Not the Liturgical Police

I attended mass this Sunday at my favorite parish.  The homilist is one of my favorite priests.  His message is always very good and very orthodox.  So why am I writing this blog entrance? Two important things happened.  I’ll begin with the least positive and conclude with the more positive event.

Father tends to repeat himself a great deal during his homilies, which makes them very long.  Something has not set well with me about these long homilies and I think I figured out what it is.  They unbalance the liturgy.

One of the major concerns when in the liturgical renewal was to give a more prominent place to the Word of God.  The idea of a Liturgy of the Word with three readings and a psalm was born.  But the theology of the mass was not supposed to change.  The mass is still the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary.  The sacrifice must still occupy pride and place during the mass.

However, when your homily is three times longer than the Eucharistic Prayer, when you have the laity reading aloud from their bibles during the homily, the preacher is everywhere but at the pulpit and the style of the homily resembles a Protestant revival more than a Catholic homily, with people calling out, clapping, cheering and more, then there is a problem.  The problem is that the sacrifice is virtually ignored.  People attend the mass because they love Father N’s homilies.  But Fathehr N’s homilies are an event unto themselves that make the Liturgy of the Eucharist pale by comparison.

Another problem enters the picture when Father N repeatedly makes certain comments.  Every preacher has a pet phrase, slogan or idiomatic expression that he will throw in there with some frequency.  We have to make room for the human element.  A preacher is a human being who comes with his culture, his persona and his style.  We can’t and shouldn’t expect them all to be cut out of the same bolt of cloth.  Even identical twins have different personalities, why should all preachers have the same personality?

Having said this, it is important that the preacher beware when his homilies are attracting more attention to him than to God.  This is important, because it’s very easy to upstage God, if the preacher is not careful.  People can see the preacher, but they can’t see God.  Expressions such as:

Never say no to Father.

I’m a priest.

I’ve been a priest for X number of years.

I’m a priest and he’s only a deacon.

When I walk down the street . . . .

Don’t let any priest tell you differently and if he does, send him to me.

Such expressions can be dangerous.  They become more dangerous when the preacher does not realize that they are calling too much attention to him, making it the Liturgy of HIS word instead of the Liturgy of the Word.

Some people would say that this is a weakness of the revised order of the mass and that going back to the Tridentine form would resolve all of this.  This is not true.  These issues have nothing to do with the form.  They are about preachers failing to execute the Liturgy of the Word as Pope Paul VI intended it to be when he revised the missal.

Preachers must also be sensitive to the possibility of using the congregation instead of proclaiming the Word of God to the faithful.  If the congregation is hanging on to your every word, clapping, calling out during your homily, and cheering you on and if this is usual for your homilies, there is a danger here.  The preacher is risking using the congregation to feed his ego.

The sad part here is that these are good priests and deacons.  They don’t have any intention of doing harm, violating the rubrics, attracting attention, or turning the church into a revival tent.  Their intention is to preach a message to the people of God.    When the preacher hijacks his own homily, it’s a sad day.  This can easily happen when Father or Deacon plan their homilies around the message they want to deliver and include themselves too much in the homily.  They fail to factor in how to use that message to help people move from the table of the Word to the altar of sacrifice.

Human beings need help transitioning from one event to another.  We also need to start looking at the mass as the prayer of the Church, not Father X’s mass that we never miss. “Because Father is a great preacher,” or this is the mass that one tries to avoid, “Because it’s Father X’s mass and I don’t like it.  If that’s the only mass left, then I won’t go to any mass this Sunday.”  These are not viable and acceptable reactions to a mass.   However, these are real dangers when people make it Father X’s mass and Father X encourages it with his behavior and his language.  For months I’ve been uncomfortable with this situation, thinking to myself that something bothered me when Father N celebrates the mass.

I did say that two things happened and that the second was very positive for me.  I was angry when I arrived at home.  I left the mass angry.  Suddenly, one of our new aspirants tells me that he plans on visiting with me next week.  I respond that I hope that I’m in a better mood and proceed to tell him how angry I was at this priest.   He reminded me that I had taught him to focus on the parts of the mass, not this person or the next one.  We don’t go to to mass to police the liturgy.

The fact is that I did teach him this.  You never know for whom you work.   I have been teaching all of our men in formation that they attend holy mass to worship God, not to pay attention to what others are saying or doing.  “Just turn them off your impatience and your pride.”

Hearing these things from the aspirant helped me to realize that I was playing liturgical police rather than praying the liturgy.  In his own mild way, Brother put me back in my place using my words.   It’s good to have brothers to humble you whenever you need to be knocked down a peg or two.



Published in: on October 13, 2014 at 1:57 AM  Leave a Comment  

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