Posted by: Joe of St. Thérèse | February 21, 2008

More Commentary: Gather Faithfully Together

As with my other enteries, comments are in the blue.

I am going to share with you my vision of a parish Sunday Eucharist. It is a summer Sunday in the Jubilee Year 2000, 30 minutes before the 10 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Angels parish. Already, several members of the choir are talking together and trying bits of music with the director and the cantor (What happened to reverential silence? I hope that this would not be happening in the Church, as it would be distracting from prayer). Soon the first usher to arrive is tidying up the entrance way and removing any bulletins left in the assembly’s area at the last Mass. The sacristan has placed the bread and wine on a covered table near the entrance. Servers, lectors and communion ministers (Cardinal, didn’t I tell you that they’re called extra-ordinay ministers of Holy Communion (EOMHC’s)) begin to arrive and go about their necessary preparations. By now the early comers are here, some kneeling in prayer or sitting quietly. Others stop in the Blessed Sacrament chapel; others light candles in the alcove that holds an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As 10:00 nears, more people stop to write in the parish’s Book of Intercessions.
The Entrance of the Assembly
In houses and apartments all through the neighborhood, the true entrance procession (Enterence procession? I’ve never heard of such a thing) of this Mass has been (so, the Liturgy full of Sacrilege is over?) in full swing, sometimes calm, sometimes hectic. Sunday clothes are being put on. Many families are finishing breakfast, conscious of the one-hour fast. Here and there are adults who choose to fast altogether until taking Holy Communion. Some households make a conscious effort to keep the morning quiet: no radio or television, and the Sunday papers wait until later in the day.
In a surprisingly large number of households, but still a tiny minority, the Sunday Scriptures have already been read aloud together on Friday or Saturday evening. Others met during the week in Spanish-speaking or English-speaking prayer groups where the Lectionary’s Sunday readings were pondered. Teenagers spent part of the regular youth group meeting reading these Scriptures.
When we think about preparing for liturgy, we usually think of the ministers — the choir rehearsing, the lectors engaging their readings all through the week, the homilist spending some time every day of the week until it all comes together on Saturday, those who care for the sacred space keeping it clean and beautiful. But the liturgy is the work of the whole assembly, and here we begin to see that many take this seriously. Many have prepared themselves to come together today and participate fully in this Eucharist.
So this is the entrance procession, coming from all directions, made up of all ages, several races, a variety of economic circumstances and political outlooks — and speaking at least three first languages! (I would have sworn that the Church had a language that unites us?) But they are all in a great procession, the Church assembling in the house of the Church. “We shall go up with joy,” “Que alegría cuando me dijeron vamos a la casa del Señor”, or as we used to pray from Psalm 43, “Introibo ad altare Dei. (used to pray, you should still say it, and the reply to remind you was Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem Meum (Unto God, I shall give my youth)” On the way to that altar of God, most of these people pass by the large Baptismal Font and take water from it, perhaps remembering their own Baptism (prehaps, Cardinal? When you dip your hands in the baptismal font, you’re supposed to recall your baptism). They enter their liturgy marked with the water of baptism, marked with the cross of Christ whose Body we became in those waters. (CCC: 1267)
At 9:45 the choir is assembled and a brief but serious rehearsal begins, firming up what was practiced last Wednesday evening (Again, hoping that this is not in the Church as this would prevent reverential silence). This warm-up of voices lasts until just a few minutes before the liturgy is to begin; toward the end many in the now two-thirds full church join in singing (Now would be a good time for me to tell you, shhhh, I’m praying). By now the presider is vested and stands with servers and lectors near the main entrance, adding to the welcome of the ushers. The ushers, knowing the church will be full, are doing their best to fill the pews nearest the altar first. They make special efforts to see that parents with very small infants get places in the first rows (where there are more comfortable chairs) (I never realized the Chairs were supposed to be comfortable, but eh, props on having the most comfortable kneelers in the archdiocese….on that note, why are the kids and the crying babies in the front? I love having kids at Mass, but wouldn’t it not be a beter application of common sense to sit them closer to the back, as a baby might have accidents during Mass, as well as trying to keep the atmosphere prayerful?).
Likewise, the ushers invite any who would find the communion procession difficult to take places in those areas throughout the assembly space with room for wheelchairs. The ushers point out to any newcomers with pre-school children that child care is available, or they are welcome to have their children with them (it is surely not appropriate to have them in a separate room) (Well, Cardinal, I’m going to have to disagree with you there as well, the purpose of cry rooms was to be able to have the kids participate in Mass, without the heavy distraction it can be during the Mass fo some people). The sacristan has invited the gift-bearers to bring the bread and wine forward at the proper time and is now going over the “checklist for Sunday Mass” before joining the assembly. Sponsors and catechumens find each other and fill in the first few rows of one section of the church (But I thought the crying babies were already in your first few rows, so wouldn’t this be a contradiction? Just saying).
Although people go out of their way to greet one another and be gracious, it is never done in such a way that you feel one person is the host and another is the guest (Actually, I’d mush rather this be done after Mass as my first thought when coming into a Church is where’s Jesus, so Ican genuflect to him, and adore him, I’m not thinking about the people, as they are NOT God ;)). Everyone is at home (Yeah, I don’t blame them for wanting to avoid your Liturgies).
At one minute before 10 o’clock, the cantor greets the assembly and asks them to give some brief attention to the hymn that will be used as a recessional today (We’re not that musically illiterate Cardinal, when we hear it, we’ll be able to reply back). As they conclude this little rehearsal, the cantor announces the hymnal number of the procession song, then stands quietly for a moment before gesturing for everyone to rise as the instrumentalists begin to lead everyone into singing a hymn of praise that seems to build verse by verse. The procession of servers with cross and candles, lectors (one of them with the Lectionary held high), and presider waits at the edge of the assembly until the second verse begins, then moves slowly forward. By that time, each minister, including the presider, is singing.
At Our Lady of the Angels, the renovation (In otherwords Cardinal, there’s no Catholic Identity in the Church, you and I both know that renovation means loss of Catholic Identity in a Church) put people on three sides of the area where the altar and the ambo are, so most members of the assembly are able to participate more fully with the other members of the assembly (what’s your definition of full participation? Is not interior participation a full participation too?..As a side note, I didn’t come to Mass to focus on the other people at Church, I came to focus on God, There’s a resaon neighbor is 2nd on the list of Commandments). For a year now it has been the custom, once the entrance song begins, for the people on either side of the aisle in the long central part of the church to turn toward the aisle until the procession has passed. In fact, they are turning toward each other, becoming conscious of each other’s presence as the church begins its liturgy (Again, I’m here to focus on God, not on the others around me, I will however bow to the Crossbearer). The peace greeting, when it comes later on, will somehow seal this communion, this sense of being not individuals, but the assembled Church offering its praise, thanks, lament and intercession before God (Enough with this we already, isn’t this about God?).
As the singing continues, the presider greets the altar with a kiss. At the chair, he continues to sing with the assembly. When the singing ends, all make the Sign of the Cross: we do all that we do in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Looking at the assembly, the presider then exchanges the greeting (Nothing in the rubrics of the Mass of Paul VI says that you’re supposed to say the greeting VP, and again, isn’t Liturgy about God?) . In two or three well-prepared sentences he invites — maybe exhorts is a better word — the assembly to enter well into this liturgy (How about Say the Black, do the Red, like Fr. Z has well quoted on this one). He is careful not to speak in any way that would imply it is his liturgy (standing VP kind of implies that there is a personal ownership to liturgy, how about AO? , or that the people assembled are guests. Nothing he says makes trivial what is about to be done here.
The rites by which the community assembles are quite simple during these Sundays in Ordinary Time compared with how the parish begins its liturgy during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter (How about, Confiteor Omnipotens Deus…..?). Year-round, however, these rites conclude when the presider calls everyone to prayer: “Oremos/Let us pray. (Spanish, Oremos is correct, but the Chuch’s Liturgy is in Latin, thus Oremus)” And then, in response, silence. This silence is long enough to settle into, and like song, creates the Church. The presider has been praying this opening prayer all week by himself, and now he speaks it in a clear and understandable proclamation (It’s Sunday, how about a High Mass,? and the prayer Chanted or sung?). The loud “Amen” says that the assembly has heard.
When the people at Our Lady of the Angels sit down, there is usually a sense that in all these moments — from the alarm clock to this Amen — the Spirit has brought them somewhere: into the worship space (You sound just like the infmaous Fr. Vasko, who wreckovated Churches across the country when you say that, it’s not a “worship space” that’s Protestant) they call the “church,” and even more into the Church itself, into the assembly that will here pray not as so many individuals, but as the Body of Christ.
The Liturgy of the Word
All the readers of Scripture know what they are there to do. They know that these readings could be read privately by each individual, but that this public reading is quite different. For two years now there have been no booklets for the assembly to follow the reading (Do you REALLY think that’s the best idea?), although by the front doors there are Sunday Missals for the hearing impaired and for those whose language is different from the one used at this Mass. The assembly gives all its attention to the lector (You mean to say, focused on the Word of God proclaimed though the Lector).
These lectors have been struggling with the assigned Scripture for the past few days. Their manner and understanding may vary, but they open this Lectionary and read knowing that this church is full of people hungry for the Word of God.
The lectors have taken the time to hear anew old words, to let the images of Scripture reflect against and mingle with their lives. Each has found something to cherish in a reading, something to be passionate about. But they also know how to communicate their passion without calling attention to themselves. The assembly is hearing God’s Word. You can tell that the main activity going on during these readings is good listening. And what a treasure that is! The liturgy — God’s word proclaimed and God’s word listened to — is being carried by the assembly and they mean it when they say, “Thanks be to God/Demos gracias a Dios (Honestly, if you’re going to use Spanish Cardinal, use it correctly, Te alabamos, Señor is the proper response, or better yet, Deo Gratias).” Every Sunday the Sacred Scriptures have been opened and read aloud. God’s Word proclaimed and listened to will be the foundation for all else that this Church does. (Lectionary, Introduction: 1 & 10; or General Instruction of the Roman Missal: 8)
Silence follows the first and second readings at Our Lady of the Angels, and again after the homily, lasting about a minute. People are used to it, and know what to do with it. They will tell you: Let that reading echo in your head, cling to a word or a phrase, savor it, stand under it. It becomes a very still time. Babies fuss, but people are not distracted.
The psalm after the first reading is almost an extension of this silence. No one gets out a book because the parish uses a repertoire of perhaps a dozen psalms (Hopefully from the Roman Graduale, or the prescribed Psalms, and not ones you’re making up right?) — and each year they learn one or two more — where all can sing the refrain by heart. The cantor at this Mass, like the other cantors at Our Lady of the Angels, knows that people want to hear the words. Good articulation is as important as a good voice. Sometimes the homilists have borne the psalm, and especially the refrain, into the homily. Sometimes the texts appear in the parish bulletin with the suggestion that these psalms be prayed at home. In these ways and more (seasonal evening prayer, for example), the people of Our Lady of the Angels are coming to know the Church’s oldest prayer book, the Psalter.
Another reader comes forward for the second Scripture and again silence follows. There is nothing half-hearted about the procession that now begins: The alleluia is singing to move with, to process with; it takes candle-bearing servers, incense bearer, and book-bearing presider through the assembly and to the place of proclamation.
A regular churchgoer usually knows within a sentence or two whether the homilist worked hard enough on the homily (Thanks a lot Cardinal Obvious). This Sunday and every Sunday at Our Lady of the Angels, the expectation is that not only did the preacher work on this homily, but so did the ten or so people who meet every week on, say, Monday evenings to read, pray with and talk about the Scriptures for the coming weeks. The homilists are committed to being there and lectors often come as well. Sometimes these Monday night meetings give yesterday’s homily a review. Noticeable progress has been made since this practice began, although some weeks are better than others. Two years ago the parish staff, parish council and homilists made a pact: homilists would give adequate time to preparing the homily (including the Monday night meeting), and the staff and council would find ways to assume other parish and pastoral duties and responsibilities, thus freeing up the priests.
Something else is evident this morning: The habit of listening calls forth a preacher’s best. And this assembly knows how to listen.
Listening is not an isolated moment. It is a way of life. It means openness to the Lord’s voice not only in the Scriptures but in the events of our daily lives and in the experience of our brothers and sisters. It is not just my listening but our listening together for the Lord’s word to the community. (Fulfilled in Your Hearing, #20)
Although there is no set time for a homily’s length, about ten to twelve minutes on this Sunday in Ordinary Time seems best for both homilists and listeners. And the homilists know it takes time to prepare a well-focused ten- to twelve-minute homily.
After a minute or so of silence, after the homily, five catechumens (who hope to be called to Baptism next Easter) and seven candidates (who on Easter will be welcomed into full communion) are dismissed to continue studying the Scriptures. Two catechists go with them. The assembly sees these people week after week for a year or more. They are very much a part of this parish community.
The Creed is a loud, almost mighty sound, chant-like (like?…how about Credo in Unum Deum, chanted aloud?). Few need the text as the rhythm carries it along. Then the Liturgy of the Word comes to its conclusion in prayerful intercession. No longer is there a dull reading of bland texts with a weak “Lord, hear our prayer/Te lo pedimos Señor” after each. Today the cantor chants the intercessions. The texts are short and strong. Only a few are written new each week, and these echo some image or notion from the day’s Scriptures and the week’s news. The assembly is engaged in this rhythmic exchange with the cantor. One would have to believe that these people regularly pray in their homes for the world and the Church, for the sick and the dead. The back and forth of cantor and assembly shows that this parish is standing together before the Lord and demanding to be heard.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist
Everyone sits down to recollect themselves and to focus their attention on the table of the Lord (Eastern Catholic thought, while acceptable, a reminder you’re Latin Catholic Biship, who should say something like altar), which is now reverently prepared with the plate of bread, the cup (it’s not dinnerweare) and a large flagon of wine (Rome said to stop this, and you didn’t listen, figures…No flagons for Mass, period…Review Redemptonis Sacramentum). Nothing distracts from the power of the bread and wine in their simple vessels (what power>, the consecration hasn’t happened yet.). Last Sunday the choir sang, but today all keep silent as the table is prepared. Ushers pass baskets. More than once over the past years the homilists have talked about almsgiving in the Catholic tradition, for both the Church and the poor. These have been homilies, not “money talks,” when the Scriptures or something else in the day’s liturgy suggested that the assembly consider its mission, its responsibilities, and what it means to trust God. The parish bulletin regularly prints financial information to support both aspects of the parish’s mission, caring for the poor and for the Church. Writing a check or coming up with cash is a vital liturgical deed in the root meaning of liturgy, a work done by people on behalf of the larger community. (CCC: 1070)
Selected members of the assembly then bring the gifts of the assembly in procession to the presider who receives them in thanksgiving as the personal sacrificial offerings of the people of God. (CCC: 1350, 1351)
After the Prayer over the Gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer begins. Here we are at the center of Catholic praying and that center is Eucharistic. The presider gives the ancient summons to “lift up your hearts” and to give the Lord praise and thanks. The dialogue is chanted — strongly, loudly, and back and forth to make clear that what is about to happen needs the full and active participation of everyone (again, full participation isn’t always done by external gestures). The presider’s posture and gestures invoke such participation, the way his voice does in dialogue and proclamation.
This participation in the Eucharistic Prayer has been the greatest change at Our Lady of the Angels. The parish always worked for good singing and good lectors. But the Eucharistic Prayer was a kind of orphan. People said, “We lift them up to the Lord,” and sang the “Holy, Holy (You mean Sanctus).” But for years no one could have told you anything about the Eucharistic Prayer except that “the priest does the consecration.” Now the parishioners can talk about the experience of standing and singing God’s praise together; they can see how much their lives need to be filled with thanksgiving; and they recognize that their presence to one another at this table (again with the table reference, we’re not Eastern Catholics) witnesses to the breadth of the Church in place and in time, a holy communion. They can talk about solidarity with one another across all dividing lines (not during the cosnecration of course right?). They can talk about sacrifice and the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection that is remembered and realized here in a powerful shaping of their own lives. Above all, they can talk about the way the Holy Spirit is invoked to transform these gifts and themselves. And so they are talking about the presence of Christ in the simple gifts of bread and wine, and in the mystery that is this Church. (CCC: 1352-1354)
Great mystery is conveyed in the faces and postures, singing and silence, gesture and word. Everyone is attentive, bodies engaged as much as hearts. It is clearly the central moment of this Lord’s Day gathering. Over the altar and the gifts of bread and wine, all God’s saving deeds are remembered, all is held up in praise of God, all is asked of God. The Catholic sensibility to sacrament, to the presence of God, is never more joyous, never more challenging. We need to take care in our thinking and in our language: When we say “Eucharist,” we mean this whole action of presider and assembly. That is the Eucharist whose grace and powerful mystery can transform us and, in us, the world. (CCC: 1368)
The presider chants most of the Prayer and the refrains are the same most Sundays of the year, sung to music capable of carrying the liturgy week after week. The exchange between presider and assembly is seamless, as proclamation and acclamation are woven together. The Prayer takes only four or five minutes, but in its intensity it is clearly the center of this Sunday gathering. As was said long ago, the Church makes the Eucharist (quick correction, the Church doesn’t make the Euchairst, the Holy Spirit does when He is envoked by the Priest and says the words of consecration) and the Eucharist makes the Church (This part is true however). And that is what we take part in on a Sunday morning. No wonder that when the great “Amen” is concluded, one can sense a collective sigh (why would there be a sighing when you’ve participated in Calvary made present?), a deep breath.
The chanting of the Our Father (Pater Noster, qui es in caelis….) then carries the assembly toward Holy Communion. The peace greeting is not long or protracted, but it is anything but perfunctory. People seem to look each other in the eye. They clasp hands firmly or embrace (No, holding hands, kumbaya, please). As the presider raises a large piece of the consecrated bread to break it, the cantor begins the litany “Lamb of God/Cordero de Dios (Agnus Dei)” that will carry us until the bread is all broken (3 verses, as specified in the rubrics), the consecrated wine all poured into the communion cups (not made of glass right? and quit refering to them as dinnerware), “God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people.”
Holy Communion is a procession (yeah, becuase at this Church, thre doesn’t exist a Catholic Identty since you wreckovated it, and didn’t have altar rails installed) at Our Lady of the Angels, a practice parishioners have worked hard to bring about. Two years ago, row by row, from the front to the back, people lined up for communion (yet Confession lines are so short). During Eastertime the homilists talked — and after Mass so did many people — about what the Communion time means. The key was unfolding the wonder and thanksgiving Catholics feel toward the Body of Christ — the consecrated bread and wine, and the Church. Both have the same name. What does it mean when the Body of Christ comes forward to receive the Body of Christ? (You frustrate me Cardinal, Catholicism isn’t about what you feel) The sense of a Church in procession has somehow replaced the feeling of individuals lining up. For example, the first to come forward are no longer those in the front pew; rather, the people in the back pews begin the procession so that the whole room seems to be surrounded by a procession of people. Here is a Church partaking of the sacred banquet (Back to front?, It seems like you want the focus on the people instead of where it rightfully belongs on God! I can’t wait till Feb 27, 2011).
The invitation to Communion, “This is the Lamb of God,” and the assembly’s response are followed immediately by the beginning of the Communion procession song. At this point, the procession is moving — that is, the ministers of Communion (EOMHC’s please) are at the Communion stations (what is this, it soulds like a lack of regard for the Euchairst, Communion “stations” again, this would be elimnated with intinction) beginning the Communion of the assembly.
The ordinary and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist this Sunday represent the diversity of the community: women and men (women being ordinary minsters of Holy Communion? but this is impossible, since the Church has no possibility to ordain women….and while I’m at it, because of this fact, should women really be serving on the altar?, you wouldn’t have need for EOMHC’s if you had altar rails, and intinction), young and old, of different races, backgrounds and circumstances. They are in no hurry and neither is the assembly. Yet there seem to be enough of them that the procession can keep moving while each individual is treated with reverence (I don’t need reverence): Ministers look each person in the eye and say, without rushing, “The Body of Christ/El Cuerpo de Cristo (Corpus Christi),” “The Blood of Christ/La Sangre de Cristo (Sangris Christi).” Each person has time to respond, “Amen.” The ministers, also without hurrying, then place the Body of Christ in the hand (hand should not have been listed first as this is not the norm of the Universal Church, the US only has Communion in the Hand by indult, tongue first) or on the tongue, and give over the Blood of Christ (give over, what, do you want to keep it for yourself? You mean to say something else, I don’t want to use the word distribute, as it’d be like packeging company, when I think of it, i’ll let you know).
The song that is sung throughout is good for processing: No one needs to carry the printed words because only six or seven songs are used at communion throughout the year. They fit the movement and the moment. Each is sung often enough to be familiar, and each has a melody and words that flourish with repetition. This Sunday’s single Communion song continues until presider and assembly sit down after all have taken Holy Communion.
It took some years before most of the assembly received the Blood of Christ as well as the Body of Christ. Perhaps the spirit of invitation did it, a spirit that recognizes how this drink from the cup of consecrated wine is needed by each of us in our thirst, how this drinking complements the eating of the consecrated bread. Eventually the assembly began to hear the simple words: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it. . . . (You never understood the Theology behind why only the priest in the Latin Rite used to drink from the Chalice and not the faithful, did you?..and to answer your question Cardinal, a spirit of disobedience allowed it to happen, not a spirit of inviation)
Perhaps because the assembly at Our Lady of the Angels has clearly discovered how to make the Eucharistic Prayer so conscious and intense, the whole of their Communion Rite is compelling — from the Lord’s Prayer to the silent and still time after all have received. People are intent on the hard work of liturgy, caught up in singing, procession and even silence. To be with them is to know deeply that we are the Body and Blood of Christ. To be with them is to learn how to be in this world with reverence, with a love of God that is incarnate in how we speak to others, how we move amidst the holiness of matter and of time.
We must capture again the great power of silence within our Sunday liturgies. Too often the impression has been given that properly celebrated liturgy must be filled with sounds: prayer, song, speech–regarding silence as a vacuum to be avoided at all costs (reverential silence is never a bad thing, yes as i’ve said, full particiation isn’t always with gestures). But we have come to learn that we all need the gift of silence throughout liturgy in order to help us enter more fully and deeply into the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The silence and the stillness in the church become a wondrous mixture of personal and communal prayer.
Above all, Our Lady of the Angels has learned that the steady experience of a participatory ritual can carry the Church Sunday to Sunday. People do not want to be entertained and passive. They want to become energized in the hard but delightful work of liturgy, praising and thanking God, remembering the liberating deeds of God, interceding for all the world. These desires are most clear when people enter into the spirit of the Eucharistic Prayer and share in the Paschal Banquet. What a witness to the Spirit-inspired work of Vatican II (In actuality, Vatican II Mass was the Tridentine Mass)!
Taking Leave
At Our Lady of the Angels this Sunday the announcements are a transition from the final quiet and peace of the Communion to the sending forth. The various activities of the week are announced, then all stand and the presider prays the blessing and the dismissal. A concluding song leads to much visiting and to the procession out. I mean the true procession of this Church: one, two, and five at a time going back to neighborhoods and homes, roles and jobs, studies and waiting. But Sunday by Sunday the world is here being transformed in Christ!
Visiting Our Lady of the Angels Parish
I have tried to describe what makes Our Lady of the Angels parish breathe and exercise its life in Christ. The description had to be detailed to give the whole content. I have not outlined how I want liturgy to look in every parish of our Archdiocese three years from now. Look first for the texture. The details are important because care for details matters greatly in liturgy, but these are the details of Our Lady of the Angels. The details at your parish will differ — but each parish should intend to have this beauty and intensity each Sunday.
From Here to There
“How could I survive without Sunday Mass in my parish? I have to be there with my parish on Sundays. I am needed!” That must be what Sunday obligation is about for us, and that is what I hope Catholic life can be like as we urgently process in this renewal.
I want to kindle a passion for a vital Sunday Liturgy in every parish of our Archdiocese. And I will support the various ways to do that by taking responsibility for providing training and supporting leadership (If this means promoting lay leadership and diminishing vocations, congratulations). Enthusiasm for this work, a blessing of the Holy Spirit, must be immense.
I will, both personally and through the agencies of the Archdiocese, ensure that the priests and others who are responsible for the parish liturgy receive what they need to lead toward such vital liturgy.
But one thing must come from you, the people of the parishes. Please give every kind of encouragement to your priests to use the opportunities we provide for formation in liturgy. Priests must know that the people of their parishes believe that this is time and money well spent, and that their parishioners want the following which can only come from their pastors:
Better presiding: How can priests be better in their role at the Sunday liturgy? (Quick answer: stop celebrating Masses Ad Entertainem)
Better preaching: How can priests improve the content and the delivery of the homily on Sunday? (Quit talking about your vacations and start talking about the Word of God)
Better leadership: how can priests themselves be leaders and work confidently with other parish leaders in bringing the whole parish toward the kind of Sunday Liturgy I have described?
The first two are specific, and we will provide ongoing help of various kinds, in both areas.
The third, however, is what we have lacked, yet it is a most critical factor in a deeply rooted renewal of the liturgy. Better leadership would include the following:
teaching about the liturgy;
preaching that takes seriously the assembly’s experience of the liturgy and builds up that experience; and
above all, seeking in the liturgy one’s deeply Catholic spirituality and the very shape of a Catholic life.
I ask you to support your priests as we focus on such matters in these next few years. This becomes more complex when we face the decreasing number of ordained priests and the number of parishes that have up to a dozen Sunday Masses in overcrowded spaces. There are no simple solutions, but these circumstances cannot be a reason to delay the renewal of the liturgy. In many parishes a first step would be a staff position for a parish liturgy director. Approaching this goal by clustering or twinning parishes might be more effective (due to the lack of vocations in your archdiocese, of course you’d say this here). Such a staff position should not further segregate the various parish activities (school, religious education, outreach), but can be the occasion for a breakthrough in cooperation and understanding of how the liturgy is the concern and the life of the entire staff.
As formation of the clergy toward better presiding, preaching and leadership takes place, you will be challenged to do what only you, the baptized members of the parish, can and must do if we are to fulfill the vision of Vatican II (Vatican II did call for more lay involvement, but not to the point that you’re doing Cardinal). I would ask you to think of your own involvement in the following ways:
1.Your Right, Your Duty.
Come on Sunday knowing your dignity: in Baptism, you put on Christ. You are the Body of Christ. Vatican II, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, said that “full, conscious and active participation by all the faithful” was the “right and the duty” of all the faithful because of their Baptism. (#14)
It has taken more than three decades for those profound insights to take hold (No, this thought has always been there). Most of us were satisfied to look for something less than what was intended: We were happy when a parish had good singing, and when lector and Communion ministries were done well.
But good singing and good ministry are not enough. You who are baptized have duties that are wrapped up in that kind of participation the Council called “full,” “conscious” and “active.” When we consider the Sunday Liturgy at Our Lady of the Angels in 2000, we can form some working notions of each of those qualities.
“Full” participation brings us to the liturgy, body and soul, with all our might. It begins long before the liturgy in making sure that Sunday Mass is not just one more thing on our “must do” list. The people of Our Lady of the Angels let the time of liturgy be first. They do not just keep the time of Mass from disruptions; they give it room in their lives. They have some good habits: perhaps looking over the Scriptures, or fasting until Mass, or not distracting themselves in the early hours of Sunday. They come to Mass mindful of their responsibility — to themselves, one another, and God. Because they want the priest, choir and lector to prepare, they know that they too must prepare to be good members of the assembly.
“Full” participation also means that a baptized person does not mentally weave in and out of the liturgy. Our duty is not just to be present; our duty is to be fully present. The songs are for singing, the Scriptures for listening, the silence for reflecting, the intercessions for pleading, the Eucharistic Prayer for immense thanksgiving, the Communion for every kind of hunger and thirst satisfied in partaking together of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the dismissal for going out to love the world the way God does.
In addition, our participation is to be “conscious.” We must enter with great openness into the chant and song, the processions and gestures, the words and silences of the liturgy. “Conscious” participation is opening every part of ourselves — body, mind and spirit — to what we do at the liturgy. We stand consciously and with attention. If we reach out our hands to the Body and Blood of Christ, we do so with grace, mindful of our hunger and the world’s hunger, and of God’s goodness.
Another way to be “conscious” at the liturgy is to be aware of our Baptism. We come on the Lord’s Day to the table of the Eucharist because we have been through the waters of Baptism. Because we died to our old selves and became alive in Christ, we gather on Sunday, not as isolated persons, but as the Church, with its diversity of cultures, languages, and races. This is difficult for those accustomed to think of themselves as autonomous individuals — workers, taxpayers, citizens. But here, the liturgy is celebrated by the assembled Church.
Cultivate, then, your deep awareness that it is not so many individuals who are standing here singing, but the Church. It is not individuals who are coming forward to the table, but the Church. It is not even individuals who are going forth to live by the Word they have listened to and the Body and Blood of Christ they have eaten and tasted. It is the Church going forth as a leaven in the midst of the world God loves. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the whole renewal.
“Active (is not even used in the council writings, as it would have said participa activa, not participia actuosa)” is the third quality of the Baptized person’s participation. Please do not see “active” as the opposite of “contemplative.” Some of our activity at liturgy is contemplation. Part of the genius of the Roman Rite is that it presumes a beauty on which our spirits can feast. If we have too often seen “active” as “busy,” consider the liturgy at Our Lady of the Angels and see the wealth of silence, as well as the powerful reading of Scripture, and preaching and singing of psalms to engage our contemplation.
“Active” participation also calls us to attend to others (Again, we’re not the focus of Liturgy, God is, and because of this when you have an interior participation, you’re called to Sursum Corda (Lift up your hearts) to the Lord by uniting your prayers with that of the priest), to a kind of presence. This is crucial to what Catholic liturgy is all about (read above comment Cardinal). Such attention to others has at least two manifestations.
First, we are here not to make our own prayer while each other person in the church at the same time makes his or her own prayer (We are each to unite our prayers with those of the priest. It’s not time for private devotions, this thought is correct, but we unite the prayers that the priest are saying, we say them with him, and this is how we interioraly particpate). We are Baptized people standing with other Baptized people. Our thanksgiving is in the Church’s thanksgiving. Our attention to God’s Word is in the assembly’s attention. Our intercession is in the Church’s intercession. The mystery of our transfiguration in Christ is in the whole body of Baptized people transfigured. (CCC:1136-1141)
To create solidarity, be attentive to where you take your place and set a good example. Go as close as possible to the Eucharistic table (You mean to say Altar). Go to the middle of the pew and sit next to somebody and make room for others next to you (I like the end of the pew personaly). The Body of Christ has to be visible, audible, tangible. Pope John Paul II recently called for bishops to attend to the quality of the signs by which the liturgy takes place, and he stressed that “the first sign is that of the assembly itself. . . Everyone’s attitude counts, for the liturgical assembly is the first image the church gives.” (March 8 1997 Address to the French Bishops)
Second, “active” participation means the awareness that at liturgy, we never close out the larger world. The liturgy shows us Gospel living and how to be in the world. Catholic morality, how we deal in justice and charity day by day with great and small matters, is to be encountered and uncovered from our active participation in the liturgy.
2. Ministries.
The liturgy at Our Lady of the Angels parish in the summer of 2000 has no ministries that we do not have now. This is an area where the Churches in our country have taken the renewal of Vatican II to heart. It is clear that many ministries are best done by members of the assembly who have the talents and training to do them well.
The core of ministry is the assembly: The ministers I imagine at Our Lady of the Angels have been and continue to be exemplary assembly members in their full, conscious and active participation. These people understand what it means to step forward and proclaim a reading, minister Holy Communion (EOMHC’s), or sing in the choir. Parishes might set a limit on the number of years a person serves in a ministry, asking that each person take off a year after four or five years in a single ministry (eh, if you love serving, I say continue doing it). This limit would refresh people in their primary role as assembly members.
The best floor plans manifest the entire assembly as the body enacting this liturgy (no, the best floor plans are those whose centrality is on God physically present in the tabernacle), so that the ministers come from the assembly rather than sit as a separate group (they’re set apart, as they are serving on the altar). Many of us remember living with an understanding that the liturgy was simply the work of a priest. Now we have begun to grasp in what way the assembled Church, the Body of Christ, celebrates the liturgy together with the presider. What, then, is the ministry of the ordained priest at Sunday Mass?
In our Catholic tradition, the one who is called by the Church to the order of priest is to be in the local parish community as the presence of the bishop. The bishop remains always for us in a direct relationship with every parish of the Diocese (and you’re supposed to be in Union with Rome, but I question that a lot). He is also our bond with the Catholic Church through the world and the Church of all the ages. But the bishop, since the early centuries of the Church, has laid hands on other worthy members of the Church and sent them to be his presence with the scattered communities. On Sunday, the one who presides, the ordained priest, comes not only as other ministers do, from the assembly, but comes as the one who “orders” this assembly, who relates this assembly to the bishop and to the larger Church. True to our Catholic soul, we understand our Church bonds to be more flesh and blood than theory and theology. Here, in this human being, is our bond with the bishop and with the other communities throughout the world and the centuries.
3. Steps You Can Take.
I will be asking priests and others in leadership to begin preparing themselves and the parishes to make much progress by the year 2000 in our Sunday Liturgy. Here are several habits that each church going Catholic can begin to cultivate that will bring us together into a life-giving liturgical practice Sunday after Sunday.
Become people who worship in the midst of the Sunday Liturgy.Know which Gospel and New Testament letters we are currently reading on Sundays, and use these for daily reading. Bring to the prayer of intercession on Sunday all that you pray for; take from it persons to be remembered daily by you; when you hear the news of the community and the world, hear it as a Christian who must in prayer lift up the world’s needs. Mark with prayer your morning rising and your evening going to bed: the Lord’s Prayer certainly, but also some song or psalm from the songs and psalms of Sunday Liturgy in your parish.
Become people who prepare themselves for Sunday Liturgy and people for whom Sunday Liturgy is preparation for the week.Seek little ways that can help you make the Lord’s Day as much as possible a day when liturgy has room. Find some habit for Sunday morning that helps you anticipate being together as a Church to do the liturgy. Find just one steady practice that makes you stretch toward the Reign of God we glimpse at Mass: It might be a way to make more real the collection that happens on Sunday for the Church and the poor; extending the peace of Christ that you receive each Sunday to others in need of that peace; or fasting from food or distractions and so becoming thoroughly hungry for God’s Word and the Eucharistic banquet. In ethnic communities we find many examples of practices that resonate with the Sunday Liturgy, such as the blessing of children that is so much to be praised in Hispanic families.
At the Liturgy, be the Church. Know the awesome responsibility you share for making this liturgy! Do not hide; do your private praying in the other hours of the week. Welcome one another, be at peace with one another. Sit together. Sing songs from your heart. Do not be afraid to show in your eager attention that you are hungry for God’s Word when the readers read, hungry for Christ’s Body and Blood when you come forward in Holy Communion. Give thanks and praise to God by your great attention in the Eucharistic Prayer. Keep your eyes open to one another and do everything you can to build up the Church, the Body of Christ. If the presider or homilist needs help, do not criticize – help (not if he’s being heretical).
Apart from the Liturgy, be the Church. Remember we are always the Body of Christ, always in communion with one another. Know that you can ask for help from one another. Let others know that. In the simplest deeds of daily life at work or at home, be conscious of this life we share in Christ, of its joy and its hope. Do not set yourself as separate from others, but understand that we who are the Church are one with others. In us, God is calling and blessing and sanctifying the world God loves. Look at the liturgy as a remote preparation for your week. Listening to God’s Word on Sunday morning is preparation for the listening we do for God’s Word in our lives all week. The thanks we proclaim at the Eucharistic Prayer is a preparation for thanks over all tables and all meals, and also over all. The common table of Holy Communion is a preparation for looking at the whole world (quit with the Protestant Theology).
Give thanks always. Pray grace at meals even when you are alone in the traditional prayer of “Bless us, O Lord,” or a phrase as simple as “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God; it is right to give thanks and praise!” Sing when you are with others at table. If your morning and night prayer is not permeated with praise and thanks to God, enrich it with verses of psalms and prayers from our tradition. (For example, “We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory,” “Te bendecimos, te adoramos, te glorificamos, te demos gracias por tu santa gloria.” Or, “Blessed be God for ever!” “Bendito seas por siempre Señor.” Or any or all of Psalm 148.) Cultivate moments of contemplation even during the busiest day, when gratitude can flow from the goodness of a person, any element of creation, or any good work of human making.

Part II coming tonight after I go to the Legion of Mary


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