Liturgy requires cooperative effort

Friday, January 20, 2017 - Updated: 7:00 am

QUESTION: I went to Mass over the recent holidays, and each time I came away disappointed. The priest lacked any sense of joy, and actually seemed bored and even angry. The sermons betrayed those same emotions and certainly didn’t inspire me. What’s wrong?

ANSWER: There can be no excuse for a celebrant who is angry, unprepared or irreverent at the liturgy. Neither is there any excuse for a celebrant who does not convey a sense of faith and joy in how he presides.

There are, however, several additional points that should be considered. The first has to do with an essential element in the celebration of the liturgy. It is a fallacy to think that the priest is the only important person at Mass.

There is such a thing as the liturgical assembly, and it involves everyone. That fact is one of the most important historical elements reclaimed by the Second Vatican Council. Its teaching clearly affirmed that within the liturgy each person must play their proper role. That includes those in the pews.

An additional point to be considered is the fact that the liturgy is both human and divine. The human element plays a significant part and affects both the presider and the other participants. When someone says that a Mass “wasn’t that great” I have to wonder what they brought to the Mass that day. There are times when we are inattentive, irritated, distracted or suffering when we come to Mass, and that has to color what we see and hear.

We should also include the priest in considering that human element. He also is human and suffers from some of the same emotions affecting others. Ideally, he should be able to overcome such personal difficulties as he presides at the liturgy, but the ideal is not always perfectly achievable.

Another aspect of the priest’s human side is the way in which he is affected by the congregation. Even the most aware and articulate celebrant can be affected by what he sees from his vantage point in the sanctuary.

Have you ever helped to prepare a festive dinner only to have some of the guests come late or leave before the dinner is completed? Have you ever attempted to speak to someone only to find that they are talking to someone else at the same time? Have you ever tried to speak to someone who is on the other side of a glass door watching the street traffic?

I believe that the liturgy is so important that we should be demanding of those who celebrate it. But no person alone can accomplish a meaningfully celebrated liturgy. Each of us must be as demanding of ourselves as we are of the other participants in the liturgy. Good liturgy requires the cooperation of all the participants. Good liturgy is not a “good show.” It is an act of faith and worship. For that to happen, it takes all of us praying together and each doing their part as well as possible.

Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.

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