What College Students See When They Attend Worship

This semester I’m teaching “Christian Worship” at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. It is a joy and a privilege to teach theology to these 26 young men and women. I find the students to be very interested in theological questions, open to learning new things, and sincerely grateful to be challenged by new questions and issues.

The students at CSB/SJU are about 2/3 Catholic, but with growing numbers of Protestants – mostly Lutherans in these parts. Most of the students by far come from church-going families. But like most everywhere, more students from a “secular” background are starting to appear. And also like most everywhere, increasing numbers of the young students do not believe in or practice the faith they grew up with. We have students from across the U.S., but most of our students are from the Midwest. And a few, though their numbers are increasing, grew up with a non-Christian religion and/or come to us from other countries. Our ethnic diversity is gradually increasing.

I require the students in “Christian Worship” to attend three Sunday eucharist services – either two Catholic Masses and one Protestant communion service, or the other way around. Obviously they’re not required to pray (though I’m sure most do), but they are required to make observations and apply their knowledge from class study. Many students choose to attend student Masses on campus and area Lutheran churches, but some attend Catholic or Protestant churches in their hometown, which could be anywhere in the state or across the country.

I find it endlessly fascinating to read students’ comments and observations. The comments I have selected below have no claim to scientific representation. They are simply some interesting comments on what one group of young people sees at Sunday Eucharist.

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I could see many students getting very emotional, some even started crying during the prayer. This seemed strange to me as a non-believer. I found myself wondering, “Why is it such an emotional thing for you, don’t you do this every week?”

I thought the Catholic service was very prayerful and the majority of people seemed very devout and respectful of the mass that has happening.

I think the Catholic mass is tough because there are not a lot of options for engaging with the people, but when the homily is dry and not very deep, it was especially hard to stay focused.

The people kept more to themselves and didn’t really sing or get into the songs as much as the Protestant churches do.

I feel as though the majority of the students and faculty are there because they want to be there and are excited to celebrate Mass and are not just there to go through the motions and fulfill their obligation.

Some parts of the Mass were slightly boring, but the constant standing and sitting seemed to counteract it. It was kind of hard to follow. It was not like my Lutheran church at home because the bulletin did not allow you to follow the service exactly.

Because I grew up Lutheran, I never really heard Catholic priests sing during their services. I think that when they do the Gregorian chanting during their prayers at student Masses it is amazing and very interesting to hear.

Something I found unappealing was how much the priest chanted. When he chants it sounds to me like we are in a cult and he is the leader. He could have spoken in a normal voice and I would have been able to take it more seriously. I understand that singing is supposed to make it feel special and otherworldly but it just made me equate it with a cult. At my Lutheran church at home, the pastor does sing some things but not nearly as much as the priest did.

The way the priest blesses the bread and wine with the chanting and organ has a mystical ring to it that I find extremely cool. It is very easy to understand something special is going on in the liturgy of the Eucharist when at Mass in the Abbey.

I really enjoyed the Lutheran service; however, I enjoy the Catholic Mass much more. This isn’t because I’m Catholic, it’s more because I feel that the Lutheran service lacks a lot of the symbols the Catholic mass has. … One thing that I didn’t enjoy was how they knelt to receive communion. I understand that the host represents Jesus Christ, however, I don’t feel that we need to get on our knees to receive him.

The Catholic Church only allows men to be priests and this was in the back of my head… In Protestant churches, women are able to be ordained and act as leaders within their church, whereas in our Catholic church, women are still able to play important roles, but they are not allowed to be ordained. This conveys a male-dominated culture, despite the positive messages I received during the Mass.

I like how there are two big screens that project the hymns and prayers which I think helps include those who do not know every response.

The 11:00 service at my Lutheran church is a contemporary service with a worship band and modern worship songs. I thought the service was very lively, especially considering that the congregation is almost entirely over 50 years old. The sermon lasted almost 25 minutes. I thought that this was slightly unappealing.

The worshippers in attendance were slightly more middle age or older and very few children were there. Most of the older worshipers seemed intensely engaged in the mass.

When looking at the worshipers from an anthropological viewpoint, I noticed that most people were middle aged to elderly. They have a Catholic school, so I thought it would include a younger audience.

What was appealing to me about this Mass was that the sense of community was almost palpable.

Of the three services that I attended, this was by far the most interesting to me. I think this is because I had never attended a Lutheran service before. Overall the service was much more engaging than a Catholic mass. Something that was appealing about the service was that the order of it was actually pretty similar to a Catholic mass. This made me feel comfortable and though I did feel a little out of place, the familiarity of the structure of it made me feel welcome. The worshipers there seemed more lively than the two Catholic masses that I attended but were equally respectful and attentive. One thing that was really appealing to me about the service was that the pastor was a woman. This was completely foreign to me as I have only attended Catholic masses before.

I was amazed by how well the priest at the student Mass was able to relate the readings of bible passages to current events and problems that we face in today’s society. He talked about how women lead us to truth, pointing to important women in the bible. He talked about the current water crisis in different areas of the world.

The priest or monk held a silver pot, he hung it until he arrived at the altar. And then he walked around the altar, it seemed like the beginning of the whole liturgy. I’ve never seen such a formal liturgy before, especially the peculiar smell from that silver pot. I think that probably could dispel evils. … Although I had participated in some worship before in my home country and on campus, none of them gave me such an extraordinary feeling, peaceful and relaxed, but also solemn.

I thought that the overall experience of going to the Abbey for an Ash Wednesday service was quite amazing. One thing that was appealing to me was the community feel of the whole mass. An appealing thing that I saw was how organized and systematic the mass was. It was well made and it seemed to flow with ease. But I did not like how if this was your first time going to church at SJU, which it was for me, that you kind of felt excluded. Many of the responses people just had to memorize. They were not on the leaflet. Now it was not a huge deal but it made me feel like I was the outsider which I was. On the leaflet there were words that were in a different language which I would assume would be in Latin.

I enjoy the Catholic mass more than the Lutheran service. I feel that there is more symbolism and a correct process during the celebration or sacrifice. I am Catholic so I may seem biased towards this subject, however, I enjoy the fact that a Catholic mass involves more spirituality.

I found it appealing that the Lutheran pastor would greet people as they walked in and at the end of service he would greet them as they walked down the stairs. It really made it seem like he was just another person and not this hierarchy figure. Another thing that I liked was that in the leaflet there were the responses printed in there so it seemed that I was more welcome and included instead of being excluded because I do not know the responses.

During the Eucharistic prayer at the student Mass we gathered around the altar in a semi-circle. When we actively gather around the altar, we in some way come to know God better. Though Abbot John is an abbot and what we call a higher authoritative figure, through his sermon he really did not seem to come across as such. Abbot John is about living as an equal disciple – it’s the aftermath of Vatican II.

I had a very nice lady sit next to me, and she helped me navigate the Lutheran service when need be. Afterwards we got to talking. I noticed that whenever I mentioned something pertaining to Catholicism, she seemed rather annoyed. I got the feeling that she wasn’t too fond of the Catholic church. Nevertheless, she was very nice and encouraged me to come back anytime. … Going to this Lutheran church helped reaffirm a desire to seek future employment primarily within the Catholic church.

What was unappealing to me was the length of the priest’s homily. It was practically read off a piece of paper word for word.

The Eucharistic ministers in this parish stood on the first stair of the altar as they were distributing communion. This obviously made them taller than everyone else, which I did not think was necessary. I could see how this might create a slight division between those receiving and those distributing communion.

Overall, I prefer my church to the Catholic church. I think the fellowship and familiarity make it more enjoyable for me. In my church I know everyone in the congregation and feel part of God’s family.

The seating seemed to elevate the monks, who were also in attendance sitting in the stalls behind the altar, to a level above the congregation – as if the space behind the altar is reserved for those who live their lives by God. In a modern context, I am sure it is not the purpose of the practice to create a separation, but that’s the feeling I got from it. But I have always thought it was pretty cool to attend mass with the monks. It added a larger dynamic to the mass that you don’t get at most churches.

There is something about how the Catholic Mass is structured that gives the priest an authority that is natural to me. This is something that is truly Catholic, that the priest is to act as Jesus in the present. That is why it makes sense to have the priest dressed in vestments that make him stand out. They are ordinary guys that have been given the great responsibility to lead a group of people closer to God. They should stand out from the crowd.

The singing at Mass seemed to be a little too emotionless for my liking. This type of singing in the Catholic Church could impede the congregation’s ability to feel a profound closeness with the Holy Spirit. Having said that, I understand that I do have a bias towards the style of worship that the non-denominational Protestant churches I have gone to use.

Since every Mass follows the same ritualistic responses, a lot of the time they can seem very lackluster.

Mass was slightly dull, but that also could be because it was much different than my Protestant home church. I found it kind of difficult to follow along in this service because the bulletin had very little information whereas the bulletins at my church are very detailed and specifically point out what is happening at each moment.

The priest seemed to be sitting on a throne, as if he were a king, and when people walked up to the altar they had to bow down to him. I don’t necessarily like how it seems like the priest is much above us, which is a typically Catholic tradition.

I found the casualness at the nondenominational church to be appealing, if only because it made me feel more comfortable and more at home. However, I think most of that has to do with not growing up Catholic and not completely understanding the traditions of Catholicism.

I think what is very unappealing to me is the fact that everyone drinks from the same cup and that is a breeding ground for germs. I think it is icky and unsanitary. I also do not like the bread the church uses. At home we use real bread that is baked by the church ladies, but here they use the little circles of bread and I do not care for that. I know that this is a typically Catholic practice, so I should have expected it.

I began to understand the feeling of being an outsider… I did not know many of the new alterations to the responses to prayers and such. After I fumbled up once or twice, I decided to keep quiet.

During the Nicene Creed, people still didn’t know the new version. The priest laughed when he heard the obvious struggle by the community. To help everyone out, he turned on his microphone so that those who were struggling could follow along.

I liked how welcoming the people were at the Lutheran church. They noticed that I was a new face and I was welcomed in by a few people. It was easier to follow along during the service because everything was either on the slideshow or was printed in our handout.

While I originally liked the informal feel of the first Catholic student mass I attended at the Abby Church, I liked the formal feel of the Palm Sunday mass even more. The sprinkling of holy water made me feel a deeper connection to God, and the strong incense made me feel as though God was truly present at the mass. As a Lutheran, this class truly gave me a new outlook on Catholic mass. The formal atmosphere especially added to my connection to God, and I will look to attend a Lutheran service that exemplifies these aspects of worship in the future.

As a Catholic, I felt very comfortable and I fit in. However, if I was of a different branch of Christianity or even a Catholic who had never attended there, I think that I would not have felt very comfortable or welcome because everyone else knew exactly what was happening in the mass.

Most Catholics I know would be comfortable with how Mass is usually done but I don’t think an outsider would enjoy it as much if they don’t know the meaning of all the rituals and symbol like I do, though I don’t go to Mass anymore.

This Lutheran service was my first time ever attending any Protestant church and I have to say that overall the experience was super liberating. … This was the first worship service I had ever attended where the pastor didn’t have any altar boys with him. It made it seem like the pastor wasn’t on a pedestal where he needed others to be there for him. … They even had a projector set up for all the hymns and the responses. I could have come to this mass knowing nothing about Christianity or the Lutheran denomination and I still would have been able to participate. For a church that is only a block away from my house, it was very welcoming to see that a place that seemed so unfamiliar to me made me feel more inclined to participate than a Catholic church did. … It was strange to go to a different church and experience something so similar but different. It was basically a Catholic mass that was more welcoming and open to newcomers like myself. I was able to come in and participate in Communion with this congregation and I was welcomed with open arms. More Catholic churches should try and emulate this.

After attending two Catholic services, I’ve come to the realization that the Catholic mass is much less welcoming than a Protestant mass. The bulletins are very uninformative and hard to follow. They don’t tell you what’s happening when, who’s doing what, or any of the responses. It just feels a little unwelcoming when everybody else is able to respond to the Father or the scripture reader while I stand there in silence not knowing what to say. At my church services, our bulletins are very descriptive and I much rather prefer that.

Although Mass was unwelcoming for those of us that aren’t Catholic, it seemed like a very welcoming and communal place for Catholics because they all shared the same symbols and rituals. I like how the Catholic church maintains its tradition and rituals, even with all the changing times. The strictness and strong beliefs of the Catholic church are probably why so many people choose to stick with Catholicism.

The Lutheran church was really welcoming. There was even a person who knew that I was not a member, but said that she was glad I was able to join them today. They are a lot livelier than the Catholic Churches I have been to, and feels more like a modern church because the Pastor just dresses like everyone else. Even so, the order of the worship was a lot like Catholics’ Order of Mass.

There was about the same amount of singing at the student Mass as I am used to from the non-denominational church I attend at home. One unappealing thing to me was that the worshippers were very unenergetic and lethargic compared to what I am used to. At the church I go to, the worshippers are constantly moving around to the words during worship songs with their hands held up high.

When I entered the auditorium I noticed that it was dark and there was lights similar to a concert. The upbeat music gave the church a lively feel. Because of the excitement my impression is that the worshipers were feeling a connection with God.

The music is very lively unlike the Catholic masses I have been to. There is a lot of prayer, but most of it is made up on the spot unlike many of the Catholic prayers during mass. Our pastor is in semi-formal dress during church but outside of church he dresses like anyone else. That symbolizes that we don’t need to be fancy to worship God. He doesn’t care about our material possessions, he cares that we are trying to get closer to him.

They had many different decorations, statues, colors, and lots of different eye-catching things. I think that having too much of that can take away the point of the entire process, and that it can distract people from focusing on what they came there to do.

Something that was unappealing to me about the service was that the Abbey Church is not very decorated and is much more simple in design than many of the churches that I have attended previously.

After my time in this course, I am more open minded to occasionally going to Mass. However I do not think I will ever be able to completely commit to church. I believe that I will find more peace of mind and a calmed spirit from a walk in the woods or through relationships with friends and family than going to church. On the other hand, I now place more worth in going to church as a way to reconnect with the sacraments as symbols and rituals.

It is easy to get distracted in a Catholic church because there is so much more to look at, stained glass windows and all the paintings and designs draw me away from what is going on in the front of church. The plain white walls and few designs of my Protestant church help me to better listen to the sermon instead of my attention wandering to what is around me. I also like that the pastor doesn’t wear the traditional garments. I see that as him becoming more like the congregation and not talking down to us.

As a non-Catholic attending a Catholic institution, I have had the privilege of becoming more acquainted with the Catholic faith and I would like to think that I’m not completely incompetent when it comes to some of the traditions that the church holds. However, when I was in the service and trying to participate respectfully, I felt very much out of the loop if only because I could not follow along with the responses or any of those things, which I found to be frustrating.

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61 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing the students’ responses – I do this in several classes, and the most interesting responses (and clearest effects on students) come from their choice to attend Eastern Christian liturgies – whether Byzantine or other. All of these experiences make any of us look anew at our own traditions when we return, and for those without traditions, it gives insights into how far the tension between apprehending everything immediately sits vis-a-vis letting a sensual mystery wash over one…

  2. Interesting recurring comment about having the “responses” in a leaflet at the Lutheran church but having to stand there in silence, not knowing or having the texts, at the Catholic one. I realize the assumption has always been that everyone attending Mass grew up with the rite and knows the responses, and if one didn’t, one should keep attending and learn them. But there are ways to provide the texts for those who need them: a well-chosen hymnal and a quick announcement of the page number, or a bulletin insert (typically in Catholic churches these are minimalist and leave a lot out). Mainline Protestant churches with full-text bulletins are thinking of the visitors, not wanting them to be left behind.

    1. @Scott Knitter:
      It’s why the Order of the Mass should always be available and easy to find. Failing to do that is a signal failure of hospitality.

      Ditto for musical settings of the Ordinary, btw. At my father’s funeral last Friday, the parish used a setting of the Ordinary that was not in either of their two hymnals, and was a mystery to me and all of the guests who were not from the parish. This is hardly the first time I’ve visited a parish where this omission occurs. Some have overlearned and misapplied a vision of people not having their heads buried in books (one can almost perceive the finger wag and shaken head – no, no, no That’s Not How We Do Things Here); what happens as a result of this is that the Mass becomes a private thing of a particular community – latter-day arcana.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:

        “It’s why the Order of the Mass should always be available and easy to find. Failing to do that is a signal failure of hospitality.”

        … and catechesis (speaking as the father of children who once were young and needed to learn the order of service).

        And yet it seems to be an article of faith in liturgy circles that worship aids are undesirable because they keep people focused on their own books rather than on the people and the dialogue going on around them.

        The hymnals in our pews have the order of service in them but in my lifetime of being Catholic, I’ve seen almost no one ever follow along in the hymnals.

      2. @Jim Pauwels:
        “And yet it seems to be an article of faith in liturgy circles that worship aids are undesirable because they keep people focused on their own books rather than on the people and the dialogue going on around them.”

        A sincere but misplaced faith.

      3. @Jim Pauwels:

        And yet it seems to be an article of faith in liturgy circles that worship aids are undesirable because they keep people focused on their own books rather than on the people and the dialogue going on around them.

        I don’t think that’s the article of faith at all. What many liturgists object to is the read-along liturgy with every word that will be uttered or sung printed out for people to follow visually as well as aurally. It’s like watching the news on TV with the script in your hand. No sane person does that in the real world except the producer of the newscast.

        A well-designed worship aid will contain just enough, and no more, so that people can participate well without being bogged down in what is not essential. What we are discussing here is exactly what that desideratum is, and I would agree that we need to provide more for visitors rather than less.

        Diocesan worship aids should, in my opinion, provide far more at ordinations than at, say, the Chrism Mass, because on those occasions there will be many more people present who are occasional Catholics and non-catholics who need help in knowing what is going on, what posture is necessary, what to say and sing, etc. And yet most dioceses on both sides of the Atlantic seem to provide the music and very little else at such liturgies. A worship aid should be more than just a song sheet.

      4. @Paul Inwood:
        When I go to the OF Mass, I like to follow along the the misalette the responses and readings. What’s wrong with engaging these texts both visually and aurally? I think having both reinforce each other.

      5. @Jay Edward:
        It’s Wrong, Shockingly Wrong!

        Humor aside, there are people whose hearing and understanding and, indeed, participation, are enhanced with visual reinforcement. If we are to genuinely say All Are Welcome, we should be careful about privileging the engagement style of those (like me others – often this is the case for musicians for some bizarre reason…) who are more given to aural reinforcement. A pew/hand missal or missalette or similar aide is not the enemy of the liturgy and of FCAP. Ministers just need to get over ourselves assuming the seeing the tops of heads is about them (or about God). Instead, a generous spirit should be cultivated. Otherwise, we’re just letting supposedly old rigidities back in under a new guise (a very human thing, of course; we become what think we oppose).

      6. @Jay Edward:

        People often use the argument of different learning intelligences to justify having a read-along liturgy, saying it helps the message to take root. While this may be true, and while admitting that different people have different learning intelligences, I think there is one large drawback to reading what you are supposed to be listening to: it enables you to control what you receive.

        When you sit and listen to a proclaimed reading, you receive whatever is mediated by the translation and the abilities of the reader, and of course the promptings of the Spirit. When you read it simultaneously, you are able to in effect decide what you will receive; you give the words the interpretation that you want them to have, and thus, I believe, put a block on receiving whatever it is that God wants you to hear today, which might be very different. I have lost count of the times I have been listening to a reading that I had heard hundreds of times before and knew inside out, when suddenly a word jumped out from the reading and hit me between the eyes — and changed my life. That sort of thing is simply not possible when you control the reading by reading it visually in addition to (and even instead of) receiving it aurally. That is why I am not in favour of having the readings printed out in their entirety in a worship aid. I would maintain this even if they are being proclaimed in a language I do not understand. I would rather have just the caption to the reading to meditate on, in order to give God a chance to speak to me today! If I do find the readings printed out in full, I put down the worship aid and listen.

      7. @Paul Inwood:
        And your last sentence provides the cure for the problem you see. Very simple. Your sensory experience is not necessarily universal.

      8. @Karl Liam Saur:

        It’s not about my sensory experience. It’s about principles, and whether what we provide for people can be an impoverishment, however well-intentioned it may be.

        It works both ways, too. You said Ministers just need to get over ourselves assuming the seeing the tops of heads is about them (or about God). Well, the top of someone’s head is not a recognized medium of human communication, whether it’s the assembly or a liturgical minister. One of the basic rules of ministry is the necessity for eye-contact. I am reminded of Gelineau’s story of the French congregation which, in answer to the priest’s “The Lord be with you”, responded with exasperation “And with your book”.

      9. @Paul Inwood:
        Eye contact is not a “basic rule”. Just to be clear. It may be your rule and the rule of others, but at least for the Church as a whole it’s not a “basic rule”. A good practice, yes, but if there was a rule once on this score it was quite the opposite (the lowered eyes thingy). But a practice that co-exists with rules and other practices. The arguments you present here are not as strong as you seem to imagine and I don’t believe they well serve the most important purposes of the liturgical reform but are more of a Doing Vatican III in a kind of Vatican I (I am the new tradition!) way of going about browbeating laity who are Not Doing Things The Way I Think They Ought To Be Doing Them. You won’t hear these push-backs as much among the like-minded, of course, but what I am sharing here comes from years of listening to layfolk (I don’t hang with traditionalists, just to be clear) react to such approaches and realize that when I’ve seen arguments such as yours offered, they turn out to be relatively weak in persuasiveness. And I don’t think that should be ignored, but taken back and incorporated in reassessing the merits and relative importance of a practice you and I would commend.

      10. @Paul Inwood:

        “It’s like watching the news on TV with the script in your hand. No sane person does that in the real world except the producer of the newscast.”

        Do you never turn on close-captioning on your television? It seems to me that quite a few people do it, and for a number of different reasons. I am not defending it as an improvement – in fact, I agree with you that “reading along with the srcipt” makes for a different experience, although what has struck me about it is a bit different than what you describe as controlling what you receive.

        But I think it’s an interesting cultural phenomenon that people aren’t content to, or for whatever reason choose not to, simply listen to the spoken dialogue and narration – they choose to read along as the words are spoken. I’m not sure what it all means.

  3. Would also be interesting to see observations of the students attending an Eastern Orthodox service, as well. I’m sure Father Nathan Kroll at Holy Myrrhbearers OCA Church in Saint Cloud, Minnesota would warmly welcome any students from SJU.

  4. I’m often impressed by the consistent use of a fine hardcover hymnal by Catholics in Germany, especially as I watch Masses from Cologne Cathedral on domradio.de. (Sometimes I watch just to catch the chanting by the huge and wonderful Girls’ Choir of the Epiphany chant “Tria sunt munera,” a nod to the presence in the Cathedral of the reliquary of the Three Magi). The hymnal “Gotteslob,” recently updated, is the standard compendium of liturgical music and hymns, with devotions and a good deal of teaching about many aspects of Catholic life and spirituality. Everyone has their copy in front of them (one can be borrowed at the door as well), and an electronic sign indicates the next item number to be sung, whether a hymn, psalm refrain, alleluia, or a setting of part of the Ordinary. No way to be left behind with that setup (and the list of what will be used, the Ablauf or rundown, can be downloaded ahead of time from their website). Those electronic number boards are used much more in Germany than in the USA and would take some getting used to, I’m sure. But they do help. It’s nice not to have to announce, “Our offertory hymn is number 527, that’s Five. Two. Seven…”

  5. I take the popularity of a periodical publication such as Magnificat, and its appearance in our pews (we occasionally find them left behind), as an indication of interest in worship, and perhaps of a desire to more fully enter into worship.

    Just as people are more likely to sing if the musical leadership is strong and the music itself is excellent, people are more likely to set aside their missalettes if the word of God is well proclaimed. It has struck me for some time that quite a few parishes pour significant resources into achieving and sustaining a high level of quality in their music programs, but I don’t often see the same level of commitment to the proclamation of the word.

    When I worshiped at the Sheil Center at Northwestern University in the early 1980s, the woman who was the leader of their readers was a very gifted, imaginative and spirit-filled leader. She also had the ability to impart these gifts to her readers. The proclamation there was excellent. That sort of skilled and inspirational leadership can make a big difference for the better.

  6. Eye contact in communications is indeed a basic rule, which, like any rule admits of exceptions (the blind, group expressions that are collective and not directional but mainly kinesthetic and aural like shouts and cheers and hand waving, persons unable to relate normally because of psychological and physical handicaps of certain sorts). Knowing the liturgical responses well enough by heart to pray them without recourse to a printed text, and hearing the readings and the prayers well enough to follow them aurally without recourse to a printed text is a basic rule of liturgy, which also admits of exceptions (the hard of hearing, people not fluent in the language, visitors from other liturgical traditions, and so on).

    What I think Paul is pointing to is the problem of treating all the participants in the liturgy as though they were handicapped, and NOT that he wants to deny helps for people who need them (as these exceptions to the rule are always with us and deserve pastoral accommodation, even as we would install ramps for wheelchairs but we don’t therefore cease having rubrics for standing — which affect the normal course of the majority in the congregation unless you are in a nursing home). Terrible readers, terrible sound systems — things that could be fixed — are often neglected when everybody is “reading along anyway.” This is a shame.

    I will also bring up the population whose reading skills are lower than their aural / oral skills — many, many people from the global south today, and also most people throughout Christian history. Their worship is not defective because they cannot / do not “read along” with a text.

    Jim is right to ask what does it mean when people are not content to hear, when they can hear, but rather prefer to read.

    1. @Rita Ferrone:
      “Their worship is not defective because they cannot / do not “read along” with a text.”

      Rita, I don’t think there’s a person here who’s made a statement from which such a thing can be reasonably inferred, let alone implied.

      I strongly disagree about the term “basic rule” – the reason I do is that there indeed “rules” and one of the things we have to be careful as progressives is that our enthusiastic promotion of new unwritten rules qua rules is that it can undermine us badly when we object to or ignore the written rules. It’s been something of an Achilles heel for liturgical progressives that has led to frustration for us – we just tend not to see how we get in our own way in that regard.

      And it’s not necessary. Best and good practice are sufficient for commending something. “Rules” begs an argument – not a place we are best situated to “win” by persuasion. This is not tone policing, but understanding the power of careful rhetorical choices and discretion.

      And, to be redundantly clear, I am an aurally-oriented person who craves to do as much by heart and ear as I am able. It’s that very reason that prompted my initial point that led to this sub-discussion about worship resources. I am not opposed to your and Paul’s goal, but I am drawing on experience to critique how best to frame it for maximum persuasive effect among them who are not yet persuaded. (About the only time one will see the top of my head during the iteration of liturgical texts is when the celebrant is deciding to improvise the Gospel proclamation or a ritual moment, and I have to go to my Special Place to let go for a while…)

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        Karl,

        “Rule” here has an anthropological sense, it’s not a term from canon law or the catechism. Mothers look babies in the eye while they are feeding; lovers gaze into one another’s eyes; people don’t like to be talked to by those who are looking somewhere else, which suggests they only have half your attention or your interlocutor is not important. It’s stuff like that which makes it a “rule.” I don’t know why you are so defensive about the term. Besides, as I tried to point out, rules have exceptions; that’s implicit in the word rule. It’s a perfectly good term for what we’re discussing.

        As for what can be reasonably inferred from your statement, that’s a judgment call and I see it otherwise. To argue hard that liturgists who strive to encourage participation that is oral / aural are “browbeating” and have ideas that only exist in their heads and don’t have any reality for other people absolutely suggests that the value placed on this approach is imaginary. Or “Vatican I” authoritarianism parading as something else. I am glad to know that you don’t actually think that.

  7. Rita: thank you for articulating more clearly what I was attempting to convey!

    Jim: you are absolutely right — it is a different experience. People listen in a different way, and to my way of thinking it has problems attached to it. I know that when I used to try to watch TV with my Dad in his final years, the subtitles certainly changed the way I listened. They made it much more difficult, in fact, due to the limitations of the medium: lack of synchronization, unintended humour in errors, etc, etc. I found myself trying to reconcile two more or less parallel “tracks”. The depth at which I was able to absorb and retain what I was hearing was lessened as a result.

    My point about reading from a script is similar: when you know what you are about to hear because you can see it in front of you, you tend to opt for the reading track rather than the listening track. As I have said above, I think this is tantamount to deciding for oneself what the words mean, rather than letting them speak for themselves.

    We have this discussion every year about whether or not to give the people the crowd parts in the Passion readings during Holy Week. I am quite convinced that this, too, results in the way that people listen being different, because they are subconsciously waiting for the next time they have to come in. That, too, lessens the depth of reception, I think.

    In the early Church, when few people could read or write, they listened to the Word without the benefit of a written text to assist them. Are we saying today that their way of listening was inferior to ours? I hope not. Indeed, I hope that we would say that it was in some sense more authentic than our listening modes today.

  8. I was going to take a pass on this post, but have changed my mind after seeing my friend Paul taking it on the chin for his take on how people best participate in Mass. I still visit Boston where I grew up and have noticed that missalettes are a still a staple there. In my experience, cultural Catholics may benefit more from them than those who are more intentional in the practice of their faith. There are also parishes whose priests still direct the Mass at a rapid pace. With texts the readers can go back and check what they may have missed aurally. In the communities I have served in the great American southwest, there’s a far larger ratio of Catholics who are very purposeful in living their faith. They take more easily to remembering prayers and are usually treated to excellent readers of God’s Word who draw them into the lesson. Parishioners and visitors are directed to the hymnals to assist them without any objections I’ve heard. I stand with Paul and others who are not comfortable with noticing a sea of heads buried in their missalettes. I have no problem with the hearing challenged or those whose ability to learn is aided by written texts using a Magnificat or missal of some kind. There’s certainly room for some flexibility.

  9. Those who learn aurally should not impose their preference on those who understand more by reading than by listening. For many, it is simply their “learning style”. I learn by reading. When I was in college and grad school I went to lectures, and took detailed notes, which I rewrote later. Listening alone was not enough. I like being able to re-read, to be able to go back at leisure to read and ponder what is written, not possible with aural learning. I do not understand why professional liturgists think that depriving people of written texts and prayers during a liturgy is helping them “hear” the Word better. Those for whom aural learning is best can ignore the written texts. Those of us who learn best by reading, will quickly drift off without written materials. I have never in my long life heard the mass readings “proclaimed” in a way that held my attention for longer than the first sentence or two. I wish that homilies were also printed, partly so that I could go back later and re-read them. Many simply cannot absorb a lot of aural material if the listener grabs on to a word or phrase or idea and starts pondering it in the moment, as I do, instead of letting it go so that they can be a dutiful audience for the orator.

    It seems that “proclaiming” is an ideal that has become a conceit that many liturgists cling to as “superior” to written material. It also seems that some lectors/readers may see themselves as some kind of orator or actor, taught to make eye contact while projecting their voices. Do they see the congregation as an audience, one gathered to listen to their superior reading and dramatization skills? Is that why they object to seeing heads turned toward written material instead of gazing at them? The idea that the Holy Spirit can only be “heard” aurally and not through the written word is a condescending assumption. After all, in Lectio, we read a passage and when a word or phrase suddenly strikes us, we read it again, and contemplate it, and then read it again.

    1. @Anne Chapman:

      But the Mass is not a lesson or a lecture. You are not there specifically to “learn” something from the proclamation of the Word. You are there, in fact, to celebrate the Word that you already have within you. Of course, that is not to say that we do not learn from celebrating liturgy. We do, but not in a formal “teaching” situation. Even the homily is not a teaching moment. Rather, the homilist aims to root the Word of God in the real lives of people. That is a remarkable skill that not all homilists possess.

      I have no problem whatsoever with giving people the texts of the readings — the previous week, so that they can read them and interiorize them and then celebrate them with the rest of the community the following Sunday; or after the service is over, so that they can take them away and meditate on them. It’s the making the written text of the readings available during the Sunday readings that I have a problem with, for the reasons stated.

      Those who want to use the Mass as a catechetical tool will not agree, but I think we are being misled by the whole concept of “learning intelligences” (and yes, I know it was I who originally raised this term on this thread). Because Mass is not a catechism class, it’s not really a question of learning intelligences but of “celebrating intelligences”. Someone needs to write a doctoral dissertation on that!

  10. I thought the discussion of printed texts was about whether churches provide something visitors can use to participate rather than having to stand there speechless while everyone else says and sings stuff from memory. In general, Catholic churches leave visitors on their own; some other denominations consider it important for there to be some sort of guide, whether it’s a full-text leaflet or a hardcover liturgical book and a board with page and/or hymn numbers on it.

  11. I’m usually just a silent observer of praytell, but some of this touches my own professional background.

    I’m a school psychologist and I spend a rather large amount of my time, trying to sort out how a person is processing information, are they understanding what they hear or are they understanding what they read or are they understanding anything at all (and I’m not talking about learning intelligences, which is another concept and not entirely uncontroversial within psychology and education). I also mean understanding in a general sense, not always specifically “learning for knowledge.”

    Now, I’m generally dealing with the extremes, I evaluate for disabilities and just as there are disabilities in reading comprehension, there are disabilities in listening comprehension and that effects people to varying degrees (and which is likely under reported due to how we test children). In fact, for some (not many, but some) with disabilities in listening comprehension, the spoken mass might as well be in latin.

    Paul – I fully agree with your argument that mass isn’t a catechetical tool, but oddly enough, isn’t your argument also an argument for not using the vernacular? Put it in latin and everyone regardless of their disability or need or personal preference can have the opportunity to “celebrate the word within” without worry of being distracted by incidental learning. Ok – I know I’m going overboard and exaggerating a bit…

    But, I think we are also making many assumptions that all people inherently experience things written as learning and things spoken as something different. I’m not sure that is the case or if it is the case, if there are not ways to mitigate it.

  12. This conversation has been good as it’s prompted some reflection. It seems to me that liturgy is:

    * Proclaimed/oral
    * Visual
    * Immediate
    * Person-to-person (or person-to-people) dialogue
    * Social

    It’s striking how much communication in the remainder of our lives is only some, or even almost none, of these things. For example: in my professional work, I frequently spend my entire workday in teleconferences. Sometimes there is visual content, such as PowerPoint slides that are shared across the Internet, but often enough there isn’t; so all the communication is entirely oral/proclaimed, but without anything visual.

    In the world of my teen and young-adult children, texting is a ubiquitous form of interpersonal communication. Isn’t it interesting that texting is neither visual nor immediate (although it can be near-immediate, but needn’t be), nor oral?

    And while texting is in an obvious sense social, it’s also anti-social, in that the person reading and responding to texts frequently is oblivious to those who are around him/her. When my family is in a restaurant, waiting for food to arrive, it wouldn’t be unheard-of for every member to be staring at his/her smart phones rather than conversing with one another.

    In fact, it seems to me that pretty much the entirety of social media isn’t immediate; it dis-immediates communication. We can read texts, tweets, Facebook and the like whenever we wish; and it’s perfectly possible to not respond to a person-to-person text, in a way that would be socially very awkward in a face-to-face conversation.

    I am wondering if some people choose to read along at liturgy because they’re in the habit of communicating that way: reading rather than listening; filtering out rather than acknowledging others’ presence; focusing on written words rather than attending to the visual content.

  13. Some of us have to read along with the readings because there is apparently no training for readers and no quality control.
    We are excellent at encouraging people to come forward to join various ministries. Less good at guiding them towards suitable ones.

  14. If the Church must be a field hospital for sinners, surely it can also be one for those who wish in participate in the liturgy in ways which we might not deem ideal?

  15. Imposing a ban on using a missal seems to be an attempt to artificially control how people are “supposed” to experience the liturgy. The Council wanted to foster greater participation in the Liturgy. Not to emphasize one aspect of participation over another. Who are we to dictate how God speaks to each soul? Perhaps seeing the words and pictures in a missal stirs some people to a deeper experience of the word that is being proclaimed and the sacrament that is being celebrated. Who am I to say that it is less authentic? What is more important, it seems to me, is that each person seeks to immerse him or herself in the Sacred Mysteries. That each person enters the church with the same purpose is more important to me than wither or not they stand and sing at the same time, or participate in exactly the same way. Our being united together in the worship of God is first a matter of the heart, and only secondarily an external participation in unison.

  16. Rita Ferrone : Eye contact in communications is indeed a basic rule, […]

    Except when it is not. I found it interesting to see this asserted in an “anthropological sense” because my college introduction to anthropology asserted just the opposite. Rules of eye contact may be culturally conditioned. Young black men/boys, we were told, were much less likely to make eye contact because of a subculture that construed eye contact as confrontational (expressing a challenge); this may no longer hold true but proved true enough within my limited experience at the time. Eye contact may also be affected by the situation or gender of the communicators. Two pairs of students were asked to move chairs together for a conversation; the female pair positioned their chairs to speak face to face, while the male pair positioned them to sit in more or less parallel fashion (and no, the plan was not to crane their heads the entire time). Males of all ages often open up best while performing some other activity (throwing a ball, fixing a car, taking a hike) rather than having a face to face.

    As to the specific question of liturgical proclamation, when I read the Scriptures at daily Mass I typically look up from the page for eye contact only to find that a very solid half, and perhaps more, of the congregation is not looking at me. They are not following along with a text (I know, I am close enough to each to see if there is a missal in their hands!), simply listening without watching my face. Should I pull them aside to remedy their ignorance of what, I am now told, is a basic anthropological norm? I stand with KLS against asserting such “rules”; perceived benefit to this or that community is a better starting point.

    1. @Aaron Sanders:
      “Rules of eye contact may be culturally conditioned.”

      Indeed. American culture’s preference for direct eye contact is far from a universal positive value.

  17. Without wanting to push things too far, I think we can state, even if Karl does not agree, that one of the basic laws of ministry is that it is not possible to minister effectively to people with whom you do not have at least the possibility of eye-contact. Or, if “not possible” seems too strong, that it is “much more difficult” to minister effectively.

    Anyone who has received Communion from a minister who did not look at them will immediately get the point. And imagine Pope Francis washing people’s feet and never looking at their faces.

    And yet, day in and day out, we encounter a multitude of liturgical ministers who seem unwilling or unable to look at the people they are ministering to — priests, deacons, lectors, psalmists who never make eye-contact with anyone. We also have other ministers who are prevented from making eye-contact with the people they are ministering to. I’m thinking principally of organists, many of whom can only relate to the rest of the assembly via a driving mirror or a CCTV monitor. The only ministry I can think of where you can almost guarantee that the minister will look at you is that of songleader. What about welcomers or ushers?, I hear you say. Even in those ministries I have fairly often encountered people who did not actually look at you.

    I don’t agree with Karl that it’s determined by cultural preference, although there are some cultures where this may be the case. In most cultures, looking someone in the eye and (hopefully) smiling when appropriate is what oils the wheels of normal human interaction — even for introverts, and those who claim to hate other people (I have one or two friends who say that, even though it is far from true in reality).

    1. @Paul Inwood:
      Yet we are instead talking about a certain direct or indirect contempt (or at least fear) against *congregants’* (as opposed to ministers) failing to meet the ministers’ standards for eye contact (Note: I am not saying the fear or contempt is personal, but about the failure or lack of good practice). That’s been where my concern is directed. It is quite possible to provide worship resources with the ritual and lection texts (and music, where used) without holding direct eye contact in contempt (which I most certainly do not). Yet we have people – I am unsure if Rita or Paul would sympathize with them, but I certainly have encountered them over the years – who react with a kind of horror at the idea of such resources for reasons quite similar to the arguments offered here.

  18. Regarding eye contact – for which I think there is some general agreement here that it is culturally determined or at least conditioned – we wouldn’t want the participants to have to overthink it (or think about it at all), but rather just do whatever they would unthinkingly do in other public interactions.

    But beyond eye contact, there is the question of attentiveness to the public and social nature of the liturgical action. Reading a book, it seems to me, is a solitary act rather than a social act.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:
      Ah, is it necessarily just “reading a book”? That’s the underlying issue of questionable assumption. It surely can be. But is it always, and is that always the best interpretation of it in each instance? That it is so far less clear to me.

  19. A group of people gathered around the television, attentively watching a show with the sound turned up and the closed-caption feature turned on, seems more communal to me than a group of people in a room, each with his/her own book, following along while someone reads aloud to them. Maybe this is an argument for worship spaces to have projection screens that show the text of the mass …

  20. Jim Pauwels : A group of people gathered around the television, attentively watching a show with the sound turned up and the closed-caption feature turned on, seems more communal to me than a group of people in a room, each with his/her own book, following along while someone reads aloud to them. Maybe this is an argument for worship spaces to have projection screens that show the text of the mass …

    Nah, I think all that’s needed is some resource for people to use who don’t know the words of the rite. The existence of effective worship aids doesn’t mean we’re forcing (or even encouraging) everyone to use them. I think most who know the words and music would prefer not to follow along. There are some celebrants who really should read things out of the book (to get them right), though. I’ve met some priests who never say a prayer of the liturgy from memory because it’s inviting a memory lapse and distraction.

    1. @Scott Knitter:
      Bingo. There are many ways to do this effectively without a default of nothing or the opposite extreme of a pew missal or missalette per person. In the past, I’ve seen places that have some at each major entrance, or more in the narthex, with instructions to return them after Mass, and with hospitality ministers ready to make it clear where to find them if strangers are mystified. Another approach is a couple per long pew/row.

      Then there is the related but distinct issue of exercising greater discipline about making visitors aware of where to find music they may not be familiar with (the jumping off point for my sub-topic) and being more careful about how much music to program for which no resources are being made available….else you get things like a congregation for a ritual mass like a funeral or wedding not singing large chunks of music (unless that’s your goal…).

  21. It is distressing to see eye contact being asserted to be a universal default.

    In an Australian context, for many Indigenous people avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect for example. Misunderstandings of this, arising from Eurocentric assumptions, has in fact lead to much discrimination (in the legal system for example, where it was assumed to indicate untruthfulness).

    If the same errors are being made in our liturgy, particularly given the multi cultural nature of our societies, that would be more than unfortunate.

    And it further shows the danger of seeking to impose on how people participate in the liturgy. The risks of conflating our cultural norms with actual liturgical best practice is quite high. Inculturation in a multi culture society does not look the same as it was imagined in past decades.

    1. @Mariko Ralph#40:

      +1 to everything.

      incidentally, in Korea also, one is not to look another directly in the eyes if that person is one’s senior. Looking down instead, with a slightly bowed head, is considered a sign of respect, of deference.

  22. To go back to the original post, newcomers/outsiders/non-active individuals (and active members?!) value having texts available in an accessible manner. Why? Because liturgy is complex due to it expressing a divine mystery.

    While I understand Paul and others preference for liturgy without books in a person’s hand, this preference seems to be rooted in a vision of a liturgy that even puts the heavenly liturgy in the Book of Revelation to shame.

    Instead, I believe we, lovers and practitioners of liturgy, need to remain pastoral and practical. If people find missalettes helpful, who are we to judge? If someone finds it distracting, I think these educated (they can read after all) individuals have the ability and sense to not use a book.

    Further, I have never heard someone say that they stopped going to Mass or even stop practicing the faith all together because they read the readings or prayers from a missalette verses only hearing them orally. If you have, then we need to contact USCCB ASAP and tell them to take down the daily Mass readings because they are leading people away from the Church.

    An antidote in favor of accessible booklets comes from my current parish, where every pew has ‘My First Missal’ booklets designed for children. While I mentally judged them when I first joined, I have since heard (and seen) countless parishioners (high school thru senior citizen) praise them for helping them celebrate the Mass and now I am convinced that they are one of the best tools in the laity’s liturgical toolbox at my parish. If only we could find a less 1960’s cartooned version of them.

    Plus, the bigger issue is that priests are distracted by books at Mass. The early Church priests did Mass without a Missal, so it isn’t that big of an expectation for priests to stop using those anti-eye-contact devices that allow them to emphasis what they want to. Anything less than a sans Missal Mass is purely unbecoming of a divine liturgy. (Just to be clear, this last paragraph is a parody to make a point.)

  23. Rita Ferrone : Eye contact in communications is indeed a basic rule.

    Obviously, Rita is talking about one-on-one or one-to-many verbal communication here. Eye contact is not necessary when writing a letter or reading it nor when engaged in a telephone conversation.
    For me, part of the issue is who exactly is communicating to whom during the proclamation of the scriptures or the singing of the psalms. If I think that it is Bob or Mary speaking to me, then I may lift my eyes to them. If I consider the proclamation of the Word to be a moment when the Risen Lord is speaking to me, I may close my eyes so that I can hear what he has to say to me personally.

    As to Paul’s question about how people feel when the communion minister does not look at them, I can honestly say that I have no idea whether the last few times I received communion if the ministers looked at me or not. This is a moment of encounter between the Lord and me, not the minister and me. I look at the host or chalice when I say Amen.

  24. “Plus, the bigger issue is that priests are distracted by books at Mass. The early Church priests did Mass without a Missal, so it isn’t that big of an expectation for priests to stop using those anti-eye-contact devices that allow them to emphasis what they want to. Anything less than a sans Missal Mass is purely unbecoming of a divine liturgy. (Just to be clear, this last paragraph is a parody to make a point.)”

    I only look at the missal to pray texts that are variable and which I have not memorized. I know EP II & III by heart during which I direct my eyes mostly towards a cross at the back of the seating area. Just saying.
    I

    1. @Jack Feehily:
      That’s wonderful! I’m glad that the words of the Eucharistic Prayers have become a part of your being.

      Going on a limb, but I’m guessing you didn’t just memorize them by listening to others say the Eucharistic Prayers and then were able to say the EP at your first couple of Masses as the celebrant by memory. So if the Church can accommodate for you and other celebrants, whom the Church has invested greatly in time, energy, and money, why can’t we do this to all the faithful, many of whom we, the Church, have minimally trained or invested in.

      My point is that there is much we can do to help others to enter into the divine mysteries and providing accessible texts is one small thing we can do as indicated by these college students. Let us not be like the rich man and instead lavishly feed the Lazaruses in our communities.

  25. All this reminds me of the old joke about the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist. After some 30+ years of reciting the old versions of the Gloria and Creed I still have not memorized the versions in RM3. Hence I rely on a hopefully provided worship aid.I notice that many in my age cohort do the same.

  26. I’ve often found printed materials very useful not only for better focussing on or understanding the Mass, but also in situations when the reader or celebrant isn’t very good at proclaiming the readings, or the sound system is terrible, or the lector mis-reads the reading. I say this as a person who typically doesn’t like to “read along” at Mass (even at the EF I usually attend). A lot of churches in my neck of the woods still have the laminated cards with all the new people’s parts of the Mass printed in them, which seems like an ideal resource. I myself like to refer to them for the Gloria and Credo since I don’t have the new versions completely memorized. I would find projected words far more distracting than books since it would always be up there demanding my attention away from what is going on. I can put a book away when I don’t need it.

    As for communion, I don’t think I have ever made eye contact with a priest, deacon, or EMHC at that time since the focus is on the Host being held before me.

    When I discovered the wider world of liturgy, it was a freeing experience. Other rites/forms don’t hold up lock-step uniformity in the congregation as the ideal. Rather, people participate in different ways that allow them to deepen their own understanding and participation at a personal level – which in my opinion actually leads to a greater sense of the communal because we feel more deeply connected to what is going on.

  27. I want to thank Rita for recognizing that learning and maintaining eye contact is a huge struggle for some people. I am in my later 30’s and I still struggle mightily with this very basic task. Some people, especially those on the autistic spectrum, should be allowed to worship in their comfortable zone. Touching others without consensual agreement, vandalism, etc. should never be allowed. Me and most ASD people I know don’t want any interaction at all with others when at worship, anyway.

    Just … could we turn down the intensity of the “eye contact controls” for our autistic sisters and brothers? Just a bit? We are as part of the Body as all the assembled are, even if we can’t express participation in that cohesive body as well as most people.

  28. Many lectors are trained that looking up from the book and looking at the people (including making eye contact with them) is a greatly to be desired. I found it freeing when a public communications expert once told me that looking at people when reading a text authored by someone else is distracting for everyone and makes it much harder on the reader. The point of the ministry is to read aloud from a book. It’s okay – in fact, it’s good – to look like one is doing what one is supposed to be doing, i.e. reading from the book. It simplifies and improves the proclamation if lectors aren’t burdened with the expectation of looking up, looking down, looking up, looking down.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:

      The point of the ministry is to read aloud from a book

      Not sure that I agree with that. The point of the ministry is to be channel of communication for God’s word. Anything that hinders that communication, whether caused by the reader’s own shyness, or conviction that s/he is not supposed to “get in the way” of the word, or his or her inability to proclaim the word clearly and meaningfully, is IMO not helpful. Reading scripture is not a liturgical function, it’s a liturgical ministry with all the anthropological demands that go with ministering.

      Imagine a parent reading a story to a child and never once looking at the child. You can’t, because it’s unimaginable. The same should be true of reading in church.

      I notice a similar mindset in several contributing to this thread, for example whose who think that the distribution of Communion is all about me and Jesus and that therefore the important thing is to look at the host, not at each other. May I respectfully disagree with this, too?

      Communion is not just about my encounter with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In the liturgy, it is all about a body of people doing something together, doing something communally. That’s what Communion means. When you receive from a minister, it’s not Mrs Snooks who is offering you a consecrated host: it is Jesus himself who is offering you the Bread of Life, just as he is offering it to everyone else in the assembly. The minister of communion, whether ordained or lay, stands in the place of Christ. You simply can’t not look at Jesus but at the host, anymore than the disciples at the Last Supper did not look at Jesus when he offered them his body and blood under the form of bread and wine. Of course they did!

      I fear that we may be at risk of getting into a discussion about reverence, so I’d just like to emphasize that what I am saying is not at all intended as disrespectful to the Real Presence of Christ in the elements, but enormously respectful to the Real Presence of Christ in people.

      1. @Paul Inwood:
        And the cultural imperialism of eye contact has now encamped against my own gates, where the “unimaginable” took place just last night: someone forgot to tell my two-year-old that we must gaze at one another during nightly reading, and the self-absorbed promethean neopelagian had the gall to become enraptured in our board book and show me nothing but the side/back of his head. Does this mean I *never* look at my children while reading to them? No, but I do so typically only to add further comment or engage in conversation about the text. The reading itself takes place as a matter of course with both/all of us intent upon the page.

        While the customs of Sanders’ vesperal lections are of minimal interest, I hope I will be forgiven for submitting them toward the end of falsifying yet another supposed absolute. Be it the most effective means of proclaiming the Scriptures in the assembly, distributing the Body and Blood of our Lord, or now, reading to a child, the easy falsification of the proposed essential norms of human interaction should serve as a warning against universalization of personal experience. One is free to argue the poor quality of my reading practices, but only after one has had the decency to imagine their existence and examine the possible relativity of one’s own assumptions about them.
        In the absence of a clear magisterial or canonical locus for support, each of us ought to be very wary of advancing “rules” of liturgical best practice; “this has proven helpful to my community” or “I believe this safeguards the following values which I consider important for these reasons” may be the most we can legitimately offer.

  29. I want eye contact for the dialogue parts of the Mass. I wish for the celebrant to look at the assembly whenever he says “The Lord be with you”, and also while the people respond.

    Many of the priests I know do not do that during the Sursum Corda, and virtually none of them keep looking at the assembly during the last part of the dialogue, while the people say “It is right and just”: instead, he has his eyes on his book, preparing for the prayer that is to follow, and in his mind he is no longer engaging in dialogue with the assembly at that point.

    Of course, if he were to look at the assembly through the end of the dialogue, he would then need a brief moment of silence while he collects himself before reading the prayer that comes next, but would such silence be so terrible?

  30. @Paul Inwood

    I think one thing which needs to be engaged with, is the extent to which trying to impose on where people are looking at every moment of the liturgy fails to respect Christ in the people of God.

    Real people, in their concrete reality, are impacted by the Holy Spirit in different ways at different times. One day it might be by Christ in the consecrated elements, another by Christ in the face of another person. It is not for us to control how & when this happens.

    There is also the question of balance & emphasis. A Mass is not Eucharistic adoration, where the consecrated elements are always primary. But it does, & should, have moments where they are primary (the showing of the elements, & receiving them, for example). The other ways Christ are present equally have points where they are primary during the Mass.

    Forgetting this would both harm the rhythm of the liturgy, & fail to respect the balance between the different modes of Christ’s presence the reformed liturgy seeks.

  31. I am still uncertain how a church and the Church can incorporate both Claire and me. Both the extroverted and the autistic are children of Christ who must often coexist in the same worshiping assembly.

    I’ve found that when it’s a choice between a shade of extroversion or a shade of introversion, pastors and their ministers will almost always go to the option of extroversion. This merely pushes autistic people further out the vestibule door. I suppose that a church must go with the approach which yields the greatest “satisfaction” for the congregation (I don’t know how this would be quantified). Maybe it is a cross for the autistic to bear what they consider to be loud, annoying, and perhaps even tacky for the spiritual benefit of most. All of us, at some time, are bread broken.

  32. I wrote, regarding those who proclaim readings: “The point of the ministry is to read aloud from a book”, to which Paul rejoined, “The point of the ministry is to be channel of communication for God’s word.”

    Right. And that channel consists of two parts, the reader and the book, no?

    “Imagine a parent reading a story to a child and never once looking at the child. You can’t, because it’s unimaginable. The same should be true of reading in church.”

    I’m not opposed to eye contact. I just don’t think it’s a primary virtue for one proclaiming the Word. At the very least, I would hold that more is not always better. But my experience is that, when it comes to eye contact, “more is better” is a motto drilled into new lectors.

    To take that approach to its logical end: a parent who memorized a book and recited it to her children, gazing into their eyes throughout the recital, would be the model parent-reader. But a parent memorizing a children’s book may not be the storytelling model we desire, because among the many good outcomes of parents reading to their children is that the children learn the great worth of books. It’s important that us parents reinforce for our children that these wonderful stories are to be found *in a book*.

  33. But we all understand that what we are talking about is not the reason college kids are not attending Mass or claiming allegiance to the Church …right?

    “My dad told me he wouldn’t go to church until they respected my two gay uncles. So that’s why I don’t go.”

    “Until they clean up the mess of the priests abusing kids…”

    “I used to think the reason we didin’t do Church was because of softball (or fill in sport of choice here) but I learned it’s really because my parents just used the parish school to grow my academics more.”

    All are welcome…nice song but in our local church it stops there. Eye contact? That’s nice but welcoming can replace minutes of lost eye contact.

    I love these comments pray tell blog, they teach me much.

    1. @Ed Nash:

      Same sex marriage, child abuse, Catholic education … they’re all interesting and important topics and issues, but none of them is particularly liturgical in nature. On the other hand, being welcomed at a weekend mass is an important part of the liturgical experience, and is something that liturgical leaders can directly control.

  34. Thanks Jim…my experience working with college age Catholics is that Mass attendance is controlled by much more than liturgy.

    You are exactly right.

  35. By the LORD’s word the heavens were made;
    by the breath of his mouth all their host. Psalm 33

    We speak by forming our breath into words that can be heard. When God speaks, his Word is filled by his breath, his Spirit, and the world is created.

    That is the context I would use for understanding this issue. Our breath fills God’s Word. It is a powerful, creative act that we must acknowledge. It is not just the words on a page, or their meaning, that is important. The proclamation of Scripture is a sacrament, a mystery that recalls how the Father created by speaking the Spirit and the Word.

    I don’t fully grasp this. I doubt that anyone does. So I have no problem with people using any aids they can, as long as they know that this moment of proclamation in the liturgy is revealing God’s creativity by creating us today. Hearing aids, missallettes, glasses, whatever it takes to bring this about.

    Sorry for such a late comment, but I think it expresses an idea important to this discussion that hadn’t been heard.

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