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.
Join the conversation!