (2) balanced with a sense that the Mass is the most natural thing for the people of God to be doing rather than a theatrical performance.

    (5) True welcome shown to every member of the assembly; the Mass as primarily a collective act rather than a place for private piety – equally, each member given room for reflection and prayer. Christ seen as much in the assembly as in the proclaimed word as in the sacrifice on the altar. The exchange of the peace for me is neither an annoyance nor an ‘optional extra’ but a critical moment of the liturgical action.

    (6) The celebrating priest or bishop as teacher and leader of the assembly and its host.

    For me this privileges the Novus Ordo above the Tridentine Mass. The first three criteria mean that Jesuit churches almost always ‘get it right’ for me.

  10. A lector who proclaims the scriptures in a way that touches my heart.
    A homilist who can make Jesus’s words come alive for me. Right here, right now.
    A Eucharistic minister who takes time to let me bow before receiving the Eucharist.
    A sense of peace at the end.

  11. I don’t look for, or expect anything… If I am ministering (music), I’ll usually pray a Rosary ahead of time, and simply ask for Mary and the heavenly choir to be with me that the music might touch someone. And I simply ask that I be touched – whatever that might mean… I minister at Padua Place here in San Antonio, a home for priests who require medical assistance. Maybe it’s the history that they embody (from walking with MLK arm and arm in the Long March to assisting at Vatican II to being ordained the 1st Hispanic Bishop in the US)… on “off” weeks, I try to experience liturgies in various parishes and meet the music ministers, since I am the director of our Archdiocesan NPM Chapter… I don’t attend as “liturgical police” but rather, to experience the gift of God in that community. I have been blown away by what I see… accentuate the positive…

  12. Great unity here in the positive vision of liturgy that we all cherish. The disputed point is whether the new translation furthers that vision. Those responsible for the liturgy — primarily the bishops — should be monitoring how well it is fulfilling the vision. In Ireland bishops fret a lot about mass attendance statistics but do not seem to devote deep thought to nurturing the liturgy as a faith- and community-building event. The least one can expect of the Mass is that it should strengthen faith and community rather than undermine them. Our liturgies too often encourage detached passiveness, which is partly due to the rigidity of the prescribed texts and rubrics.

    1. The books by Denis Crouan, whilst a bit annoying in places (he seems to have a bee in his bonnet about traditionalists and has a rose-tinted view of how the New Mass came about) are excellent in their treatment of these issues, particularly the one you just raised, about texts and rubrics. Far from being rigid and restrictive, Crouan argues that they serve to protect and enhance the liturgy. That’s as good a job as I can do – you’d need to read the books, The Liturgy Betrayed, and The Liturgy After Vatican II.

  13. The best quality of architecture, art and environment that the community can muster. Great music, preaching and presiding can still limp in a church that looks and sounds like a 1970s living room.

  14. I look for worshipers who seem engaged through their posture, their visage, their singing & praying, their listening, their offering, and their partaking of Holy Communion.

    I look for a reverence that is expressed through all of the above and not merely by folding their hands in a certain manner, nor by following along with their hand missals (unless, of course, they are hearing impaired or the church has a defective audio system).

    I look for a priest who understands that presiding in persona Christi does not preclude him from being present to God and to the assembly as who he really is. I have always found the notion that priests must lay their “personalities” aside as bizarre. It seems to suppose that Jesus interacted people apart from his personality.

    I look for musicians who understand that music is truly the servant of the liturgy and so don’t seek to overpower the assembly and the ministers. I also look for a choir that doesn’t think of itself as leading the assembly in song but as part of the assembly itself. This doesn’t mean they are unable at certain points to minister to the assembly with uplifting musical pieces.

    I look for servers of all ages (children over 9 and adults) who, as a rule, are vested in clean and neat albs. Why we would want to dress the baptized in the clerical garb of cassock and surplice is beyond me.

    I look and listen for readers who read expressively in a way that betrays their own personal encounter not just with the words but with The Word. After each lesson is concluded, I want to think “that person believes what he/she just proclaimed”.

    I look for a priest who is obviously directing prayer to God in a way that is personal as opposed to formal or officious.

    I look for priests and a priestly people who are connecting what they do as church on Sundays with what they do at home, at work, at school, and at play.

  15. Joe O’Leary :

    … Our liturgies too often encourage detached passiveness, which is partly due to the rigidity of the prescribed texts and rubrics.

    Joe,
    What would be the positive experience in contrast to the detached passiveness?

  16. For the encouragement of further participation, the list below is excerpted from the first twenty responses as examples of what I consider to be answers to what I thought I was asking.

    These are about ends rather than means. The thought in the back of my head was that naming our various ends would provide some clarity when we discuss means in other conversations. It looks like most of these do or could begin with “a sense of/that”.

    -Wonder and mystery
    -A sense of living tradition
    -A sense of the heavenly liturgy
    -Reverence for Christ in all His modes of presence
    -poetry in prayer and in song
    -a sense of the sacred that
    goes beyond mysteriousness into the heart of the matter
    -A “gathered” community
    -The feeling that we are all here together, intentionally
    -a celebration that seems to break
    the bonds of time and space
    -a deepening understanding and awareness of
    God’s love, grace and energy
    -closer union with Christ in the Eucharist
    -strengthen faith and community
    -The celebrating priest or bishop as
    teacher and leader of the assembly and its host.
    -True welcome shown to every member of the assembly
    -a collective act rather than a place for private piety
    -room for reflection and prayer.
    -Naturalness in the liturgical action and
    a general lack of pomp and theatricality
    -Attention to the word of God proclaimed and preached
    -Quality rather than any specific form
    -a sense of purposefulness and focus on the work
    -Continuity between congregation and ministers
    -our very best
    -a foretaste of the Paschal feast of heaven
    -encourage silence and prayer.

  17. This Catholic suffers from a severe lack of charity. This will be my downfall, I am certain. All I know is that I must add charity to wherever I may be at prayer.

    Whenever I attend the Ordinary Form I automatically judge the priest and congregation guilty of liturgical abuse even before the sacristy bell rings. It’s almost as if de defectibus and the GIRM are the only sections in my missalette. I have the scorecard before me in my mind, ticking off the deviations of phrase, the missed greetings, the improvised offertory. I find myself holding my breath at the Consecration, praying that the priest “gets it right”. At communion time I move about the church to avoid the extraordinary ministers. “Doesn’t that layperson know that he or she really shouldn’t touch the Host?” Should I receive Communion if I judge my brother or sister in that way?

    Fr. Cody once cautioned me against my tendency to negate the human aspect of Mass. Participation in theosis is not I and Thou, Lord; it is also communion with my brothers and sisters. Where I see the “abuse of extraordinary eucharistic ministers”, many see the joy of the laity participating in the gifts of Sacrificial Banquet. Where I perceive the profound intersection of Calvary and the fallen world, many see incomprehensible Carolingian pantomime.

    Charity is my obligation regardless of the sentiments of others towards the liturgy I hold in highest esteem.

  18. I look for a sense of God’s wonder, a sense of God’s beauty, a connection to Jesus, and a connection to the people around me as well as to the people who came before.

    I like the Mass to be prayed reverently, but naturally and without a lot of self consciousness, regardless of its language. I prefer everything to be sung, and for the people to sing/say the dialogues that pertain to them without someone waving their hands or telling them they didn’t respond loud enough. I prefer it when the priest and people face the same direction like we are all in this together. I look for homilies that are brief, but relevant and to the point. I look for architecture, vestments, and music that are beautiful, connected to tradition, and well done regardless of style. I look for the the liturgy to be done by the books (STBDTR, I suppose), but to be done well and with care.

    I like seeing how everyone else experiences Mass a little differently. Some like to look up while readings are proclaimed, while others like to read along. Neither one is better than the other, as far as I’m concerned. If someone feels a deep connection to God while having his face buried in a missal the entire time, then I don’t think I have a right to tell him he’s doing it wrong. I also like seeing how some people look up at the elevation and do the sign of the cross, while some strike their breast while silently praying something to the effect of “my Lord an my God,” while others bow their head rather than look up. I like seeing how some people sing after communion or have their heads slightly bowed in prayer, while others have their faces buried in their hands. Everyone is together as a community, but experiencing it a little differently. I’ve learned a lot about how to participate at Mass by just observing others.

  19. Alternative to detached passivity: readers who are well prepared and formed to proclaim the readings, listened to attentively by the interested congregation.

    A sense of buzz as the celebrant and announcers tell of the charitable activities of the congregation during the coming week.

    Warm welcoming of new worshipers or visitors.

    Joyful participation in hymns, aided by choir and organist.

    Well composed prayers of the faithful, with invitation for petitions or names from the congegation.

  20. I note that the “go and serve the Lord” admonition at the end of Mass receives little attention. It is also true for myself: it is exceedingly rare that I leave the church after Mass with a sense of mission in the world.

  21. Jordan: Whenever I attend the Ordinary Form I automatically judge the priest and congregation guilty of liturgical abuse even before the sacristy bell rings. It’s almost as if de defectibus and the GIRM are the only sections in my missalette. I have the scorecard before me in my mind, ticking off the deviations of phrase, the missed greetings, the improvised offertory. I find myself holding my breath at the Consecration, praying that the priest “gets it right”. At communion time I move about the church to avoid the extraordinary ministers. “Doesn’t that layperson know that he or she really shouldn’t touch the Host?” Should I receive Communion if I judge my brother or sister in that way?

    Jordan, how very, very sad. Unfortunately you are not alone. Others too start with a completely negative expectation and torture themselves continually as the celebration proceeds. That way lies a totally unhealthy liturgical masochism, I’m afraid.

    Moving about the church to avoid the extraordinary ministers demonstrates nothing more than that you are focused on the externals, on the people ministering, instead of on the elements, on what it is that you are to receive. That is what is important. So no, I don’t think you should receive Communion in that state of mind.

    From what you have said, I would characterize your participation at Mass as one huge occasion of sin, probably mortal sin. You are not celebrating, you are critiquing in a prejudiced way. The glass starts off totally empty but may fill up a little. You allow no room for the action of the Holy Spirit in any of it. You are in control. I find it hard to believe that any grace can accrue from such a stance, since interior dispositions are so singularly lacking.

    My wish and my prayer for you is that some vision of the Divine would jolt you out of all this and bring you back home. But I do appreciate your courage in bringing your astonishing mindset to the table.

    1. Sebastian, you are quite right that my thoughts about the OF are mortally sinful.

      As of late, I barely hold onto the notion that the OF is a Mass. I often rue Pope Paul VI as an brutal iconoclast, an enemy of patrimony, whose papacy merely rained liturgical annihilation on the Roman Church. My emotional rejection of the bull Missale Romanum and the hatred of a Pope for his reforms is not just a grave sin against charity. This is a denial of the font of grace and charity of the Universal Church through her sacraments.

      I will never truly know why Pope Paul radically reformed the Mass, but I am convinced he did it out of pastoral love for his flock. In his Audience of 26 November 1969 he wrote at length to Catholics like me. He knew that many would be scandalized and emotionally shattered by the effective end of Latin public prayer. Perhaps he also sorrowed. Still, he marched forward for the majority of his sheep, and many Catholics are very grateful for what he has done.

      I must forgive even those here who would happily nail close the coffin of our Latin heritage and then dance upon it. I likewise wish to nail close the OF and dance on its coffin. To presume knowledge through hatred is to destroy charity.

      Sorry for the gratuitous off-topic rambling. This should have been my one and only post on Pray Tell.

      1. I wonder if this would help you, Jordan.

        http://www.olfatima.com/homily1.html

        It’s an address he gave a week before the one you reference. Interestingly, he talks about the reformed Rite of Mass putting an end to arbitrary abuses. Hmmm. I expect some of us can remember what some of those were. Are they still with us?, I ask myself (with more than a touch of irony).

  22. I read Jordan’s post as laudable self-honesty, in a humble spirit. I suspect the reality is better than his depiction of it. I appreciated his comment. It helped me be more honest about the ways I judge others at liturgy – the musicians, the monk behind me singing below pitch, the celebrant who can’t get to the ambo by the time the Gospel Acclamation ends so the transition is seamless, and so forth. It’s an ongoing challenge for all of us to let go of these secondary things and see the beauty transpiring before us.
    awr

  23. I also welcome Jordan’s honesty and recognise my own need for self-examination. I’d just suggest that the difference between Jordan and what he attributes to Fr Cody isn’t just a matter of taste. There’s a theological right and wrong here. And forms of piety purportedly putting God ahead of neighbour (or indeed the other way round) are materially heretical.

    And what a wholesome conversation this has been! Joe’s point that it’s promoting these values that should concern our bishops is surely well taken.

  24. Jordan reminds us of one of the classic purposes of liturgy; it is a school for charity.

    I still judge many behaviors, like arriving late, leaving early, ushers seating people during readings, etc. But I think, and hope, that I am better than I once was. God only knows!

  25. I, too, can understand the critique thing that Jordan mentions. It’s difficult for “professional liturgists” to worship without switching it off, I think.

    But I always relish those celebrations where I am truly caught up in what is going on, or where I suddenly sense that everyone else is and it’s not just me. The critical faculty is still there, but it has taken its proper place amidst everything else.

  26. With some of the others here, I’m sensitive to Jordan’s comments, above and elsewhere, because they give voice to a shadow side that I experience in myself. Like Paul Inwood mentions, as a “professional liturgist” I have a hard time worshiping, from chancel or nave, without “switching it off.” And like Deacon Fritz, I think my tripwires are a bit (though probably not wholly) different than Jordan’s.

    1. It’s for this reason that I consciously try not to describe any liturgy in generalized negative terms. Sometimes the music is poor, the preaching is uninspired, the participation limp, etc., but the Mass is always an occasion for grace. “How was Mass today? It was wonderful, Jesus Christ was there.”

  27. So much has been covered so well, but here are a couple of additions:
    Sincere, warm welcome to those who come to church alone; the elderly, young single adults. Each of us learning their names, inviting them to sit with us… sliding over to make room in the pew for that young family that arrives late and welcoming them with a smile. Homilies that connect the scripture to the daily lives of regular people, to our fears and challenges, to the problems in our local community that we must deal with in a Christian way. And finally, language in the liturgy which recognizes that both men and women are in attendance; language in the Prayer of the Faithful that uses richer and more poetic images for God.

  28. “For the encouragement of further participation, the list below is excerpted from the first twenty responses as examples of what I consider to be answers to what I thought I was asking.

    These are about ends rather than means. The thought in the back of my head was that naming our various ends would provide some clarity when we discuss means in other conversations. It looks like most of these do or could begin with “a sense of/that”.

    Below are additions from posts up to #37.

    -encourage silence and prayer.
    -Prayer obviously directed to God in a way that is personal
    -Connection between what is done as church
    on Sundays with what is done
    at home, at work, at school, and at play.
    -a sense of God’s wonder
    -a sense of God’s beauty
    -a connection to Jesus
    -connection to the people around me
    -connection to the people who came before.
    -reverently, but naturally, without self consciousness
    -Sincere, warm welcome to those who come to church alone
    -connect the scripture to the daily lives of regular people
    -a sense of mission in the world.
    -Warm welcoming of new worshipers or visitors.
    -Joyful participation in hymns

  29. 1. Understanding that at Mass, heaven and earth unite, as noted in the prefaces and that it’s not just about the warm bodies in the pews (I believe that this fact is lost on us);
    2. A restoration of the sacred, in line with the vision set forth by Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis;
    3. The priest using Ad Orientem. I found it quite refreshing to have read Fr. Uwe Michael Lang’s book, “Turning Towards the Lord” and then meeting him in person two months ago to get a better perspective;
    4. Reduction of EMHCs (this can be done if intinction is used);
    5. Music of the highest quality and use of the Propers (getting rid of OCP and some parts of GIA and WLP), as Sacramentum Caritatis No. 42 comes to mind;
    6. Homilies that are doctrinally, theologically and liturgically sound; and
    7. The Use of Latin; after all, Sacrosanctum Concilium never said that the Mass had to be completely in the vernacular;

    1. Michelle,

      It sounds like you would really like to restore the Pre Vatican 2 Mass altogether. Ok, fine, if that’s your preference, but I think lots of people wouldn’t go along with you, and that doesn’t make them inadequate as Catholics.

      Why is it so fashionable to trash OCP’s music? What, specifically, makes their music NOT “of the highest quality?” Likewise the parts of GIA and WLP’s collections that you had in mind. It’s not to some people’s taste or liturgical preference, and I get that. But I see an awful lot of suggestion – not just yours – that it’s inherently inferior. So, where’s the _objective_ inferiority of one or more publisher’s _entire_ catalog?

      And, why do you prefer Latin?

  30. These many positive visions call to mind that Avery Dulles argued we ask too much of the Mass and need other channels for our creativity. We cannot cram all of parish life let alone the whole Christian life into one hour. (And not one minute more!)

    1. Liturgy for me means the Divine Office in the solitary and contemplative form that has shaped my life. That has meant the complete freedom and consequent creativity of drawing upon the pre-Vatican II Roman and Monastic Offices, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Byzantine Office. The contemplative dimension of our lives and the injunction to pray always are not going to be satisfied by other people doing things differently during Mass (or adding Sunday Vespers).

    2. Liturgy for me has meant a life of service to persons with severe mental illness (service of the poor, see Isaiah Chapter 1). The public mental health system has been as much a Christian community to me as any parish community. People with mental illness have profound wisdom. One said he was not interested in the most expensive mental health system, or the one with best practices, but an institution that “he had helped to shape and that will be there when I need it.” The quotes pretty much summarize my expectations of parishes, and Sunday liturgies.

    3. Finally vibrant Sunday Liturgies begin with vibrant communities, i.e. actual networks of families, friends, and small groups not just “good feelings” at Mass. A parish in the 1980s where I was a voluntary pastoral staff member gave me a depth of community similar to the public mental health system. Not much of a choir, but very good congregational singing led by an organist. That was enough since I had real community!

    We should not deny that Sunday Liturgies and parish communities are mediocre; we should improve them. However, the opportunities for prayer throughout our lives and the challenges of building community in our world are essential parts of Christian life and worship, too.

  31. Thanks, Jack – great experiences and sharing; appreciate your community experience foundation – isn’t that the heart of “sacrament”?

  32. “These many positive visions call to mind that Avery Dulles argued we ask too much of the Mass and need other channels for our creativity. We cannot cram all of parish life let alone the whole Christian life into one hour. (And not one minute more!)” Jack Rakosky on March 31, 2011 – 1:57 pm

    An excellent point. Similarly, I think, much of the strategic “Ecclesiology War” which has been fought in “Liturgy Battles” has been over the tactical ground of this lone hour on Sundays.

    There are so many public prayer “good things” out there which appeal to so many different tastes, yet all want to get “their” discovery into the one event where they can share it with everyone.

    One direction for counter balancing this is to schedule all parish meeting, every week day night, to end at the same time and suggest all then join in night prayers.

    This can be the place for creative prayer concepts to be offered to the community and seek feedback. Devotional public prayers are where many traditional and experimental experiences belong. Non-sacramental public prayers can be occasions for varied leadership and new assisting ministers to work.

  33. Lynne:

    What is wrong for wanting to restore the sacred, the solemn, the dignified and the beautiful to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Pope Benedict XVI has certainly given us a blueprint for this in Sacramentum Caritatis.

    OCP, in my opinion, deserves a lot of the blame as to why the liturgies here in the United States are lacking in these qualities. Much of the music, especially those by the St. Louis Jesuits (who began the downward spiral), Bob Hurd, Bernadette Farrel, Mary Frances Reza, and Fr. Ricky Manolo, CSP, focus heavily on the horizontal, as opposed to the vertical dimension of the Holy Sacrifice.

    These “feel good” liturgies center on making us feel warm and fuzzy and contribute nothing to the idea of worship in Spirit and Truth.

    As for Latin, bear in mind that Sacrosanctum Concilium never said that the Church’s language was to be banished. It made provisions for some of the Mass to be in the vernacular, but, not completely. Latin is to be retained in the Mass.

    As for the posture of the priest during the Mass, even the GIRM assumes, at certain points, that the celebrant will be facing the altar. Perhaps reading Fr. Lang’s book as well as the Spirit of the Liturgy by the Holy Father might give you a better perspective on things.

    1. Michelle,
      We all appreciate the careful nuance in your comments, and your noticeable efforts to depict others with charitable generosity. Your emphasis on common ground builds up the Church and fosters constructive conversation. 🙂
      awr

    2. 🙂

      Seriously, Michelle, let your brothers and sisters here at Pray Tell guide you towards a more tolerant traditionalism. I like to think that PT has made me more tolerant towards my progressive Catholic brothers and sisters. They may not agree after some of my harsh comments that make yours look like saintly praises. Anyway, tolerance and charity are processes of continual renewal. Take things in stride. Embrace your inner folk Mass.

      It’s okay to be transformed. Look how long it took Thomas to turn around.

  34. The sacredness of the sanctuary needs greater emphasis.
    Lot of bells, incense, and candles for Sundays and feasts. Sunday kept as a “little Easter.” With the celebrant chanting the anaphora or the chief parts of it.

    Flexible and simplified rubrics and greater inclusion of local customs, e.g. at the offertory procession.

    Celebrant’s movements should appear natural ,dignified, welcoming, with a good speaking voice. Dancing celebrants,? Please continue on out the door.

    Words of cheer and welcome should be confined to the narthex not part of the opening rite.

    Vernacular propers help to set the theme/tone. Some Latin sung common parts should be encouraged.

    On Sundays, a rite commemorating the Resurrection in the baptistery combined with Lauds, asperges & entrance.

    Every liturgy should remind us of the old and new testament. Iconography depicting the old testament sacrifices mentioned in the Roman canon with the passion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension around the altar space.

    Albs for everyone in the sanctuary, especially sundays/feasts. Processions should have only those needed for the liturgy. End the visiting firemen. No torch bearers marching out like little boy scouts from the sacristy. To dramatize the anaphora, veiling the altar, additional censers and lighting additional candlelabra are sufficient.

    There is a place for mystery. I’d like to see the return of the veiling of the altar or sanctuary at points, especially in Lent. Very common in the west before Council of Trent.

    A rood screen or chancel barrier can be effective in very large churches in dramatizing movement of clergy and the people (from Heaven to earth and back). No reason congregation can’t join the celebrant behind the screen, communion time/ offertory? Out of place in the intimacy of a domus ecclesiae type of liturgy.

    More time spent in thanksgiving following holy communion. An opportunity for borrowing from eastern and Anglican…

    1. the veiling of the altar or sanctuary at points

      I do not recall ever seeing this in person (I’d seen pictures, of course) until last year at my parents’ parish in Allentown, PA. At first, I thought there was a boom mike on the altar, but then I realized it was the altar crucifix (only about 8 inches tall) covered in a dark purple veil (it looked black at first). After the initial shock of seeing such a conspicuous and ungainly microphone, I was pleasantly surprised, relieved, and edified.

      1. I recognize the Passiontide veiling of the statues, including the crucifix, but is this “veiling of the altar” something else? It does not sound familiar to me.

  35. THREE CATEGORIES
    I think I see three categories among our responses. There seem to be a great number of desiderata on which all might agree, even though there would be disagreements as to the necessary means to these ends.

    The selected means would depend a great deal on which of the other two categories one favored, for I see those lists as focused on distinguishable priorities.

    All [?] seek in Roman Catholic liturgy a sense of:

    -Living tradition
    -Poetry in prayer and in song
    -The sacred that goes beyond mysteriousness into the
    heart of the matter
    -Breaking the bonds of time and space
    -Understanding and awareness of God’s love, grace and
    energy
    -Room for reflection and prayer.
    -Attention to the word of God proclaimed and preached
    -Quality
    -Purposefulness and focus on the work
    -Prayer obviously directed to God in a way that is personal
    -Connection between what is done as church on Sundays
    with what is done at home, at work, at school, and at play.
    -connection to Jesus
    -connection to the people around me
    -connection to the people who came before.
    -Sincere, warm welcome to those who come to church alone
    -connection of the scripture to the daily lives of regular
    people
    -mission in the world.
    -Joyful participation in hymns
    -True welcome shown to every member of the assembly
    -Warm welcome for new worshipers or visitors.

    Is there anybody in this discussion who could not accept any of the above as desirable for Sunday Mass, even if you know there are disagreements about how to interpret or apply them?

  36. CATEGORY ONE PLUS TWO

    I think I see three categories among our responses. There seem to be a great number of desiderata on which all might agree, even though there would be disagreements as to the necessary means to these ends.

    The selected means would depend a great deal on which of the other two categories one favored, for I see them as focused on distinguishable priorities.

    The one set of priorities aims the liturgy at creating of human experience of divine presence.

    The more heavenly focused [?] seek also a strong sense of:

    -Wonder and mystery
    -The heavenly liturgy
    -Reverence for Christ in all His modes of presence
    -Closer union with Christ in the Eucharist
    -Encouragement for silence and prayer.
    -God’s wonder
    -God’s beauty

    I ask readers to offer a similarly brief but more comfortable expression of this aim if I have mis-stated it.

  37. CATEGORY ONE PLUS THREE
    I think I see three categories among our responses. There seem to be a great number of desiderata on which all might agree, even though there would be disagreements as to the necessary means to these ends.

    The selected means would depend a great deal on which of the other two categories one favored, for I see them as focused on distinguishable priorities.

    The third set of priorities seems more focused on creating an experience of Christian community.

    The more communally focused [?] seek a strong sense of:

    -Strengthening faith and community
    -Naturalness in the liturgical action
    -The presider as teacher and leader of the assembly and its host.
    -A collective act rather than private piety
    -A gathered community present intentionally
    -Continuity between congregation and ministers
    -Natural reverence without self consciousness

    Again, I ask those who feel they share these aims to offer a brief but more comfortable expression of this aim if I have mis-stated it.

  38. Wondrous AND Communal

    One conclusion which I would draw from our lists of things we want from Sunday Mass is that I see two main lines of thought which are mislabeled to call them traditional and progressive. Though these labels are commonly used, they do not express very well the desired objectives or approaches to RC liturgy.

    If one thinks that the sole or even the main objective of liturgy is to evoke and worship the divine as distinct from the human, then one forms or judges a liturgical service with certain characteristics. These favor expressing and supporting what is wondrous in the liturgy.

    If one thinks that the sole or main objective of liturgy is to gather together Christians for instruction and strengthening, then one forms or judges a liturgical service with other characteristics. These favor expressing and supporting what is communal in the liturgy.

    Each attitude mis-characterizes the other to label them progressive or traditional. Granted that both sides are sincere about the many values of liturgy, one does not merely want constant “progress” not does the other merely want some particular “tradition”.

    Each attitude is taken to the extreme when it entirely rejects the values of the other in favor of focusing exclusively on its own priorities.

    Finally, we should all be cautious about elevating our tastes to universality. This shows up most obviously in the question of beauty regarding architecture, music, vestments. Tastes are also affected by one’s preference for the wondrous or communal. This influences how we read SC and which of its phrases we cite. A little humility regarding our tastes is appropriate. Stating that one is arguing “for my taste” can avoid a lot of misunderstanding and mis-attribution.

    Perhaps, before submitting any response on Pray Tell, each of us needs to ask ourselves whether we have taken into consideration both the wondrous and the communal possibilities of the matter according to our own tastes.

    1. We should also realize that the methods we might prefer to advance the wondrous or communal might in some important (if not immediately obvious) ways tend to undercut such very end. For example, I can think of many efforts to personalize liturgy creatively in the name of pastoral sensitivity (ostensibly communal) that have the (unintended but longterm) effect of privatizing worship and making it less hospitable to newcomers; likewise, I can think of many efforts to evoke wonder in liturgy that produce wonder of a different sort.

      We all have cognitive blindspots (being human in nature), and they appear to be especially broad in matters of liturgy. In the spirit of Will Rogers: “It ain’t what I don’t know that gets me in trouble; it’s what I know that ain’t so!”

  39. Agreed! Jesus said that life was about both love of God (wonder) and love of neighbor (community). Early Christians called themselves both Saints and Brethren. In the Vibrant Parish Life Study, people put both worship and community at the top of their list of importance.

    The main problem is that both worship and community are not being well done. In VPL, both showed up half way down the list of being well done. Other important things like buildings and religious education got much, much higher marks for being well done.

    Consequently we have enormous competition to use the one hour when we are together for worship and community to improve both. It will be very difficult to dramatically improve both in just one hour. Especially when so many different things could improve worship and community.

    With fewer Masses and often an hour between Masses, we should try to use the half hour before and after Masses to do optional things to improve both worship and community in diverse groups gathered in diverse places. Consumer savvy mega churches have been very successful doing this.

    Substantial time outside of Mass should focus on community building. Again, mega churches consider having everyone in diverse small groups to be essential.

    Research makes it clear that being in Church at the worship service does not promote giving of time and treasure to others, as well as health and life satisfaction unless one has a religious network (family, close friends and a small group) among the congregation.

    However, social networks (family, close friends, small group) without the worship service do not provide near the benefits. Both/and rather than either/or.

    As Saint Paul implied, all the prophecy, speaking in tongues, tinkling brass and sounding cymbals at the worship service have to be grounded upon the more excellent way, self sacrificial love throughout life.

    Thanks, Tom and Fr. Cody.

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