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Friday, April 15, 2011


When we turn from the ends desired for Sunday Mass, which are listed in previous blogs, to the means, as shown in several categories below, some respondents had very specific items which they want included in Roman Catholic Masses. 

For many items there is likely to be broad agreement when stated generally, but there would be a great deal of disagreement based on tastes and interpretations. There would also be some questions regarding how relevant local circumstances and the composition of the immediate congregation were to defining quality, beauty, and other such generally accepted terms. 

Finally there are areas [shown in brackets below like these] where those interested in the wondrous and those focused on the communal would almost always disagree.


  • humility,
  • reverence,


  • architecture, art, vestments, music, language
    -of high quality,
    -connected to tradition, and
    -well done regardless of style
  • a sanctuary easily visible to the congregation.
  • a spotless church


  • periodic pauses significant enough to be felt,
    silence that punctuate each action, each reading, each prayer
  • allowing space for the congregation to take in the words and make the prayers their own
  • a nice long silence after communion
  • [everything takes a long time]
  • liturgy to be done by the books but done well and with care.
  • follows all the rules in a creative and energetic way,
  • the Mass to be prayed reverently, but naturally and without a lot of self consciousness
  • [no ad libbing]
  • naturalness in the liturgical action and a general lack of pomp and theatricality; the purposefulness and reverence balanced with a sense that the Mass is the most natural thing for the people of God to be doing rather than a theatrical performance.
  • continuity between congregation and ministers, so that everyone is part of the sacred action and feels that they are.
  • attentiveness from servers, musicians, lectors, communion ministers, clergy.


  • good posture and articulate movement
  • gestures which are large, slow, and deliberate.
  • processions take a long time
  • well blocked/choreographed
  • [no liturgical dancing.]


  • Scripture proclaimed from the heart
  • carefully prepared and vigorous but not dramatic proclamation of scripture
  • Scriptures easily audible.
  • a lector who proclaims the scriptures in a way that touches my heart.
  • readers who are well prepared and formed to proclaim the readings
  • readers who read expressively in a way that betrays their own personal encounter not just with the words but with The Word


  • cantillation (chanting)
  • everything to be sung, including the propers as well as hymns for the people
  • well sung: hearty, vigorous, with conscious meaning,
  • fine music
  • musicians who understand that music is truly the servant of the liturgy and so don’t seek to overpower the assembly and the ministers
  • a choir that doesn’t think of itself as leading the assembly in song but as part of the assembly itself
  • no one waving their hands or telling people they didn’t respond loud enough.


  • true welcome shown to every member of the assembly
  • sincere, warm welcome to those who come to church alone; the elderly, young single adults
  • active and heartfelt responses to greetings and invitations throughout the liturgy
  • audible, purposeful participation in song, prayer and dialogues
  • [concentration on the word of God in proclamation, eyes up, not in books]
  • people sitting near each other, in the same area, if the church is not full
  • active participation that is first internally contemplative and then vocal
  • attention to the word of God proclaimed and preached
  • joyful participation in hymns, aided by choir and instrumentalists (organist)
  • the people to sing/say the dialogues that pertain to them
  • worshipers who seem engaged through their posture, their visage, their singing & praying, their listening, their offering, and their partaking of Holy Communion.


  • priest reads the prayers as if he has prayed them himself
  • spoken prayers are read so sincerely that we all think they are the priest's own words.”
  • priest who is obviously directing prayer to God in a way that is personal (as opposed to formal or officious)
  • a priest who understands that presiding in persona Christi does not preclude him from being present to God and to the assembly as who he really is. I have always found the notion that priests must lay their “personalities” aside as bizarre.


  • homily easily audible.
  • inspired preaching
  • homilist who can make Jesus’ words come alive for me. Right here, right now.
  • homilies that are brief, but relevant and to the point
  • homilies that connect the scripture to the daily lives of regular people, to our fears and challenges, to the problems in our local community that we must deal with in a Christian way
  • thoughtful, Scriptural, challenging preaching.
  • Scripture explained with heart


  • servers at least age of 13
  • servers over 9
  • clean and crisp looking server garb
  • [altar servers wear the traditional black and white.]
  • [servers vested in clean and neat albs.]


  • fresh flowers
  • incense
  • [Gothic vestments and deacons in dalmatics. ]
  • [a Eucharistic minister who takes time to let me bow before receiving the Eucharist]
  • language in the Prayer of the Faithful that uses rich and poetic images for God.
  • well composed prayers of the faithful, with invitation for petitions or names from the congegation.
  • [priest faces the people. (Prayers are addressed up and out, to God). ]
  • [priest and people face the same direction like we are all in this together]
  • [“ad Deum/ad orientem” posture of the celebrant after receiving the offertory]
  • [the Ordinary Form is used]
  • [language in the liturgy which recognizes that both men and women are in attendance]
  • [bells, especially at the elevation]
  • [keep the sanctuary lights dim prior to Mass to encourage silence and prayer.]
  • [the significant presence of an altar crucifix]
  • [no distracting altar crucifix DURING MASS]
  • [Mass in Latin]
  • [Mass in the local language]
  • [the exchange of the peace as a critical moment of the liturgical action.]


One conclusion which I would draw from the lists of things we want from Sunday Mass is that I see two main lines of thought which are mislabeled to call them traditional and progressive. Though these labels are commonly used, they do not express very well the desired objectives or approaches to Roman Catholic liturgy.

WONDROUS: If one thinks that the sole or even the main objective of liturgy is to evoke and worship the divine as distinct from the human, then one forms or judges a liturgical service with certain characteristics. These favor expressing and supporting what is wondrous in the liturgy.

COMMUNAL: If one thinks that the sole or main objective of liturgy is to gather together Christians for instruction and strengthening, then one forms or judges a liturgical service with other characteristics. These favor expressing and supporting what is communal in the liturgy.

Each attitude mis-characterizes the other to label them progressive or traditional. Granted that both sides are sincere about the many values of liturgy, one does not merely want constant “progress,” nor does the other merely want some particular “tradition”.

Each attitude is taken to the extreme when it entirely rejects the values of the other in favor of focusing exclusively on its own priorities.


The second set of priorities from the Pray Tell survey seem to aim the liturgy at creating a human experience of divine presence.  
They seek a strong sense of:
  • Wonder and mystery
  • The heavenly liturgy
  • Reverence for Christ in all His modes of presence
  • Closer union with Christ in the Eucharist
  • Encouragement for silence and prayer.
  • God’s wonder
  • God’s beauty
The third set of priorities seems more focused on creating an experience of Christian community.
They seek a strong sense of:
  • Strengthening faith and community
  • Naturalness in the liturgical action
  • The presider as teacher, leader, and host of the assembly.
  • A collective act rather than private piety
  • A gathered community present intentionally
  • Continuity between congregation and ministers
  • Natural reverence without self consciousness


I think I see three categories among the responses to the survey which I described in the previous blog. 

There seem to be a great number of desiderata on which all might agree which are listed below.  

There would be disagreements as to the necessary means to these ends because the selected means would depend a great deal on which of the other two categories of ends one favored.  I see those two lists as being focused on distinguishable priorities.

Yet, in Roman Catholic liturgy, all seem to seek a sense of: 

  • Living tradition
  • Poetry in prayer and in song
  • The sacred that goes beyond mysteriousness into the heart of the matter
  • Breaking the bonds of time and space
  • Understanding and awareness of God’s love, grace and energy
  • Room for reflection and prayer.
  • Attention to the word of God proclaimed and preached
  • Quality
  • Purposefulness and focus on the work
  • Prayer obviously directed to God in a way that is personal
  • Connection between what is done as church on Sundays with what is done at home, at work, at school, and at play.
  • Connection to Jesus
  • Connection to the people around me
  • Connection to the people who came before.
  • Sincere, warm welcome to those who come to church alone
  • Connection of the scripture to the daily lives of regular people
  • Mission in the world.
  • Joyful participation in hymns
  • True welcome shown to every member of the assembly
  • Warm welcome for new worshipers or visitors.


In comments exchanged on the Pray Tell Blog

the correspondents have offered brief lists of things they “want to experience ordinarily at Sunday Mass. … positives without mentioning ... negatives” at my request. Some of the responses below are combined, but none were eliminated. These are about ends rather than means. Establishing what are the various ends can provide a basis for evaluating means in other conversations.
  • Wonder and mystery
  • A sense of living tradition
  • A sense of the heavenly liturgy
  • Reverence for Christ in all His modes of presence
  • Poetry in prayer and in song
  • A sense of the sacred that goes beyond mysteriousness into the heart of the matter
  • A “gathered” community
  • The feeling that we are all here together, intentionally
  • A celebration that seems to break the bonds of time and space
  • A deepening understanding and awareness of God’s love, grace and energy
  • Closer union with Christ in the Eucharist
  • Strengthen faith and community
  • The celebrating priest or bishop as teacher and leader of the assembly and its host.
  • True welcome shown to every member of the assembly
  • A collective act rather than a place for private piety
  • Room for reflection and prayer.
  • Naturalness in the liturgical action and a general lack of pomp and theatricality
  • Attention to the word of God proclaimed and preached
  • Quality rather than any specific form
  • A sense of purposefulness and focus on the work
  • Continuity between congregation and ministers
  • Our very best
  • A foretaste of the Paschal feast of heaven
  • Encourage silence and prayer.
  • Prayer obviously directed to God in a way that is personal
  • Connection between what is done as church on Sundays with what is done at home, at work, at school, and at play.
  • A sense of God’s wonder
  • A sense of God’s beauty
  • A connection to Jesus
  • Connection to the people around me
  • Connection to the people who came before.
  • Reverently, but naturally, without self consciousness
  • Sincere, warm welcome to those who come to church alone
  • Connect the scripture to the daily lives of regular people
  • A sense of mission in the world.
  • Warm welcoming of new worshipers or visitors.
  • Joyful participation in hymns

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Recent liturgical studies have shown that there have almost always been great differences between rural Italian and Roman liturgies up to and through the Renaissance.
Papal liturgies were emulated in urban cathedrals, but, despite Roman practices nearby, something much simpler was carried forward in the villages in the ages before printing made changing the local sacramentary simpler and less expensive. Monasteries developed various separate traditions.
Much church practice was developed in agrarian villages or small cities where everyone could walk to church. All lived and worked with the members of their worship community. They were in a single denomination reality and had little communication with any outside world. Should our differences from that affect how we come together to pray?
I think there is a great deal of difference in the USA between early 21st century suburban parishioner needs, and reasonable parish participation expectations, compared to what was reasonable for early 20th century urban parishes, much less comparing either of them to any part of pre-Renaissance Italy.
Our parochial, communal prayer can certainly borrow elements from the monastic and cathedral and papal traditions, but it is very easy to make the mistake of idealizing those strong traditions instead of looking at the actual needs and the contemporary real world in one's own time, place, economy, and social reality.
For example, monastic communities are excellent places for recovery by those spiritually shipwrecked, but they do not necessarily provide a particularly useful form of prayer for those carrying on their daily business at sea. The monastic or hermetic life appeal to particular personality types, too, and are not ideals for everyone, just as celibacy is a particular calling not appropriate to the majority of people.
This is not to reject monasticism or its productive history or its practical examples. Instead, it is to ask whether any parish should take that particular pattern for building its own community or seek some other pattern.
To find other patterns, look at the document on liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium. Instead of a monastic or a cathedral liturgy, in fourteen places it calls for all present to participate fully, participate consciously, and participate actively. This blog is about figuring how to implement that insight in practical ways within the rules of our various Christian denominations.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Have you used your Lent well in preparing for participation in Christianity's High Holy Days?

We Christians, as do all religions, have many holy days of various importance.  We do not designate a few continuous days as our High Holy Days, but we do have three days in a row which ought to be dedicated specifically to prayer and religious remembrance. 

These Three Days, the Triduum, begin with the Solemn commemoration of the Lord's Supper in the Jerusalem upper room on Thursday, the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal and trials of Jesus over night.  On Friday was the presentation to Pilate and to Herod and the Praetorian Guard with their crown of thorns, red robe, and the injuries from heavy whipping.  There finally was a Roman decree of death, the march to the execution site, the nailing to the cross with torture and taunting.  Jesus died, was stabbed, and hurriedly buried.  By early Sunday morning the body of Jesus was gone, and angels were telling the Marys to tell the followers of Jesus that he had gone to the Father and would return to them as he had explained ahead of time. 

What have you done to be ready to attend all these services when we remind ourselves of the most important events of our salvation by Jesus?

Have you arranged for all to be off school and work on Friday and Saturday and not be late for the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Thursday?  Do you have simple heat and serve meals planned so that you can fit them in around the services?  Has your family agreed to avoid entertainment and news for these fifty hours from Holy Thursday through the Easter Vigil in the dark on Saturday night?

Have you cleaned and selected your clothes to wear for the services?  Please plan on wearing some long sleeved white shirt or coat for the Vigil, so that the newly baptized can see the army in white garments which they will be joining after their baths of salvation. 

Plan to get all your Easter shopping done before Thursday.  If you have to order things for pick up for the Sunday dinner, do the ordering early in the week and try to schedule the actual pick up on Sunday when the main services of the High Holy Days are complete. 

Get all that house cleaning, laundry, and yard work done before Thursday night.  Get all tasks and chores done before then.  Be ready to be focused on our High Holy Days.

Finally, plan what else you are going to do to make Friday and Saturday holy instead of boring times.  Do you want to take a meditative walk, visit other churches, go to the cathedral, make the Way of the Cross in a garden, cemetery, or church?  Would you like to read the different versions of the Passion and Death of Jesus in the four Gospels?

If fasting is an effective spiritual exercise for you, it might be of interest that the entire Lenten fast began with fasting while remembering the time Jesus was dead, from mid-afternoon Friday until after midnight on Saturday or dawn on Sunday.  Fasting might be more meaningful for you if you are aware of its origin in fasting in the absence of Jesus.

Perhaps you would like to use the notes in your Bible and examine the passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which are related to the Passion and Death of Jesus, the various prophecies and psalms.  Maybe you would find Friday and Saturday good times to do simple versions of the Liturgy of the Hours, morning [Lauds], midday [None], evening[Vespers] , and bedtime [Compline] prayers.

Certainly craft projects and outdoor play time are appropriate for children.  Braiding the Palm Sunday palms is traditional.  Boiling and simple egg dyeing while soaking can be time for talking about why we use eggs at Easter to remind us of life coming from a closed cave.

However you want to spend your Triduum time, please plan ahead, so you can be calm, focused, and recollected, able to focus on the words of the service, sing the songs, make the responses, experience the messages and the remembering without the distractions of other things to do during those High Holy Days of Christianity.