By Dr. Judy Bullock
At this time of year the signs are all around us: yellow buses travelling their routes, back-to-school sales in every store and athletic fields filled with boys and girls training for fall sports.
The signs are also evident at Sunday Mass where sports teams are gathered with their coaches to start the season by going to Mass together.
What a great example for our children to see that their parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers, friends and family all come together to celebrate in word and sacrament our great faith.
There is, however, one thing that weakens this model and sends an entirely different message to our children: that is, the minimal, if not entirely lacking, participation of a great many adults in the responses, prayers, and sung elements of the Mass.
Even adults that have children right beside them sometimes do not pick up the worship aid or participation card. Mouths do not move.
Of course judgment cannot be made about what is going on inside an individual’s mind and heart. These good people have come to Mass, brought their families, in spite of the trends of our society to place more importance on sleeping in or on entertainment and relaxation on Sunday morning. Unfortunately though, the outward signs of participation or lack of it can communicate a great deal to the children in our assemblies.
One of the most telling responses to a lack of participation (for some people) is boredom, “I don’t get anything out of it.” Perhaps this mentality may be a sign of what some people say is a growing expectation for constant entertainment.
Why worry about this?
The leaders of the church in the years prior to the Second Vatican Council were very concerned about this disconnect. They identified the congregation at Mass as
The teaching of the church is that liturgy is celebrated by the Body of Christ with Christ our Head. The liturgy is what we do, not something we attend.
The very first document from the council called for the “full, conscious, and active participation by the people, called for by the very nature of the liturgy.”
This type of participation is both external and internal. Our outward participation means that we respond to the dialogues of the Mass, pray the prayer texts together and sing the musical settings, as well as taking the postures called for in each part of the Mass. Internal participation requires attentiveness, listening, contemplation and reflection.
We must put something in before we get something back. At the liturgy we give thanks to God for all that we have been given and we turn ourselves over to God in order that we may live our lives in the manner of Jesus Christ.
In the Mass we rehearse the values that guide our lives — love of God and love of neighbor.
We don’t wait until our children are grown to teach them to say “please” and “thank you.” If you are the person that a child looks up to, your actions are speaking volumes to them about behavior.
Don’t we all need to express these values, reminding each other of what is most important in life, our convictions witnessed by the whole community? They are watching us!
Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.