Note to MC’s and music directors: Walking Through Doorways Causes Forgetting

At last: an explanation for why all one’s careful instructions are completely forgotten when the procession leaves the sacristy or the choir leaves the practice room!


  1. And walking out the church door we leave the homily behind.

    Could that be why I remember so few?

  2. Paul,

    After reading all the comments on the “Cincinnati” thread, I was expecting that something “humorous” in your post would provide me with a bit of cheer.

    I did not find what I was looking for. Perhaps I just walked through a doorway and don’t even remember having done so?

  3. Last year I visited a large parish in Ocala FL. I was impressed by a sign posted on the inside of every door and presumably read by everyone as they walked through a door on leaving the building. It read ‘Remember, you are now entering mission territory!’. I found it rather thought-provoking and indicative of a community with a healthy sense of its mission.

  4. This is really a very interesting bit of research.

    I am glad Paul made mention of all the careful instructions that go flying out of the heads of people once they go into liturgy. I am convinced that there is some kind of deep layer of the human psyche, formed by repeated behaviors, not instruction, that people dip into to get their “orders”; over the years I’ve resigned myself to the fact that people only learn by doing. Not by watching. Not by instruction. Not by reminders. They have to do it themselves, and do it often enough that it gets down to the layer that they actually “work” from.

    It’s weird to me, but there also seems to be a whole category of persons who CANNOT READ in a liturgical situation. I don’t mean lectors, but rather, for example, someone who volunteers to lead Morning Prayer. It’s all written down in the script: what comes next, and rubrics and words are all there. They’ve practiced. And when the moment arrives — bing! — they invent things! They make them up! There’s no ill will. They just freeze or blank or otherwise are unable to do what they did in rehearsal perfectly well, and what is right in front of their noses. There has to be a reason.

    I’m liking the doorway hypothesis!

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #5:
      Rita, at the parish where I am employed, we recently made a change to how the Prayer of the Faithful is printed. In the past, I would compose the prayer and put the names for mass intentions, listed by weekend mass time. It was requested that I create a separate sheet for each mass, with just that name or names, if there is more than one.

      Since then, despite me putting neon colored tabs on each page in the binder, highlighting the mass time on the top of each page, and even writing the time of the indicated mass in neon yellow on each page, people tend to not turn the page from the prior liturgy.

      Mind you the “practice” binder is in the servers sacristy, tabbed and noted the same exact way. But walking through that door and up to the ambo seems to eradicate any knowledge of this.

      I am a lector, but at my home parish we have it on one sheet, so it is different. I’m not sure what goes wrong, especially since the request was made so that the correct name was read at each mass!

      There does have to be a reason, and I too vote for the door, that dang door!

  5. Actually this research is very consistent with a larger principle and body of evidence that behavior of people is far more determined by specific situations than by their personality (e.g. ideas, beliefs, values, etc.).

    The whole idea that we can give people a bunch of instructions, that is a program, and have them execute it during the liturgy, or even interpret the liturgy according to that program is very faulty.

    People form largely unconscious experiential and behavioral templates on the bases of their past experiences of liturgy (i.e. all the liturgical situations they have experienced). But these practical templates are far more situational, specific and experiential than the programs and instructions of the liturgy experts.

    People interpret and react to present liturgical situations on the bases of those largely unconscious templates, not on the bases of a bunch of instructions, or even their own liturgical ideas, beliefs and values which often have little to do with the experiential templates that are shaping their present behavior as they encounter the liturgical situations.

    Always deal with people by shaping their liturgical environments and histories rather than trying to shape their personalities (beliefs, values, practices). That shaping of history and environment has to take place over years not just minutes, days, weeks or months. Unfortunately the excessive varieties of ministers (priests, musicians) and their varied programs make this difficult.

    That shaping is also far more communal than individualistic. Of course here we also have the problem that the composition of the community is always changing and newcomers often have very different experiential templates.

    In order to shape the liturgical environments that are forming people, ministers have to be far more thoughtful and far more ritualistic (i.e. use far fewer options than we usually do).

    For example one parish that does liturgy well uses incense primarily at the gathering rite during Advent and Lent when the priest slowly goes throughout the church much in the Byzantine manner incensing everything and everyone during the opening responsorial chant which is also a contrast with the usual entrance hymn. That done consistently over the years forms a template; you don’t have to give any instruction or make any explanations.

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