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Friday, February 4, 2011


Let's make the liturgy a little less wordy

An editorial from the author of Lector's Notes
It's the not so humble opinion of this writer
[of Lector's Notes,  ]
that we talk too much at worship.
Before you even get to [any] proposed Scripture introductions, your assembly will have heard a minimum of 270 words, not counting any hymns or ad lib calls to worship, calls to penance, etc.

As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said about modern architecture, "Less is more."
We risk letting The Word of God get lost among many, many other words, in the hearing of our people. That's why [my] introductions to the readings are so terse.

Some spots where you're likely to find superfluous words:
  • Redundant greetings, like both "Good morning" and "The grace of our Lord Jesus, ...
  • Directions to stand, sit, etc., when a hand gesture, or no direction at all, will do
  • "The second reading is a reading from the first letter ..." instead of simply, "A reading from ..."
  • Explanations of ritual gestures that really speak for themselves
  • Those preachy petitions at the general intercessions
  • Post-communion announcements that duplicate what's printed in your bulletin
November, 2006

Since Greg and I have discussed liturgy with each other for decades, it is not surprising that I find his words to be in agreement with my thoughts. On the other hand, I would not be in favor of adding introductions to the readings.

However, he is right on target to say that the most significant words of our liturgies can get lost if they are scattered among crowds of other words.

Here is an exercise for you to try. Find the shortest version of your denominational service of the Eucharist. You can use either a printed service text and marker or you can download and edit your denomination's service on your computer. If underlining or highlighting text, mark only those words which absolutely must be said. If editing, delete everything, all directions and headings and any optional texts, which is not absolutely required to be said. Be sure to exclude things you usually say but are not required to be said.
What you have left are the minimum number of words for your rite.

For the presider, the second part of the exercise is to study and rehearse each word, phrase, and sentence of this minimal Mass text.

First, to whom are these words addressed? How does that answer affect where you look, your expression, your posture and gesture(s)?

Second, are these particular words declarative, imperative, or interrogative?

Third, do these words guide the service, proclaim or recall faith or Scripture, offer praise, seek forgiveness, give thanks, or make a petition?

Fourth, how does each word, phrase, and sentence relate to or differ from the ones preceding or following them?

Fifth, what else about these words should affect how one decides to say them?

Having studied the words of the service, and decided how one wants to say them, the presider must rehearse them, aloud, in the worship space, with or without helpful commenters. Remember, these are the well considered words of the church; they are not the presider's own words in the presider's own style. How one decides in quiet study to speak certain words will not always be comfortable in practice.

If you are a presider for Eucharist, consider the idea of using only the minimal number of words in addition to your preaching for a few weeks.

You can do this for Lent or Advent. You could do this for the beginning of Ordinary Time as part of a process of gradual parish liturgical renewal, with this reduction followed by a slow, thoughtful, and preached explanation of every tiny element added as time progresses.

Most Sunday services could benefit from both fewer words and better prepared words if the words of worship are not to get lost among all the words around them.

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