Commonweal: An Ordinary Sunday

Over at Commonweal there have a series of snapshots of parishes around the country. It’s fascinating stuff and provides lots of anecdotal evidence of what is happening liturgically in parishes on a typical Sunday.

The reporters are sharp-eyed and notice lots of interesting details. One thing comes through loud and clear: music and preaching are the make-or-break elements for many people with regard to their experience of worship. Is it because Catholics have become de facto protestants, for whom the miracle of the Mass is secondary to the subjective experience music and preaching can generate? Or is it that music and preaching are the chief variables, that the ritual of the Mass itself is more or less followed faithfully in most places, and so it is taken from granted, even though it might still be be essential?


  1. It just seemed to me that many of the reporters found the experience kind of underwhelming. I take it that they were hoping for something greater or deeper or more life-changing. I don’t know exactly what that would be. But it does make me wonder whether mass is really supposed to be a blow-your-hair-back “Wow!” experience every week. I think it’s more likely that its efficacy happens in small increments, such that the changes it brings about may only be discernible when one looks back over a long stretch of time. Maybe that’s one of the weaknesses of this snapshot-in-time church visitor exercise.

    One other thought on the hunger for a “Wow!” experience: the church’s documents instruct us that the liturgy should be a foretaste of heaven. Personally, I think that aspect is somewhat neglected, at least at the grass-roots where I live and minister. But I take this hunger for the “Wow!” moment to be a hunger for that foretaste: the desire that stepping into church and worship would be stepping through a portal into a more intense experience: holier, more exalted, more filled with love and trust than what we experience in our workaday lives.

  2. I do not expect Wow experiences at Sunday Mass, since I never had one in eight decades. When the Mass has become a wow for me, is during or at the end of, a retreat, Cursillo, CHRP, Teen weekend or Justice convention where everybody is working toward the same end and takes the Mass seriously as part of his/her work toward the end. My view is skewed from my usher’s position, but I don’t see how you can get a WOW with people still arriving during the homily and leaving during Communion, with people reading the Bulletin during the canon, with some people getting up to date with their friends while other prepare for Mass … in general, while the people who don’t particularly want to be there are distracting the people who do. And I don’t see any way to avoid that (except here or there, around the edges) as long as we have to accept that all parishioners should be there.

    I would say, though, that Catholics have not become Protestants, privileging the preaching ahd the music. A lot would rather not even have the latter, and a quite a few do their Bulletin reading and text answering during the former. The one and only time a Catholic Mass seems to have everyone’s attention is during the Consecration.

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