Work of the people – Liturgy diversity: A source of enrichment

Dr. Karen Shadle

The Work of the People” video series began as an attempt to educate the faithful on their unique role at Mass. By the end of the project, it had become an education for me in what it means to celebrate “good” liturgy.

People sometimes ask, “Where is it done right? Where do I go to see a really great Mass?”
First, you do not go anywhere to “see” a good Mass. You have to do it yourself. There are many great pastors and lay leaders who facilitate outstanding worship, but ultimately “the work of the people” requires the people.

Second, these questions are hard to answer because there are so many ways to “do it right.”
There are many misconceptions about just how black-and-white the “rules” for Mass are. On the one hand, there is no shortage of instruction on how to celebrate Catholic liturgy.

There are the ritual books themselves and their explanatory rubrics — such as The Roman Missal and its General Instruction, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rite of Celebrating Matrimony, Pastoral Care of the Sick and so on. Then there are important church documents on the liturgy, such as Sacrosanctum Concilium and Redemptionis Sacramentum, and statements from the U.S. Bishops, such as “Sing to the Lord” and “Built of Living Stones.”

Knowing, interpreting and explaining these documents is part of the role of the Office of Worship
On the other hand, in spite of all this ink on how to worship, the liturgy itself remains remarkably flexible within these guidelines. Which parts to sing? What music? What language? What instruments? Which Eucharistic Prayer? What prayer intentions? What to preach? Which options to select or omit? What décor? With questions of liturgy, there are surprisingly few “straight answers.”

This is not to suggest that anything goes. Certainly, there are plenty of ways to abuse the liturgy, putting personal preference over the legitimate instruction of the Church. I only argue that there are a multitude, perhaps hundreds, of correct ways to celebrate Mass.

Liturgical diversity can be a source of enrichment, if we choose to embrace it. Or, if we fall too much in love with the idea of “one right way,” it can be a source of tension, even schism. Diversity in the way we worship should not damage unity but must express fidelity to the common faith. For that to work, we need to respect what the church asks of us and strive for those standards. We also need an abundance of charity, acknowledging that different aesthetics are not only allowed but celebrated.

In creating the videos, it was important to film at several different locations where liturgies looked and felt different yet were uniformly faithful to the church’s directives. I am grateful to the Church of the Annunciation, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and St. Peter the Apostle parishes, and the Christian Leadership Institute for so excellently modeling this unity in diversity. I see it more clearly now in so many other parishes as well.

Dr. Karen Shadle

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