A More Robust Liturgy – More Discussion

Last week, I posted a link to my recently published article, 7 Steps to a More Robust Liturgy, in Ministry and Liturgy Magazine. I received an excellent response from Jeffrey Pinyan, author of Praying the Mass. The reason I consider it excellent is not because he agrees with everything I said (in fact, he disagrees with me on a variety of points) but because he furthers the discussion, contributes to it with well-thought-out ideas, and expresses his disagreement in a respectful tone which is much needed in the Catholic blogosphere. Thanks Jeffrey for sharing your thoughts.

What do you think of Jeffrey’s response?

Introductory Notes

What makes our celebration of the liturgy “robust”?  Can the Roman Rite be celebrated in such a way that one could describe it as “bold, dramatic, rich, deeply expressive, [and] highly energizing,” the same words used in 7 Steps to a More Robust Liturgy to describe the rituals displayed at thePolynesianCulturalCenter inHawaii?  I think it can, although Roman (Catholic) “drama” does not look the same as Polynesian “drama”, and that which is “bold” in the Roman Rite may not look “bold” in a Polynesian ritual.

Before we consider… (read Jeffrey’s article in its entirety)

About Joe Paprocki 2159 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

32 Comments on A More Robust Liturgy – More Discussion

  1. I have to admit I am torn here: I can see both sides of this issue.

    Yes, Joe, we need to do something to wake people up and to engage and attract younger people. Yes, enculturation of the Mass in many (though not all) American parishes has stagnated at a level of blandness and mediocrity that has stifled authentic creativity. Many communities seem frozen at what we were doing about 1985. Adding drums, banners or other “flashy” or surprising things would be appropriate, in my mind, only VERY occasionally – for special events, perhaps, like parish patron feasts and the like – but I would have hesitation about such at every Mass… because that, too, would become routine. Where would one go from there?

    The other issue is authenticity of enculturation. Indeed, Pope Benedict cautioned the Bishops of Brazil in his ad limina visit in April of 2010 about adding such elements to the Mass: “if the figure of Christ does not emerge from the liturgy … it is not a Christian liturgy”. This is why, he added, “we find those who, in the name of enculturation, fall into syncretism, introducing rites taken from other religions or cultural particularities into the celebration of the Mass.” http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2010/04/wonderful-words-on-true-meaning-of.html

    For the normal tenor of our Masses, parish liturgists need to dig deeper into their own faith community’s culture to find what is authentically the community’s own – and this will differ somewhat from parish to parish. Each has a different mix of ethnic groups and a different level of creative talent in the community. That difference is what will make the Mass of that community more authentic… and I agree we have gotten lazy about this and have fallen into a routine.

    I also agree with Jeffrey, however, – that the liturgy itself, done well and with a sense of great intentionality has its own inherent power to engage – and we need to look at that first before we add things. Frankly, I think most parishes have a bit of work to do in both quarters.

    • Joyce, thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion. I agree, this is not an either/or scenario. I think Jeff and I both add ideas that will challenge liturgy teams in parishes to reflect on how the liturgy is celebrated. Just a thought about the drums and Pope Benedict’s caution which is well taken. By the same token, why do we assume that the figure of Christ naturally or automatically emerges solely from organ music? (As a liturgical guitarist, I’m sure you can appreciate that prejudice!). Likewise, with drum circles increasing in popularity, can we not say that drums are slowly becoming an authentic part of the broader culture? Anyway, when all is said and done, many of my suggestions are simply ways of doing the liturgy well, but I do push the envelope, for the sake of discussion.

    • I just wanted to quickly share my experience, as a young Catholic DRE and member of young adult ministry, about the concern to attract younger people to the Liturgy, and the Church as a whole. Previous to my work as a DRE I worked as a Director of Development for Campus Ministry at a parish that prided itself on celebrating the “spirit of Vatican II”. While there I noticed that students were not interested in participating in the community because it was not engaging at their level, much to the consternation of the community. It seems that part of the problem was that the community saw itself as “contemporary”, but was realistically stuck in the 70’s.

      What I did see, though, that drew students back to Mass and participation in the community was when Litury was celebrated according to the rubrics. They were attracted to the rituals. My point is that young people see in the Liturgy something that is otherworldly and supernatural, and that is what attracts them, not what is contemporary that they can experience any other time in any other place. If the Liturgy is apportioned to merely a contemporary experience and not as the eternal wedding of heaven and earth across space and time, it loses what it is meant to be. Thus the problem with a community that is trying so hard to “relate to youth” by being stuck in a particular time or period. Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I appreciated Jeffrey’s comments because we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, just appreciate the one that was already given us.

      I often use the analogy of us being children fed by our pastors, if we get cotton candy we might enjoy the experience for a short while, but if we are fed meat and potatoes it will satisfy our hunger and nourish us.

      God bless you for the work you do Joe!

      • Jim, I hear what you’re saying. I remember once after taking our kids to Mass at a friend’s parish, my then-teenage daughter said, “That was like ‘That 70s Mass!'” I grew up in the 70s and have outgrown those days and I find it very hard to attend a Mass that is stuck in any time period. My suggestions are not about jazzing up the Mass, but taking opportunities to draw the assembly deeper into the mysteries being celebrated. Perhaps one clarification I can make is about the use of a drum or drums. I’m not looking to incorporate Ringo Starr (as much as I like him!) into the Mass. The kind of drumming that I have in mind is done on a Djembe drum, used not to lay down a beat to a song but to call people to attention. I don’t like cotton candy myself! On the other hand, when the Mass is done perfunctorily, it is as if are serving soy instead of meat and instant potato flakes instead of baked potatos!

        Now, you’ve made me hungry!

  2. Here are a few of my own comments about Jeffrey’s response:

    “Before we consider how our liturgical rites can have a more bold or robust expression by adding touches or flairs to them, we should consider whether we are celebrating the rites wholly or not, and whether we understand the multivalent meanings behind the symbols of our rites.”

    I think this is a very good piece of advice and serves well as a prelude to my article. Given the space considerations in my article (as well as my assumption that readers of Ministry and Liturgy Magazine would naturally consider this step as a prerequisite) I chose not to verbalize this.

  3. “One issue that the author addresses in his introduction but does not treat again later is the way in which prayers are said at Mass. I agree with him that too often these liturgical texts are simply read or recited,rather than actually proclaimed. This is a loss of integrity in the rite: one does not say a prayer, one prays a prayer. The same can be said about the readings from Scripture as well. But I do not think the solution is to be “dramatic” with these texts; “dramatic” implies “theatrical,” and Catholic liturgy in general (and the older Roman Rite in particular) has often been criticized as being too theatrical.”

    Jeffrey makes a good point about the word dramatic implying theatrical, so maybe that’s not the best word to use there. I agree that theatrics is not what we need. However, dramatic can simply mean “vivid, moving, highly effective, striking” (dictionary.com) which is what I was aiming at. Drama need not be injected, however the inherent drama of the sacred mysteries needs to be captured and conveyed more effectively.

  4. “A procession may be, as the author states, a spectacle, but some of his recommendations seem to emphasize the spectacle over the procession in which they occur: does the Mass begin with a spectacle that happens to be advancing up the aisle, or does it begin with a procession to the sanctuary that catches the eye and focuses the soul?”

    I don’t agree that my suggestions limit the action to “a spectacle that happens to be advancing up the aisle.” Rather, they are intended to highlight the very point that Jeffrey makes: “we are processing to the sanctuary in a manner that catches the eye and focuses the soul.”

  5. “A bell, rather than a drum, seems the more traditional “Roman” instrument for signaling people to attention. It may not have the drama or passion or (secular) appeal of a drum, but it is recognizable and sober and effective. The suggestions concerning the use of drumming through the article seem unnecessarily tribal to me; again,Roman robustness needn’t be achieved by the same means as Polynesian robustness.”

    I love the bell suggestion as well. In fact, I encouraged the DRE at my parish to call the children to attention at liturgies by using a bell (hand chimes, actually) rather than by raising her voice to get their attention. By the same token, I think the discussion of bell vs. drum is a matter of taste. The bell may be a more traditional Roman instrument as Jeffrey states, however, my suggestions for using a drum are not an attempt to capture a Polynesian effect nor do I see the drum as tribal (certainly no more tribal than the act of singing at Mass which is designed to enable the assemby to “come together as one”) A drum creates a sound of rhythm and energy. Properly placed and executed, it can serve as an effective call to worship.

  6. “Another effective “call to worship” for a Catholic setting could be borrowed from elsewhere in our liturgical tradition, the Liturgy of the Hours. The cantor could begin the invitation, “O Lord, open my lips…”, and the congregation would know (by catechesis, of course) to stand and respond, “and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” That would lead directly into the singing of the entrance hymn.”

    Very nice idea!

  7. “I have favored the term “entrance” (entrance procession, entrance hymn) over “opening” for the reason of clarity. The entrance procession is what its name implies: a procession (from the Latin pro- + cedere = “to go towards”) and an entrance (into the sanctuary, by the priest and ministers; perhaps more generally,into the celebration of the liturgy). I think “opening procession” is too vague a term, much like using “opening prayer” instead of “Collect”.”

    Point well-taken.

  8. Joe, thank you for your responses! I too am pleased to see civil and fruitful discussion on the Catholic blogosphere, especially in the area of liturgy.

    And Joyce, no need to be torn! You can be like the scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven, bringing out of the treasury what is old and what is new! (Mt 13:52) 🙂

    • Thanks Jeffrey. Another point to keep in mind, folks, is that I am not a liturgist! I just play one on my blog! 🙂 That’s why I’m so open to discussion and criticism on this because there are lots of people way smarter than me in this area!

  9. “Silence, like words or actions, can become perfunctory. Robust silence is not measured by frequency or length so much as by what fills it. We must put the periods of silence foreseen by the Missal to better use; the last thing we want is for participants in the liturgy to be spending time in silence grumbling to themselves, “What are they waiting for?”, or wondering who has forgotten what comes next!”

    I think Jeffrey and I agree for the most part on the need for better use of prescribed periods of silence. I agree that “robust silence is not measured by frequency or length so much as by what fills it.” By the same token, parish liturgical ministers and seminary instructors who train and form those who proclaim Scripture readings and the prayers of the Mass will inevitably be asked by their apprentices “how long is long enough?” when it comes to silent pauses. I offered some suggestions so that folks in the assembly will not wonder what’s happening or grumble but will participate in appropriate moments of silence.

  10. “But the Book of Gospels belongs on the altar, not on a stand elsewhere in the church, as the author recommends. The connection between the “table of the Word” and the “table of the Eucharist,” between the inscribed Word and the incarnate Word, is too important to pass up.”

    Very good point.

  11. “Some parishes have bins or boxes for donations of food and clothing, but their use is not connected to the offerings made at the Presentation of the Gifts. The author’s suggestion of encouraging such donations at this time is very good. I am not sure of the feasibility of the author’s suggestion to have parishioners leave their seats to make their contributions. If this were to be done, it would be best done as a row-by-row procession. The link between leaving one’s seat and “active participation in the liturgy” is not, in my opinion, a helpful one, because “active” liturgical participation is less about external “activity” and more about complete (external and internal) participation in the “action” of the Mass.”

    In terms of the feasibility of people leaving their places and processing row by row to present their offertory gift, I have seen a couple of parishes do this and it is quite powerful and prayerful. I agree (and most liturgists understand) that “active liturgical participation is less about external activity and more about complete (external and internal) participation in the action of the Mass.” My point is that placing an envelope or a few bills into a basket is perfunctory and is not seen by most in the assembly as an action of the Mass but as a way of paying the bills. Leaving one’s seat to process in an offertory procession would be no more an “external activity” than any of the other ways we bodily worship at Mass (kneeling, sitting, standing, processing, etc.)

  12. Working in youth ministry, I loved the ideas that opened doors for young people to be involved in liturgical ministries – solo pieces, participants in processions, drummers. I am in awe of the number of young people who use their musical talents in percussion sections in bands. Having a place for them to share their gifts would be wonderful. I would love to hear their input on this discussion

    • Linda, when I was in parish ministry, I recall 2 especially gifted teens: one young man played classical guitar and one young lady played the flute. I occasionally had them play a solo instrumental piece at Mass on Sunday and even “hired” them on occasion to play a couple of numbers at ALL of the weekend Masses during Advent or Lent (yes, I paid them for those weekend commitments…we pay Church organists, why not other instrumentalists?) They added so much beauty to the Mass (they usually played either during the Presentation of Gifts or as a Communion meditation) and folks loved seeing young people sharing their gifts with the assembly.

  13. Joe,
    Not having read your article I can’t comment on what you originally wrote. However, I do have a few thoughts to add about Inculturate liturgy. As has been pointed out here by others, what is appropriate for a Brazilian liturgy may not be appropriate for one in Chicago or Baltimore. That said, neither would a traditional Catholic ritual as it is performed in Rome. There is no one correct way for conducting rituals; they didn’t fall from the sky preordained by God, rather, they developed by natural means reflecting the beliefs and practices of the community of faith. If liturgy is to be truly inculturated, it must start with the traditional Roman ritual and then gradually be shaped by the local culture of worshipers.

    Suggestions for making the liturgy more vibrant are always welcome; imposing those ideas–I’m not suggesting that you believe this–on others is always wrong. I cannot inculturate a liturgy for any community but my own.

    In addition to the question you raise, for me the key question is how do we prepare and empower communities so that they themselves may create inculturated, dynamic liturgical experiences appropriate for their communities.

    Finally, how many times a day do you respond to your blog anyway?

    • Dan, so glad to have your contribution to this discussion. I know that you have a lot of experience in the inculturation business so your thoughts are welcome indeed. Good point about preparing and empowering the community to create inculturated, dynamic liturgical experiences. Too often we throw our hands up and say that there’s nothing we can do if the priest is a poor presider/preacher. In such cases, a dynamic, inculturated liturgical experience (music, singing, proclaiming the readings, movement, gesture, etc.) may be just what we need to keep us from throwing in the towel! The “sweet spot” is what occurs when good presiding/preaching intersects with dynamic, inculturated liturgical experience that is the result of an empowered community!

      BTW, I try to post daily on my blog and then I check frequently throughout the day (when possible) to respond to readers and their comments and questions. In the case of Jeffrey’s article, I used the respond/comment feature to add a number of my thoughts in bite-size form instead of doing another whole post on the topic, hoping that folks might feel compelled to comment on some of the individual points he and I were discussing.

      See you at the upcoming conferences, Dan!

  14. “In his introductory material, the author noted that most parishioners would not want to listen to the music used in their parishes as they drove to work or worked out in a gym. I do not see this necessarily as a bad thing. While he is correct that a lot of our music is “wimpy and bland,” I do not think that is the primary reason it is not found on our CDs and iPods. I choose the music I listen to in my car or while working out because of the immediate purpose it serves,which, more often than not, is not really the same immediate purpose as the liturgy.”

    My point about the ipod is that I know many people who keep inspirational music on their ipod, often Christian rock or other contemporary Christian music or Gospel music that is used in their Sunday worship as a way of being inspired during everyday activities and connecting Sunday worship to those activities. I question whether Catholics are finding their worship music to be inspiring enough to carry with them for inspiration as they drive to work, do a workout, or work at their desk.

  15. “Without trying to sound like a dualist, I think drums can sometimes speak to the baser core of the human person, exciting the wrong sorts of passions during the liturgy. I would prefer to avoid the use of drums in the liturgy.”

    This is a point that I just flat out disagree with Jeffrey over. I think his comment about drums speaking to the “baser core of the human person” and “exciting the wrong sorts of passions” betrays a common cultural bias. The sound of a drum simply resembles the human heartbeat and takes us to the center of our being where God dwells thus making it an appropriate instrument for predisposing us to worship.

  16. “The one suggestion of the author’s that I find curious is the use of additional (lay) ministers for the act of sprinkling. While laypeople may bless themselves with holy water, and may in certain circumstances
    sprinkle others with holy water (during the blessing of a new home in the Book of Blessings, in the absence of a priest or deacon), the liturgical sprinkling is done with an ordained minister present. The Roman Missal (Appendix II, rubric 4) directs the priest to do the sprinkling himself.”

    I’m obviously and blatantly pushing the envelope here. Many, like Jeffrey, will prefer to adhere strictly to the rubric while I know some who will see an opening here for using lay people on occasion to assist.

  17. “The author writes that many of the signs, symbols, and rituals of the sacraments are “somewhat exotic.” I think that could be said of the unusual type of bread used in most parishes, which “do[es] not resemble any kind of bread that we eat in daily life,” the thin round wafer.”

    While Jeffrey explains that he has nothing against properly prepared altar bread, he clearly has a preference for the communion wafer. I find it hard to agree with his assertion that communion wafers are exotic since that word implies possessing a striking nature. The GIRM tells us that, “By reason of the sign, it is required that the material for the Eucharistic Celebration truly have the appearance of food.” (321). Wafers are then mentioned as a convenience for large assemblies. Clearly, a more robust communion bread will have a true appearance of food.

  18. “I am curious why the author does not consider the more robust altar breads to be preferable for bringing to the sick or homebound or for reservation in the tabernacle.”

    This is simply due to the fact that care must be taken to ensure that the consecrated bread does not spoil. In all my experiences of using more robust altar breads, a ciborium of hosts (wafers) was always used as well to ensure that enough of the Eucharist was on hand for Communion at Mass as well as to reserve in the tabernacle and to bring to the sick or homebound.

  19. “My interpretation of revisiting our approach to the liturgy is quite different from his. I do not think the liturgy needs to be filled with drums and banners and 15-20 foot gaps in processions: I think it needs to be filled with its own meaning first, and we do too.”

    I think Jeffrey’s point of making sure the liturgy is filled with its own meaning first is well taken and I encourage liturgical ministers and planning teams to study and reflect on these meanings. However, I disagree with his characterization that my suggestions amount to liturgies “filled with drums and banners and 15-20 foot gaps in processions.” At most, I suggested the occasional use of a drum or drums, the optional use of banners during the entrance procession, and some practical advice on how to do a procession with reverence (anyone who has trained altar servers, prepared Confirmandi to process into church, or conducted a wedding rehearsal knows that you need to give concrete suggestions on how much space to leave). In the end, the goal is to celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Mass in a manner that is conducive to “full, conscious, and active participation” by all of the faithful.

  20. sim;ly cannot get to the article Joe-but enjoy the discussion and the other article as it gets all of us thinking and that is what it is all about!

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