How to live the liturgy, this Advent I

As Advent I draws ever closer, I know that I want to be at Mass that Sunday with my heart as well as my ears and eyes firmly fixed on what really matters, namely the grace-filled encounter with the real presence of God among God’s people and especially in bread and wine.  Given that I teach liturgical studies, however, and that no one will be able simply to pretend that everything is the same as it was the Sunday before, I have begun to think about how not to let myself be moved too far away from that which really matters on Advent I.

Here is one idea I had about how to live this coming Advent I:  I think a time of liturgical mystagogy after Mass, with whoever wants to remain from the community of faith that just celebrated the Eucharist, would be a wonderful thing to do. I was guided through such a mystagogy by Rita Ferrone after one morning liturgy at the ISM Congregations Project this July; and thought all of a sudden how wonderful it would be to be guided like that, in reflection on the liturgical encounter with God, after Mass on Advent I.  Many people will automatically reflect on  how we just celebrated Mass with some new twists (and hurdles, probably), but why not channel our reactions more deeply than complaints or rejoicing over linguistic changes?  Why not intentionally gather the community around the central questions in every liturgy: how did I encounter God here? What barriers in me did I have to struggle with? How did the Holy Spirit move among us?  How did we hear God speak to our lives?  Which symbols came alive at this Mass, suddenly transparent to holiness beyond all telling?

I for one would find it very helpful if a skilled facilitator of mystagogy (for lack of a better term) could lead my community of faith in a time of such reflection after Mass this Advent I.


  1. Perhaps the coming First Sunday of Advent would not be the best time for such a project, because of the major distractrions which may be presented by the changes.
    If however it were to begin on 6 November (Parable of bridesmaids) or 13 Nov. (Parable of Talents), and 20 Nov. (Christ the King), then the participants could have sufficient foundation not to be thrown off course and to avoid acrimony on 27 Nov. (Isaiah: swords into plowshares!)

  2. I love this idea. I see virtue in both approaches – both the one suggested by Padraig and the one on the first Sunday. I am going to forward this to my pastor at the parish where I work. I’m not sure this would work where I worship, for various reasons, but where I work – maybe. Thank you.

  3. I think I’ll be going to Mass in Spanish that day. I’m in the US and there’s one in my local parish.

  4. Large Group processes in parishes are poorly done; for example.

    A local parish sponsored an open discussion of the sexual abuse issue. I went because I had data on the extensive number of family sexual abuse victims in our county, and their very high cost. A women psychologist who treats sexual abuse victims in private practice also went.

    Typical for parish large group meetings, 80% of the time was devoted to small group discussions so that “no one would monopolize the meeting” and someone “representative of each group” summarized each group. Finally “anyone else could add anything” so my colleague and I gave a few sentences. The pastor then expressed the bottom line of the meeting, his concern about “zero strikes and you are out,” that he could never defend himself against a false accusation.

    Of course if my colleague and I had been able to bring our talents on this issue, we might have had a meeting that recognized the depth of the sexual abuse problem in our county (not just our church) and might have galvanized Catholics to do something in the community (as well as the church!!!). The talents which we use in our community could not be used in our church because it is a business not a community.

    We have many large group processes in our county mental health system. As facilitator, I have people express their values and beliefs on an anonymous questionnaire and present the data as a distribution of viewpoints. Participants can immediately recognize their common ground as well as their areas of disagreement. Leaders of minority viewpoints know they have company. Majority leaders are less threatened and more generous to the minority.

    My job was to get people to recognize their problems, develop their shared framework for solution, and their leadership who could work together to solve the problems.

    Parish large groups use processes and piety to prevent the emergence of issues, and leadership not completely under the control of the staff.

    1. I would say that it is talents developed in our employment/business lives which are not permitted in our institutional churches, because they are neither goal oriented as businesses are, nor community oriented as Christians should be, but oriented to institutional maintenance and preservation of the incomes and status of the clergy above all else.

      Maintenance of attendance numbers and adequate income and an external appearance of quiet are the goals. This is why all must be completely under control of the staff who serve at the whim of the local clergy for whom the only stake holders are within the clergy culture.

      There are no consumers, only captive audiences. There are no auditors, no market analysts, no professional evaluations, only status among the clergy, often based on patron/client or seminary relationships rather than professional skills.

      The defective method of large group processes seems to be a particular element of the general American RC misapplication of equality under the law to equality of opinion regardless of expertise or logic. This accompanies the tendency to turn everything into a competition with winners and losers rather than being willing to admit that one could afford to acquire more information before finalizing an opinion.

      A skilled facilitator is not only open to variety in opinions and able to draw out opinions from more reticent participants, but is also able to assist participants in categorizing the relevance of facts and opinions and conflicts between higher objectives and subjective desires.

      A skilled facilitator is quite different from a congressional committee chairman whose intention is to give the appearance of impartiality while pushing a pre-conceived objective.

  5. It does not matter whether one starts Mass with an sung asperges me, a sign of the cross and a quiet judica me, a guitar-led “Build a New Church”, or even “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages” (the opening blessing of the Byzantine Liturgy).

    We have Mass. Let’s stop trying to engineer the Mass to our vision of a particular era of Christian worship and life. Let’s stop trying to force a theoretical idealization of Mass on others, as if personal and particular customs do no satisfy a reification of a “corporate worship” that never truly existed in Christian history. Let’s just be as we are, worshiping in our own particular ways, so long as those ways are orthodox and approved by the Holy See. I’m all behind those who want an indult or even a Summorum Pontificum-like motu proprio that would permit celebration of the Sacramentary. The re-introduction of the Sacramentary as an alternative to the new Roman Missal is just another step away from engineered liturgy towards a true ritual organicity.

    The fourth wave of the liturgical movement is to not move, but simply live according to custom and worthy praise.

    1. JZ, am I moving in the same direction as you to wish for a definition of few minima which must be included in Mass and specific texts which are forbidden as inappropriate/heretical while going back to the presider improvising whatever else seems appropriate?

      1. Tom, no I’m not moving to improvisation, but variety in formal liturgy. In my view all liturgies promulgated by the Holy See since 1960, in Latin or vernacular, should be free to use for any sacrament. Regardless of book chosen, the priest must follow the rubrics or instructions pertinent to that liturgy without mixing elements from different liturgies. In other words, pick one and stay with it.

        I also don’t see why a priest couldn’t use a different liturgy for different Masses on a Sunday, so long as most of the parish agrees to this model.

      2. Jordan

        The key is that it should be the choice of a broad-based consensus of the parish, not merely that of the priest.

        If I have to choose between a distant vs local tyrant, I, like most human beings in history, will tend to choose the former over the latter, all other things being equal.

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