Liturgy Matters — Personal obstacles to participation

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

In the last few columns the focus has been on the designated postures the people are asked to take during the Mass. While a common posture that unifies the people has great value and the different postures contribute to the meaning of a particular text or ritual action, some people simply cannot participate in one or more of these postures.

For instance, kneeling for people with arthritic knees or a bad back may be problematic. Some may be able to get down on their knees but getting back up would be another story. Those holding a child in their arms, or women in the later stages of pregnancy, cannot physically kneel in most worship spaces. Those recovering from an injury or some type of surgery or who have replacement parts may likewise be unable to kneel.

Sitting for some may be equally as challenging. Some may be able to sit for only a brief period before it becomes too painful to continue. Those whose stamina has been compromised or have some other ailment or injury may not be able to stand, especially for any length of time.

With these impediments or obstacles to certain postures, what are those unable to take them supposed to do? If you can’t or shouldn’t kneel, sit or stand, then you don’t do it. Although this may seem like a matter of common sense, the conscientious parishioner may worry about this.

Without the ability to physically take these postures, it is more important to engage in the mind set or meaning of each part of the liturgy and the respective prayer texts that accompany them. Unity with the rest of the assembly can be internal as well as external.

This takes us to another obstacle for congregational participation. Have you ever been told that you are tone deaf or that you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, whatever that means? Some of us have had some well meaning teacher or family member advise us not to sing, to just mouth the words. Although most music teachers and clinicians would dispute the classifications above, most of us would not qualify for solo vocal performance.

However, singing in a group setting such as the congregational parts during Mass should not stress the individual singer or the entire congregation. Unfortunately, in response to the lack of confidence in their own singing voices, some choose to disengage from all musical participation, not even picking up the hymnal or worship aid.

Please be assured, all voices are welcome in the congregation. Most of us are carried along by those who sing well, even taking us well beyond our own capabilities. This is one of the most valuable assets of a choir or ensemble.

The important thing to keep in mind is that music is not added to the liturgy but is an integral part. We are singing the parts of the Mass.  This is everyone’s prayer.  Even if we don’t know a particular song, acclamation or hymn, when we follow along we can at least pray the text. Next time we hear it, it will be easier to join in. As the old saying goes, “God gave you the voice you have, give it back.”

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

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