Liturgy Matters – Do we mean what we say?

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

Sports fans have a culture all their own. Whether a fan of college or professional sports, it seems to entitle ownership in a unique way. A fan will remark, “We played well Saturday” or “We are going to play the Seagulls next week.” This use of “we” is questionable since most fans do not take the field but take a seat.

Nonetheless, there is a certain quality of engagement or ownership that would serve us well when it comes to the liturgy.

The language that we use reveals much about what we think and believe about the liturgy. We may ask, “What Mass did you attend Sunday?,” or say, “I like Father Zachary’s Mass the best,” or “The Youth Choir does the music at the 10 o’clock Mass.” Each of these comments is in some way a misconception.

Attendance at Mass
We attend a play, a class, a lecture, even a ballgame. We come to these events expecting to be entertained, educated or enlightened. For our part, we sit back and let others engage in the activity or performance. Saying we attend Mass is quite inadequate to express what we do. Instead of taking our seats in a receptive posture, we stand up in the active posture of engagement in the “doing.”

Going to Mass or being present for the celebration of the liturgy is a first step. However, the expectation of participation is far different from a mere attendance at Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say, “Who celebrates the Liturgy? It is the Body of Christ with Christ our Head that celebrates.” We don’t attend Mass, we celebrate it.

Father’s Mass
The priest has a vital role in the celebration of the Eucharist. He represents Christ, in persona Christi capita (in the person of Christ the Head). He prays many of the texts of the Mass in our name. He presides over the church’s liturgies and gives the homily to support and strengthen our faith.

Even with all of this and more, it is not the priest’s Mass alone. The liturgy belongs to all of us: It is what we do as church. As members of the body of Christ we are called to enact this act of thanksgiving and sanctification together.

The choir or the cantor does the music at Mass
Some of us remember the pre-Vatican II days when the servers were the designated verbal responders and the choir was the designated responder for the musical elements of the Mass. The people in the pew sang not one note and had no verbal responses at all. This manner of celebrating the liturgy led people to believe they were present as “silent spectators.”

Even today when we understand that we are called to full, conscious and active participation, it is certainly easier to just let someone else do the singing. Too many times we relinquish our responsibility to sing the parts of the Mass, letting the cantor or the choir or ensemble entertain us.

Yet this is not what we are called to do. Although the cantor or choir has certain parts of the dialogue or verses of a psalm or song that they sing alone, they are in a musical dialogue with the rest of the assembly.

A great many of the musical parts of the Mass belong to the entire assembly, not just to the cantor/choir.
Returning to the sports analogy, contrary to our fan status, the “we” pronoun is exactly right when it comes to the liturgy. We are the ones who do it.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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