Non Solum: Worship Leaflets or Number Boards

Today’s Question: Worship Leaflets or Number Boards

In looking at a recent congregational worship leaflet, I came to the realization that much of what is printed there is unnecessary for people’s active and intelligent participation. For the most part, the only congregational parts that change from week to week are the hymns and the responsorial psalm. These could easily just be posted on a number board. Without a worship leaflet we become immersed in the liturgy, unencumbered by a rigid structuralism which at times forcefully attempts to unfold kairos into chronos. In other words, instead of always looking down at the worship leaflet focusing on what comes next, one looks up and focuses on being in the moment. Using a number board has other benefits as well: it saves a tremendous amount of paper.

I grant that printing a worship leaflet can be an act of hospitality for guests and visitors who have not internalized the structure of the Mass. They can also guide people through the way in which a particular community celebrates Mass within the various options provided in the official books. But I’m not sure these gains are worth the price.

What are your thoughts? Does your community use a worship leaflet or a number board? If you prefer a worship leaflet, why? How detailed do you make it? If you prefer a number board, why?


Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!


  1. There is a middle ground wherein only things the congregation needs are provided (including dialogs and so forth) but without EVERY. WORD. OF. EVERY. PRAYER. AND. READING.

    I’ve seen a handful of wonderful worship booklets. And a ton of terrible ones.

    As with most things discussed by liturgists, a lot of the theoretical issues take a back seat to problem of quality and execution.

  2. Our (Anglo-Catholic) parish does both: a hymn board and a comprehensive leaflet with texts and music. Some prefer to use the hymnal and the hymn board; others, especially visitors, follow the Mass from the leaflet. I think the fear of “burying noses in the leaflet” is a bit overblown. I don’t think most parishioners relish that activity, but most appreciate having the leaflet to follow for the texts of the propers and motets. And so every word is there (except the homily). If someone wants to read every word, let ’em. Most people don’t but find it helpful to have it all there, and then to take it home and have the announcements to read and the Mass texts to reread and ponder.

  3. Many people do appreciate leaflets, especially if there is a psalm or antiphon that struck them. I have found they are taken home and kept on the reading table. Also helps if the musical setting of the mass is unfamiliar or if there are special RCIA Rites.

  4. IT is a signal lack of hospitality to neglect to cue guests and visitors to the parts that regulars may know by heart. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been traveling to parishes that inflict that inhospitality, and I can say not a single good thing about it. IF you have boards, have ones big enough to provide that information you’re tempted to omit.

    Leaflets have the added advantage of providing translations for texts that might be in another language – and even the text itself for choral anthems or verses in English (it is a rare choral/acoustical pairing where choral English is unequivocally understood: the English have done lovely parodies of this subject…).

    Also, the Ordo and Lectionary texts should be available as well. Not everyone participates best aurally over visually. Basic hospitality. A lack of this kind of hospitality in Catholic parishes screams: why would anyone who isn’t already a regular here come here? Kinda like the Boston Brahmin matrons immoratalized in Cleveland Amory’s Proper Bostonians (1947) when asked by a visitor about where they bought their hats: “Buy our hats? We have our hats.” You want a community to grow? Act like it needs to grow.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #5:
      Kudos and well said…..most Sunday leaflets can be two pages or front and back that provide key music; might give a very short background to some choices; list readings for those who may have hearing difficulties; etc. They are especially needed at major feasts, Holy Week, Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, etc.

      Boards can be hard to see; located where visitors don’t see them, and only reflect numbers – many parishes have choices from multiple books (not recommending this but it is the reality); can’t support where readings or resp. psalm is, etc.

  5. We don’t mean to display a signal lack of hospitality, Messrs. Saur and deHaas, but I doubt our parish will be publishing leaflets anytime soon.

    We have six Masses per weekend, attended by about 1200 persons each. Four of them (3 cantored, 1 with main choir) share the same music. The contemporary group and youth group each have their own. So “somebody” (read “Music Director/Principal Organist/Parish Liturgist” — all the same person) must prepare, type up, and see to the printing of at least 5000 such leaflets a week. With the Pastor’s Liturgy meeting on Thursday, time is somewhat compressed.

    Somebody must, or course, then see to the distribution and subsequent collection of the used leaflets, including their eventual trashing.

    And at a discount, 5000/wk, double-sided, folded sheets will add about $15,000 per year to the budget. Not to mention a quarter of a million sheets of paper into the dump.

    Sadly, the church itself is large enough we’d require 8″ numbers for a sign board, so even that has yielded to the inevitable “Let us all sing together hymn #123” announcement for each song, certainly not great, but it’s the reality we face.

    Our new hymnals are taking their place for the new Church year even as we speak, and hopefully you will feel sufficiently welcome to navigate along with the rest of us

    1. @Sean Keeler – comment #7:

      Following on from Sean’s comment, in my opinion it doesn’t matter too much whether the hymn numbers are in the leaflet, on the bulletin, or on a hymn board. Lots of people, especially the many for whom Mass is one continuous blur with no discernible structure, simply don’t know when it is time to look to see what the hymn number is.

      That is why the discreet announcement of the number is not just a necessity, it is an act of courtesy, of hospitality to the assembly. You need to do it anyway, even if it is printed in the leaflet or displayed on the board. It’s a way of helping the people engage in the liturgical action.

      Of course there are different ways of announcing things, and that is a frequent sub-topic in cantor workshops. It is related to knowing the different ways of using your voice and knowing the different ways of using a microphone, as well as to a sensitivity to the different characters of the different parts of the rite. Often enough, the hymn announcements that I hear in churches on both sides of the Pond make me cringe, but when I encounter someone who knows how to do it well I rejoice.

  6. I have never understood the position of some liturgists who insist the readings should be heard and not read. I am aware of the historically aural experience of the scriptures. But modern culture primarily transmits and perceives important information through written texts, not spoken. it is a matter of inculturation to communicate in ways best suited to a given population.

    Also, there is the Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. That is, individuals have strengths and weaknesses for different modes of receiving information (visual, verbal, bodily, etc.) At the same time educational theory was embracing multiple modes of conveying information in the classroom, various liturgists were arguing that the scriptures should be limited to verbal communication only. I see no compelling argument to place this limit on how the assembly can receive the word.

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #8:

      I have never understood the position of some liturgists who insist the readings should be heard and not read. I am aware of the historically aural experience of the scriptures. But modern culture primarily transmits and perceives important information through written texts, not spoken. it is a matter of inculturation to communicate in ways best suited to a given population.

      Also, there is the Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. That is, individuals have strengths and weaknesses for different modes of receiving information (visual, verbal, bodily, etc.) At the same time educational theory was embracing multiple modes of conveying information in the classroom, various liturgists were arguing that the scriptures should be limited to verbal communication only. I see no compelling argument to place this limit on how the assembly can receive the word.

      Without wanting to sidetrack this thread, I’d like to respond to Scott’s statement.

      While I am completely comfortable with the theory of different learning intelligences, there may be significant disadvantages to using its principles in liturgy.

      First of all, we are not in the business of learning, not in the business of conveying information, but of celebrating (ideally, celebrating what we already have within us — but how many people come to church having already ingested the scriptures for the day?).

      Secondly, I encounter many people who say that their visual intelligence enables them to supplement and improve on their aural intelligence. What they are saying is that reading along at the same time as the scriptures are proclaimed helps them to absorb the word of God better. While this can certainly be true in the case of lousy PA systems or semi-incomprehensible or badly-trained readers, there is one major drawback to reading along at the same time as listening:

      it enables the listener to control the meaning received.

      When you are listening to the scriptures without the text in your hands (and, let’s be honest, how many people actually listen to the news on the radio or TV with the script in their hands? — and this is not just the news but the Good News!), you will find that meanings you had never expected to find will implant themselves in your mind. How often do you sit in church, listening to a very familiar reading, perhaps one that you have heard hundreds of times before, when suddenly a word or phrase jumps out at you and hits you right between the eyes? You stop listening at that point, and instead start to ruminate on the word or phrase. That is fine — it is God’s word for you today.

      My contention is that this reception is rendered much more difficult, if not impossible, when the listener is reading along with the text at the same time. Controlling the text as you read, even analyzing it, is inimical to really hearing God’s word. In other words, you may “hear” the reading better, but do you actually hear God’s message to you or just the message that you want to hear?

      This is why I actively discourage people from having the text in front of them, except where there are language difficulties or hearing problems in churches that do not have deaf loop systems.

      A priest friend of mine, on supply during the summer in a parish where they used missalettes, got really fed up with the assembly having its heads buried in the books and never once looking up. On his third Sunday there, his patience ran out at the Gospel. “The Lord be with you” he proclaimed. “And also with you” they mumbled back, heads well down. “Kindly put down your missalettes and listen to the inspired word of God” he requested. “Glory to you, Lord” they mumbled back, heads still buried in the books. He realized at that point that trying to communicate with this group of people was simply a wasted effort.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #12:
        Thank you, Paul, for this compelling argument. You are correct that liturgy is best practiced as celebration without bearing the additional weight of an educational exercise. Mass is not bible study, nor catechism study, nor social hour, etc. Yet with the widespread (nearly universal?) lack of these other faith-based activities in the lives of our parishioners, Sunday Mass is forced to serve all of these purposes. In my parish of 3000 souls, it’s a great day if 30 people attend a formation event, and sometimes it’s more like 3.

      2. @Paul Inwood – comment #12:
        As I agree with Scott’s thoughts, I want to address two things in Paul Inwood’s response. When you refer to us listening to TV or radio news, you must remember that the announcers are trained professionals using state-of-the-art equipment. Most parishes have neither. Secondly, your seeming indictment of reading the Good News over hearing it, if carried to its logical conclusion, tends to indict the ancient practice of lectio divina. While I am aware that the ancients read with their lips, that is not a requirement for this venerable practice. I dare say the good Lord can speak our word to us whether we are listening only, reading and listening together, or only reading! Just saying!

  7. My parish has an electronic number board. While the look of it takes some getting used to, it has the benefit of showing what reading/hymn/prayer is coming up next. For a person unfamiliar with the Mass, this is more helpful than a wooden hymn board with multiple numbers listed in a column.

    The longstanding tradition in my parish is for the organist to program the number board and keep up with it throughout the service. This is fine enough for our resident organists, but for substitutes it can be a burden. The proliferation of electronic devices at our organ console (hymn board controller, sound system controls, digital recording device, video monitor with multiple camera angles) is a lot to keep up with when I’m also trying to play, direct, sing and/or answer questions from the sacristan/usher/cantor/choir members. Talk about multitasking!

  8. Why these two options? We do neither.
    I take to heart what Karl and Bill suggest. Let’s face it, every hymnal, missalette, song book, etc. published have the rite clearly laid out. We make sure visitors are aware of it. The presider usually announces the Creed is on Page X (useful for bouncing between the Apostles and Nicene Creed).
    Besides that, our cantors are very well trained on announcing the numbers slowly and carefully. More importantly, the regular members of the community have been well-trained in “you were a stranger and you welcomed me” and “welcome all who present themselves were he Christ himself.” (Our summer community in an urban downtown parish is 50% more than the size of our winter worship). They know their jobs are to help people out with the order of worship and songs.
    Worship aids are expensive and not environmentally-friendly.
    Most number boards don’t allow for the all the things that need announcing, and 95% of the time are usually just flat out ugly.

  9. I think the disposable leaflets either purchased or produced are a waste of money and valuable tree resources. These are wasteful. Why not just have a good hymnal that contains everything one needs in it and is easy to follow. If the Episcopalians can do it as well as the Lutherans and other protestants why not us? What does it say about our sacred music and prayers that these are thrown away after one use? And why are we trying to control people in the pew by not giving them all that is in the Roman Missal for Sunday Mass, including the readings. Isn’t it time to move on from trying to control people’s participation habits and allow them to decide?

    1. @Fr. Allan. McDonald – comment #11:
      In my hymnal, the order of Mass begins at #140. Unless one knows to search the table of contents for “Order of Mass” amid 50 other section headings, they would have no way of knowing this. Even if they find this section of the book, if they are unfamiliar with the flow of the Mass they may quickly get lost amid the many options listed, such as three pages of options for the Penitential Act. Then, the scripture readings are somewhere between #858 and 1046. Then, unless we are using the icel chant acclamations, the service music is found in another part of the book. The psalm refrain is in another place, or taken from another hymnal entirely. So too with the hymns. Just because it’s in the book doesn’t mean your average parishioner can find it, much less seekers, guests and visitors.

      It’s true that Episcopalians and Lutherans use a complicated system of books in their pew. It’s also true that their church attendance is in in tremendous decline, even worse than the RC church. This may be one reason among many why people are not flocking to those denominations.

      If our parishes are going to remain stable or grow, we would do well to make our services more navigable for the uninitiated. We needn’t dumb things down, but learning to navigate a complicated system of books is not a tenet of the faith.

  10. I confess that I (DLM) put together a worship leaflet weekly for our parish that includes hymns, Psalms and Ordinary with music, as well as the Creed and spoken responses for the assembly. It also includes citations for the Scripture readings, but not the full text. All is laid out in a clear format that can be followed by all.

    The advantages (for us) are several. In terms of hospitality, I have heard from many people who are new to the parish for whatever reason that they find that this makes it easier to participate, and even one who “chose” the parish because they didn’t have to juggle a pew card, two hymnals and a missalette during the course of the mass. (I am by no means advocating “church shopping”!) I also had a bride recently ask me to put one together for her wedding so that her guests could *participate* rather than spectate! It also offers an advantage in terms of not being tied to one publisher’s vision of musical liturgy, as well as flexibility in including Rites of the Church when needed (i.e. the Scrutinies). Our parishioners participate heartily, whether speaking or singing, and when they know certain hymns or parts of the mass by heart, they put the paper down. When they need it, they pick it back up. There are also those who will take the sheet home for prayer purposes.

    As for cost, we have done some research and comparisons, and this still seems to be the best option for our needs and budget. We use the same music, etc. at all 4 weekend masses, and so most of what we print gets reused from mass to mass. As for the environment, the used sheets are put in a paper recycling bin at the high school next door, and the school gets paid for the contents of this bin which are used to make home insulation! As for Scott’s excellent point about the Readings and Gardner’s Theory, our “visual learners” will usually bring a hand missal and seem very helpful in guiding kindred spirits as to where to attain one for themselves.

    Anyway, it works for us!

    St. Cecilia, pray for us!

  11. @Allan McDonald…which Lutheran, Episcopal and Protestant churches are you referring to? They are all leaders in providing weekly worship aids and have been doing it long before the Catholics. Just look at their catalogs you will see the various bulletin covers they offer. Most of them are posted on the web so you can follow along if you are homebound or on the road.

  12. David – your observations are correct but would support Paul’s experience and insights.
    Liturgy is not lectio divina…..and have experienced Paul’s example of almost complete congregation burying heads into missalettes as a symptom of poor liturgical community. (bias – find missalettes to be the a negative influence on our liturgy….only makes sense if parish is small, little resources, etc. and it becomes a necessity replacing good song books, weekly liturgy aid, etc. And Paul didn’t cite the all too often example of presiders who use missalettes rather than sacramentary, gospel book, etc.; lay them on the altar open and upside down)
    Agree with sound system issues – but most of our diocese parishes use week-end aids that list readings, prayers, etc. and have Worship in the pews.
    The whole point of the reformed liturgy is for folks to be involved and participating (not reading along) but active in terms of listening (an art form that our current world is losing with hi tech, etc.) So, why don’t we have presiders print out their homilies so we can read along with the homilist; same with the universal prayers of the church, etc. Yes, of course, the good Lord speaks to us no matter. Just saying!

  13. I became music director at a parish in which I had sung as a teenager in the mid to late 1960’s. They had produced their own songbook (without any copyright permission) with music from various publishers. They later relied heavily on disposable missalettes and paper back songbooks. Every song announcement felt like a mini sermon (name of book, purpose of song, page number, why it fit with today’s liturgy). Having this memory, I just knew that less is more. My goal was to do away with any announcement of the songs. We finally convinced the parish to invest in a hard bound hymnal. To alleviate the need for announcing numbers or pages, I printed bookmarks each Sunday. A little larger than standard size, I was able to include everything the assembly needed for that Sunday. Before mass we indicated the special music on the bookmark and asked that all follow the list to the pages in the hymnal. It worked. We found that people would literally bookmark the mass setting we were using and reference it for the other songs being used. It cut paper waste by 80% and the only other time we said anything during mass was at the transition between the Lit of the Word and the Lit of the Eucharist. There we gently reminded late comers of the bookmark and its use.

  14. I think worship bulletins are essential and necessary for many reasons. If you have a small bulletin, a lot of very useful information can be passed on to the parishioners and visitors. I currently play for an Episcopal Church, and our bulletin references hymn numbers and numbers in the BCP and the pew bibles. This gives people the option to participate on many different levels…for example, some people follow the BCP closely, others know the service and don’t use it at all. We also put hymn numbers up on a board for those who would like to use it. The bulletin is also great because I’m not bound to only use mass settings and hymns found in our hymnal. In the Catholic musical landscape, if you don’t use a bulletin, you are bound to only use the Mass settings of either GIA (yuck except for M of the Servant Church) or OCP (double yuck). I also really like the bulletin because it enables you to not have to announce every hymn. I dislike when I attend Mass, am getting ready to receive communion, and then the cantor says on the mic “our Communion hymn is number 323 in the Blue Gather Hymnal ‘Taste and See’ number 3-2-3 in the BLUE Gather Book. Are you kidding me?

  15. I haven’t read all the comments but I’ll share what I do at the parish I serve. We have Gather hymnals, and have hymn number boards. I also make seasonal bookmarks that list the numbers for the mass setting that we are using. I find that this helps those in the pew that would like to see the music. This upcoming Advent season I also included the refrain for the Introit we’ll be using on one side of the book mark. The bookmark also asks “Please leave this bookmark in the hymnal”. I find this to be an efficient and eco-friendly way to put more information in people’s hands.

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