Sunday, June 10, 2012

Full Participation in the Body of Christ at Worship Matters

At one of our parish Masses every week for a few years, there was a mother and teenage daughter who always arrived as the opening song was ending, then stood, sat and knelt without ever moving their lips during the entire Mass.  As a regular cantor at that Mass, I had the opportunity to watch them, noticing because they so obviously looked bored and disengaged.

Right after the final blessing, they would slip out the side aisle before the procession of the ministers had even started down the aisle. Every week, the same thing. I often wondered why the mother continued to give such a poor message to her daughter about what it meant to part of the celebration of the Mass. I suspected it was most likely that is the model she had been given by her parents, or perhaps that there was resentment over the absence of the child's father.  The only positive thing I could say about the years I observed this was that the mother did bring her child to Mass - in body, if not in spirit.

Finally, one summer, they simply stopped coming. Most likely no one other than me noticed, because they had never talked to people around them before or after Mass, or connected in any way. (Unfortunately, our parish does not have a formal hospitality ministry.) Most likely, the girl got confirmed, or perhaps graduated from high school - Mom's responsibility to get her to Mass was over. So was Mom's attendance at Mass. Apparently, this was all about obligation.

Today, on the feast of Corpus Christi we  celebrate what it means to be a committed member of the "One Body" that is the community of faith - the Church. We also hear clues about what it means to participate fully.  The readings of the day provide some clues as to what this looks like.

We hear the unified voice of the people in the first reading:
When Moses came to the people
and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD,
they all answered with one voice,
"We will do everything that the LORD has told us."  (Exodus 24:3)
In the Gospel reading (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26) we hear more corporate actions from the disciples gathered for the Last Supper:

he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them

Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.

Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.
All of this implies full participation, full engagement by all who are present. There are no watchers hanging around the margins, no mention of anyone not being part of this. (No "except so-and-so). No one with folded arms standing silently watching. Yet at Mass, sometimes that is what priests and cantors see during the people's responses and the songs.  When we meet this same community on the 2nd Sunday of Easter in our first reading from the Book of Acts, we hear "The community of believers was of one heart and mind..."  (Acts 4:32)

The biggest question in catechetical and liturgical ministry today is the growing lack of participation in the life of the Church.  Why do so many not feel like they are part of the community? The proof is all around us: families who never attend Mass, but drop off their children for a couple of years for sacrament preparation, then disappear. People who can't wait for Mass to be over, but leave after Communion - not realizing that an important part of the experience of Mass is to rejoice (in song) as they are SENT, not simply to leave.

We need to continue to explore all options to improve our outreach and evangelization from both the catechetical and liturgical sides of the Church. These ministries share the same fundamental issues. It's way past time for them to come together.  In 1997, the General Directory for Catechesis noted missing areas ("lacunae") in catechesis -particularly this in section 30:
— Catechesis is intrinsically bound to every liturgical and sacramental action.' Frequently, however, the practice of catechetics testifies to a weak and fragmentary link with the liturgy: limited attention to liturgical symbols and rites, scant use of the liturgical fonts, catechetical courses with little or no connection with the liturgical year; the marginalization of liturgical celebrations in catechetical programs.
This, along with good liturgical celebrations and parish hospitality that welcomes every person needs our attention NOW.  Statistics on attendance at Mass by Catholics continue to show a downward trend.  Despite shrinking resources and de-professionalization of lay ministry, (as I previously noted HERE) we cannot afford to allow the situation to get any worse. The growing dis-engagement of our people is a call for increased, not decreased resources to be devoted to catechesis and liturgy.


  1. In Chicago, our five-year plan will strategize on the Sunday Mass starting in July. We should be evangelizing the children and (sometimes through them) their parents. And it is built into most textbooks if they are used properly. But, on their part our liturgists have to help the celebration of the liturgy to be just that. And if the people are not celebrating, it ain't so. Everything needs to be tweaked, from the presider through the choir to the decor. It does work in some (very few) places.

  2. Yes, Frank, it has to be a partnership between the presiders, the catechists, and the music/liturgy people - to tweak the global reality of parish liturgy and formation for life in community and worship.

  3. "...evangelize the children and (sometimes through them) their parents." Yes. A specific goal of my catechism class.

    I don't know anyone who understands the Mass that is bored at Mass. But even the best catechesis works only for those with the gumption to avail themselves of it.