Monday, November 28, 2011

What We Learned This Weekend: Mass and Conditioned Response

This weekend, I was at two Masses - one as the cantor, one as a choir member - and experienced the roll-out of the new translation twice.  In both cases, the experience was a bit mixed - some hits, some misses.

At the Saturday night Mass, when our pastor used the longer form of the greeting: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all" - I had a brain-freeze.  I had been practicing for months to  respond to "The Lord be with you" and that's what was on the Mass card. Miss number one.  The second time, it was better - I was ready.

What I quickly discovered is that when I hear "The Lord be with you" - if the card was not in my hand and I had just finished a cantor function, such a singing the Alleluia, I was still on "autopilot" and responded dutifully - "And also with you." (makes sheepish face)  About half of the Assembly apparently had the same issue. The responses were mixed.

It was better at the second Mass - and the choir led many of the responses, but again, as we were shuffling music to prepare for the eucharistic acclamations, we lapsed into the old response.

So, what did I learn on New Roman Missal weekend? I, and most other people are a bit like Pavlov's dog.  Apparently, even when you know better, it will take a while to readjust and correct our response. Meanwhile, I feel just a bit drooly!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Missal: Advent - Time to Put on Your Running Shoes!

This weekend, as parishes around the U.S. begin to use the new Roman Missal, we will discover very early that there are differences - beyond the people's responses.  The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent is a real eye-opener:
Grant your faithful, we pray, Almighty God,
The resolve to run forth to meet your Christ\
with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom
Through our Lord....
Hmm - running forth with righteous deeds... this is a far cry from the previous translation's admonition to prepare our hearts "so that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming."  Gone is the passive sense that we, like the wise and foolish virgins of the parable, are simply waiting for the Bridegroom to show up to start the celebration.  Missing is that whole "preparing the way" thing. Instead, we have a visual image - we are gearing up to run toward Christ as if we are long-lost lovers. Kind of like this:

This is a big change. One that will have me, at least, re-evaluating my image of Advent as a quiet time of preparation. Time to get those righteous deeds ready and put on my running shoes!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Prepare! Prepare!

Advent will once again be upon us tomorrow night. Another church year draws to a full close - and with it the admonition to ready ourselves for the coming of the Lord.  Our God, who once came among us clothed in human flesh, calls us to remember, to embrace Him fully in the here and now, and to ready ourselves for the End Times, as if they would come today (which they could, if it were God's will).

This song, for me, captures perfectly what Advent is all about.

 May your time of preparation for His coming be truly fruitful and blessed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let's Start a Movement: Occupy Thanksgiving - Be Thankful for What You HAVE

Earlier tonight, it occurred to me that with the news this year that Target and other stores will be open Thanksgiving night (and some even earlier in the day) that a line has finally been crossed. It's time for those of us who respect tradition and family values to stand up and refuse to be sucked into the consumer maelstrom that has been taking over our country with increasing insistence.

It's high time that large consumer outlets looking to make a profit stopped telling us what to do and when. It's time that the Christmas industry stopped co-opting Halloween and Thanksgiving. It only happens because we let it. This year, don't encourage them. Start a backlash. Stay home. Shop after your holiday celebration. We should first be thankful for what we HAVE... only then is it appropriate to go out and get more stuff. (Maybe!)

This guy beat me to it: Occupy Thanksgiving. Love the graphic.

We should first be thankful for what we HAVE... only then is it appropriate to go out and get more stuff.

But then, maybe first we should try to Occupy Advent.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Principles, Attitudes and Strategies for Liturgy with Children

Tonight I will be speaking to a group of parish catechists about liturgy with children. Here is the handout I have put together for them. (Note that the reason I have been asked to speak to them is partly because there have been some issues regarding the regular addition to religious education Masses of performances by the children, designed to showcase them and to motivate applause.)

1. Children have a natural sense of the sacred and a wonderful capacity for connecting with symbol and ritual. Good liturgy with children means giving them an opportunity to participate in the roles of the Liturgy and experience its power – NOT in adding “extras to the Liturgy to make it “child-friendly,” not in artificially turning it into a teaching moment.

2. The liturgy has roles. Children need to participate to the greatest extent possible in the liturgy. Therefore, they need an opportunity to take on the liturgical roles. (Directory for Masses with Children, 22) Liturgy is work. Children are naturally helpful, so they will eagerly take on the work of those roles if they are properly trained. Don’t just ask them to read. Teach them how to proclaim. Don’t just ask them to bring up the gifts. Show them how to do that with reverence and grace.

3. Liturgy is NOT entertainment. Nothing in the liturgy should showcase any person or persons in such a way as to generate applause. The Mass is a prayer to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. It is never about us. And the assembly is not the audience expecting to be entertained.

4. The same gifts and talents are NOT given to everyone. This is not the Little League, where “no child shall be disappointed.” Children should be given liturgical roles for which they show some aptitude, not because it is “their turn.” Some children can sing: they belong in a children’s choir. Some can walk with grace and dignity – they should be in processions or should carry banners. Some can read clearly – they should be readers.

5. The people in the pews (the Assembly) have a specific “job description”. They are not the “audience” watching a performance. Teach children their proper role in joining in the Mass responses, spoken and sung. Teach them to listen – actively – to the Word of God. Teach them to offer their lives to God along with the gifts of bread and wine. Teach them to truly prepare themselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Teach them to pray in thankfulness after receiving the Eucharist and to know what it is they are being sent out into the world to do as the Mass ends.

6. Children are tactile, sensory and able to grasp the significance of symbols. When appropriate, use the liturgical symbols: water, bread, wine, oil, fire lavishly and well. Help kids experience them, become familiar with them and delight in them. 

7. Have them practice the songs that will be sung before the day of the Mass. Catechists can be given a tape or CD with the Mass songs.

So, what CAN children do at liturgy? They can take the proper liturgical roles. (Ask your parish music and liturgy director or parish members who train liturgical ministers to assist)

1. Make a banner (These can even be made from heavy paper and mounted on a pole)
2. Decorate the altar or the liturgical space for the season with artwork or assist in placing fabric, flowers or other objects
3. Be part of a committee to choose the songs that will be sung (working with the musician or parish liturgist)
4. Be part of a committee to help write the General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful)
5. Decide to which charity the proceeds of a monetary or food collection will go.

1. Be informed members of the Assembly, participating in the sung and spoken responses of the Mass, even if they serve in other ministries.
2. Be a minister of hospitality: greeter or usher, seating parents and/or handing out programs
3. Be an altar server (preferably they are students who do this on weekends because of the many details they need to know.)
4. Be part of the opening procession, carrying a banner
5. Be a song –leader or member of a choir
6. Be a reader
7. Be the psalmist (sung or spoken)
8. Bring up the gifts of bread and wine (the only things besides a monetary collection that should go up in that procession)
9. Be a communion usher, indicating when a row should get up to join the line
10. Collect books or song-sheets from Mass participants as they leave - and thank them for being there

Today’s Liturgy withChildren (article collection for liturgical catechesis) 
TheLiturgical Catechist website  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting More Out of the Mass - Part 5: Praying the Responsorial Psalm

In the fifth part of this series, I would like to expand comments I shared recently at our parish Roman Missal sessions. This is another piece about the particular points of "internal participation" by the Assembly. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

During the Liturgy of the Word, there are two particular places for musical participation by the people.  The first of these is the Responsorial Psalm. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: "After the First Reading follows the Responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and which has great liturgical and pastoral importance, since it fosters meditation on the Word of God." (61)

The key word there is "meditation" - which clearly implies an engaged inner engagement with the text during the Psalm. This is not passive listening, or simple enjoyment of a song and joining in a refrain.

The cantor here takes on a specialized role:  "It is the psalmist’s place to sing the Psalm or other biblical canticle to be found between the readings. To carry out this function correctly, it is necessary for the psalmist to be accomplished in the art of singing Psalms and have a facility in public speaking and elocution." (G.I.R.M. 102)  Notice the role implies the ability to proclaim Scripture well - this goes beyond merely being a good singer, because the Psalm is more than a mere song. Ideally, the cantor will not just sing the Psalm, but pray it as well - sincerely interacting with the text, connecting spiritually to the words and how they have impacted his/her own life in the past, and impact it in the present moment. 

As a cantor/psalmist myself for almost 24 years, I have often been encouraged to make the Psalter my prayer book - to have a living relationship to the words I sing and proclaim and to make the Responsorial Psalm a moment of genuine prayer. There is no substitute for that. The authenticity of the cantor's prayer life should be transparent during the Psalm.  Therefore, the act of singing is secondary to the expression of the meaning of the text, which should come from the depths of the heart, without being so overly dramatic as to be distracting to the Assembly. 

Much of this expression can be accomplished through eye contact with the Assembly, the sincerity of the facial expression and the dynamics (level of loudness/softness) as the Psalm is proclaimed. Ideally, the cantor should sing a joyful psalm of praise with conviction and joy, or a psalm of contrition with a genuine sense of his/her own sinfulness and unworthiness.  It does not matter if the musical form is chant or through-composed. The inner engagement of the singer should be transparent.  The Psalm is not merely an expressionless chant. It is not merely a pretty song. It is never a performance.  Instead, it is a moment when the proclamation of the Scriptural text is incarnated - brought to life through the authenticity of the cantor.

Certainly, it helps if the cantor has the musical ability needed to make the singing of the psalm "beautiful," but knowing the music and being able to sing well is secondary to the ability to proclaim the text. The ability to make the music simply a vehicle for the prayer is what every cantor should strive for in his/her ministry.  When this is done well, the Psalm becomes a genuine dialog of prayer between the people and the cantor.  During the Responsorial Psalm, the cantor/psalmist is - like the priest in the rest of the Mass - the leader of prayer. While the cantor is the collective voice of the people as individual private human beings, each living their relationship with God along with all the emotions and situations described in the psalms, the priest is in his role leader of the voice of the Mystical Body of Christ, the gathered Assembly, raising the public prayer of the Church to the Father.

What is the role of the people during the Psalm? To listen and actively meditate on the words of the verses and to make both the verses they hear and antiphon they sing their own personal prayer - to "own" the Psalm as the voice of something in their own human experience.

Next: the Gospel Acclamation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Getting More Out of the Mass - Part 4: Being Hearers of the Word

In the fourth part of this series, I would like to expand comments I shared recently at our parish Roman Missal sessions. This is another piece about the particular points of "internal participation" by the Assembly.  (Part 1Part 2, Part 3)

As we settle into the pews after the Introductory Rites for the Liturgy of the Word, the internal participation of Assembly members should shift from a posture of united prayer through Christ  to the Father to one of  receptivity and openness. Now, we listen.  The Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass says this about the Word of God in the Participation of the Faithful:
When God communicates his word, he expects a response, one, that is, of listening and adoring "in Spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23). The Holy Spirit makes that response effective, so that what is heard in the celebration of the Liturgy may be carried out in a way of life: "Be doers of the word and not hearers only" (Jas 1:22).  The liturgical celebration and the participation of the faithful receive outward expression in actions, gestures, and words. These derive their full meaning not simply from their origin in human experience but from the word of God and the economy of salvation, to which they refer. Accordingly, the participation of the faithful in the Liturgy increases to the degree that, as they listen to the word of God proclaimed in the Liturgy, they strive harder to commit themselves to the Word of God incarnate in Christ. Thus, they endeavor to conform their way of life to what they celebrate in the Liturgy, and then in turn to bring to the celebration of the Liturgy all that they do in life.  (6)
This, then, is not passive listening, but an actively engaged listening that requires the hearer to open him or herself up to the Word in a way that would allow them to become "conformed" - i.e. possibly/probably changed.  

The important role of the Holy Spirit in the proclaimed Word is further described here:
The working of the Holy Spirit is needed if the word of God is to make what we hear outwardly have its effect inwardly. Because of the Holy Spirit's inspiration and support, the word of God becomes the foundation of the liturgical celebration and the rule and support of all our life.
The working of the Holy Spirit precedes, accompanies, and brings to completion the whole celebration of the Liturgy. But the Spirit also brings home to each person individually everything that in the proclamation of the word of God is spoken for the good of the whole gathering of the faithful. In strengthening the unity of all, the Holy Spirit at the same time fosters a diversity of gifts and furthers their multiform operation. (9)
"...brings home to each person individually..."  - that means the Word is, with the help of the Spirit, actively seeking YOU.  Next time you go to Mass, remember that during the proclamation of the Word, God's Word is alive and active - and a bit like a heat-seeking missile - targeted to the most vulnerable parts of your life - the ones most in need of conforming to what we celebrate at Mass.