Saturday, February 27, 2016

Monday Morning Liturgists: It's Not so Easy to be Part of the Solution

A post by freelance writer William Bornhoft on the practice of "liturgy shaming" has been generating a lot of dialogue on social media. Bornhoft's post is excellent, calling people to task for posting on social media about liturgical abuses and holding them up to ridicule and uncharitable judgment.

What I am finding in the conversation is that some people are indeed openly frustrated with parish liturgy. Some have even gone so far as to approach a pastor with their frustrations, as Bornhoft suggests, and have been rebuffed.

This is not just related to the current conversation. There are entire groups dedicated to criticizing the liturgical abuse of others. Some bloggers do this on a regular basis, posting things derisively and inviting commentary. People are only too willing to pile onto those bandwagons.

In the absence of
  • a pastor with good liturgical formation, an aptitude for liturgy, and time and energy to "direct" its component parts himself or at least to collaborate with those he has delegated to do so
  • properly trained, knowledgeable staff or volunteers who take on the burden of preparation of the liturgy and training of its ministers
  • adequately trained and aware ministers who serve the assembly of the people at Mass reverently and according to the rubrics and guidelines of the Church
people in the pews have every right to be frustrated with parish liturgy.

However, as someone who has served both as a liturgy director and as a liturgy committee member for almost 30 years, I find armchair liturgists rather frustrating.  It's all very well to criticize. But how about getting your rear end out of the pew to be part of the solution? Not so easy, eh?

If you think you know more about liturgy than the people who are putting it together, why can't you see that as a call for you to help? I'm not talking about coming in and "taking over" the liturgy committee in your parish. I'm talking about joining it respectfully, learning the ropes from the inside by first taking part in a liturgical ministry.Then, after your dedication is known, join in the work of putting the liturgy together, gaining the trust of others and gently encouraging renewed study of Church guidelines.  I'm talking about leading others by example, by studying the liturgy yourself and sharing what you have learned, allowing others to discover the way to better liturgy and inviting them to do better, rather than shaming them for their ignorance.

This is the true essence of Christian community - that each of us is called and gifted and that we care enough about one another to work together. It also means that we share our gifts instead of hoarding them and feeling self-righteous because we know more than others. Those who know more should teach and lead others, charitably.

Liturgy is "the work of the people" - ALL the people. To each and every one are given different  gifts that can be offered to support the liturgical prayer of the community. The road to liturgical improvement in your parish lies open to you, if you accept the challenge that you can help by sacrificing your time to work together with, not against your fellow parishioners who already give their time and talent to the community's worship. What gifts has God given you for the liturgy? How can you begin to share them?


  1. The advice presented in this article, while noteworthy to an extent, overlooks where the burden is, and assumes that such committees would even welcome a voice that is the least bit contrary. In my experience (which would be quite a bit), that is usually what happens. A truly effective liturgy committee for a parish should consist mainly of those who would have responsibilities for its preparation otherwise; the music and/or choir director, the sacristan, those in charge of readers, altar servers, etc. Such work is too important to indulge the dabbling of dilletantes.

    The faithful have the right to the liturgy according to the norms of the Church. It's a sad state of affairs when they have to ask, never mind beg, to join a committee just to ensure that. The aforementioned outlet on social media exists because there are enough of those with that sad and inexcusable experience. They're more than happy to get out of their armchairs, if they haven't already.

    1. Ideally, that is what happens - and the heads of the ministries are indeed on the committee However, in many parishes, these committees do invite others who are liturgical ministers. The ideal is to invite people who may in the future become leaders of ministries. And liturgy committees should not just be working groups, but learning groups. Yes, it's sad that some may have to step forward to help improve the liturgy, but as you point out, if they do not, these groups can get pretty insular and stale in their outlook.

      In my parish, where I am a volunteer in music, liturgy and catechesis, there is a history of a liturgy committee consisting mostly of ministry leaders and interested others, and a separate liturgy planning subcommittee who prepared the feasts and seasons, consisting of several of us who have deeper background and a few representatives from our Spanish Masses. Structures in parishes can differ and offer different opportunities.

      On a personal note, I began my liturgical career as a choir member, responded to an invitation to join the liturgy committee, received mentorship and was encouraged to go to national conferences to learn more... and soon this led to volunteering for my diocese with a project in the liturgy office. From there, I felt called to study for a degree. I guess you could say I am a poster child for an "at large" liturgy committee member who found the experience led to a bigger call to serve the liturgy. You never know what God has in mind.

      Yes, the critiques on social media are an outlet for the frustrated, but nothing will change in a parish without people committed to change.