The National Catholic Review

My two friends have been searching for a long time. They need a place to worship. He was brought up in a rigid Baptist tradition; she was brought up in a rigid Catholic tradition. I am not reporting on their search, because, after all, it is theirs. While I can identify with their search in many ways, my own search has never taken me outside of Catholicism. So I cannot speak about their unique experience and what they are hoping to find.

But today they told me they went to Mass at my parish. I was quite surprised, but, of course, delighted. When you are happy with your home, you want to gather people in. And when you are secure in your belief that yours is Truly Home, well, you want to make sure people not only feel welcome, but you want to make them comfortable enough to stay and share your food.

What did you think? I asked.

She commented on how much the liturgy has changed since she last attended Mass more than 30 years ago. Not realizing the difference between the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed, she felt confused. He wondered if there were any prayer books, and if so, where were they kept; he had wanted to follow along.

Then we got to the serious stuff. I felt as if I were in a bus station, he confessed. And, before the service was over, people apparently knew the buses were getting ready to leave, because half the people in the church filed out. She said the congregation struck her as being very preoccupied.

What’s 7:30 a.m. Mass like? she asked. Before I could respond, he interjected, Is it more reverent?

I mumbled something about liturgical styles, suggesting 7:30 was unquestionably more quiet. But I felt sick. Suddenly I saw my parish as my friends saw it: noisy, distracted and distracting, irreverent, badly dressed and appearing nonchalant about what was happening at the altar.

My friends are not complainers. They softened their remarks by telling me they had visited a neighboring Catholic parish and observed the same bustling, casual atmosphere. I knew they spoke the truth. I have been troubled by such concerns for years. Yet I’ve pushed these thoughts to the background. Be glad people volunteer, I say to myself when I see eucharistic ministers dressed as though they had just rushed in from working in their gardens. Be grateful that they bring the kids at all, I think when children unload snacks, Legos, crayons and coloring books, dolls and toy trucks from their backpacks. Teenagers are going through a stage, I insist silently when the girl in the pew ahead of me combs her hair all through Mass and others talk and giggle audibly during the eucharistic prayer. Focus on her lovely voice, I remind myself when the young woman leading the congregational singing raises her arm and with it the short sweater she has on, which invites everyone in the church to stare at her navel.

But what about the hospitality of this parish? its defenders would protest, and I become one such defender. Every warm body is welcome here, not only to worship with us, but also to sign up for anything at any time. At least a third of the registered adults are involved in some kind of parish activity. And the financial support is extremely generous. As a parish, we dig deep, and dig often. We contribute unstintingly in good times and in bad. Our largesse is immune to the ups and downs of our nation’s economy and our nation’s bishops.

But do we pride ourselves on our hospitality, social service activities and financial generosity at the expense of reverence? And, a companion question, has reverence been a casualty of the revision of the liturgy that followed the Second Vatican Council? Could it be that increased lay participation, which makes liturgies lively and full of activity, has led us to forget that these are still the sacred mysteries, holy Mass celebrated in the sanct-uary. Isn’t it still, Holy, Holy, Holy?

As I ponder these things, without coming up with satisfactory answers, suddenly I am struck with another questionone more challenging yet: why should my friends expect to find reverence at Mass? They are seasoned church shoppers. I know they have tested every denomination known to urban humanity. They know there are lots of different styles of worship. They have been to churches that literally rock with contemporary music. They have been to churches where the community simply sits in meditation. They have heard rousing preachers. They have done it all. But they expected reverence in this Catholic parish. Do they know something that we, as a Catholic community, don’t comprehend, something we may have forgotten, or something we have taken so much for granted that we have become inured to its reality and its power?

Even if we come to Mass harried, frazzled and time-starved, isn’t it the holy-holy-holy that we genuinely seek, deep down, as do my friends? We come to get our food for the week, the ultimate take-out, the spiritual nourishment that sanctifies the work we do and the sustenance we need to bring the good news to others. Yet how can we invite others to share in the sacred mystery of this bread, this cup, if we don’t demonstrate by our reverence that we believe this mystery is true and awesome?

The solution is really simple, a variant on a comment Father Cletus, our associate pastor, made one morning at early Mass. As he was about to begin the eucharistic prayer, he told us that as a seminarian, he was told he should, for the rest of his life, celebrate every Mass as if it were his first. How would it be then, for us, if we attended every Mass as if it were our last?

Mary Sherry lives in Burnsville, Minn. Her latest book is Sometimes I Haven’t Got Prayer and Other Real Catholic Adventures (Catholic Book Publishing Co.).

Comments

Don Henderson | 5/11/2003 - 7:23am
Mary does a great job setting the scene. Many of us have had the same experience at Mass: people coming late, people leaving early, noisy, distracted and distracting, ministers unprepared, ministers hardly dressed, poor homilies, poor attention, worse behavior, and the list goes on. But she completely begs the question and cops out at the end: "attend every Mass as if it were our last."

In our parish, our folk group is "casual." Even at sacramental celebrations when children are supposed to be dressed up, at Triduum liturgies when catechumens and candidates are received into the church, the members of the folk group refuse to wear ties/jackets and the women wear whatever. They say that their casual style is their identity; to be otherwise wouldn't be "them." Give me a break.

Among our parental refrains with our children was, "We don't do that, we don't say things like that, in our house this is the way we act, you are part of our family and this is how we do things, etc." Children need to be taught, carefully and thoroughly taught, as the song from South Pacific opines. Adults need to be taught as well. Just because certain ones are caught in a time/culture warp doesn't mean that they should stay there.

Jesus didn't stand on formality. The only clothing he owned (other than a loincloth, I presume) was the seamless garment soldiers threw dice for at his crucifixion. There may have been intimacy and quiet at his last supper, but his death was mayhem and his resurrection was totally unobserved. Nevertheless, liturgy is a public act of his communal Body, and our dress, our behavior, our attention and our whole presence should reflect an understanding and an appreciation for what is taking place through Christ and through us, with Christ and with us, in Christ and in us. I've lived through Vatican II and its aftermath. My conclusion? People simply don't know, don't appreciate because they haven't been catechized.

I am leaving my parish in seven weeks after thirty years of ministry. I will be looking for another parish in which to worship as a member of the assembly. I will be looking for a place where pastors truly shepherd their sheep, gently leading and guiding them to drink deep from the waters of salvation, to be nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, to journey ever onward, transforming themselves and the world in the process, toward the realization of the fullness of the kingdom. Do you think I will ever find such green pasture?

Virginia Ryan | 6/2/2003 - 11:08pm
Regarding Mary Sherry’s “Sometimes Your Best Friends Do Tell You” (5/12/03) I found myself agreeing with her worries about the noisiness of children or parents and the regrettable tendency of some to arrive late and/or leave early. As a matter of fact, these concerns have been the focus of our associate pastor over the past few months. We have heard from the pulpit pleas and at times scolding about such things. But ultimately I must part ways with Mary Sherry and my associate pastor.

I attend the family/children’s Mass regularly and know that there is an abundance of noise and distraction at this particular Mass. I’m quite sure that every one of us in attendance reacts interiorly to the parent who doesn’t seem to address a child’s behavior promptly enough by removing her or him to the “cry room” or the vestibule. But whenever I have this reaction I stop and feel the greatest tenderness for that parent and child and all the people in attendance.

I think about the family of five or (a sure sign of a Catholic parish), six or seven or eight… They are here! The fact that they come to worship at all deserves a big “Amen!” What has it taken for this single parent or set of parents to make this happen? A minor miracle, I suspect, that occurs each and every Sunday.

I think about those of us who come despite our serious struggles with a hierarchy that has betrayed the laity, a Church that does not yet appreciate that we are more than the financial backbone of the institution or the bodies that occupy pews. I think about the women who long to find a place at the institutional table and still come because they refuse to give up the Church they love. The miracle is we are here, each and every Sunday.

And what about those who leave early, a national Catholic pastime? To be sure, some leave because that is what their parents did but I suspect that there are quite a few who leave because they are already late for a soccer, basketball, softball game or some other occasion that is imposed by their children’s’ schedule. Is this a good enough “excuse”? I guess that I don’t think I am one to judge.

Mary Sherry wonders if “we pride ourselves on our hospitality, social service activities and financial generosity at the expense of reverence.” Oh, if only every parish would have to worry about too much emphasis on these things. Ultimately, the reverence found in any Sunday Mass finds its roots in hospitality, social service and generosity. I don’t think it is wise to separate these aspects of our life together from the sacred mysteries of the “holy Mass.”

And finally, I am reminded of Cathleen Kaveny’s reminder that the “process of redemption is immersed in the messiness of sinful human life.’ (“Wholesomeness, Holiness and Hairspray” (3/3/03) The holiness (and reverence) in which every Sunday liturgy participates and to which every parishioner is called is indeed loud, distracting, ill-dressed and all the rest. There are moments of aesthetic beauty, one hope. But all in all, aesthetic beauty and a holy order are not the same as reverence. They are qualities that may accompany reverence, but they cannot take primacy lest they begin to take us away from a true participation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Thomas Weaver | 5/24/2003 - 6:56pm
It seems to me that Mary Sherry's Parish, like most Parishes, is very much in need of liturgical catechesis. The Assembly needs to appreciate at a very deep level the action in which it is participating. One approach to this need is to have a knowledgeable liturgist address the Assembly for five minutes before Mass begins, on one particular part of the celebration. Over several weeks, the Assembly's understanding will increase significantly.

Lectors need specific training, as to music ministers (and I don't mean musical training!).

This continues to be a most neglected topic in catechesis. The laity have reclaimed their right to full participation in the liturgy, but of course that carries with it the obligation to be adequately informed.

Willis Jensen | 5/16/2003 - 12:48am
Your issue of May 12,2003 offers a clear comparison of two different styles of trying to make a point.

Mary Sherry leads her readers through situations within their experience and without rancor makes her point.

On the other hand Terry Golway attempts a tortured comparison between Northern Ireland and the United States in the treatment of those dissenting from a governmental policy. In rather intemperate language, a normal technique used by Mr. Golway, he objects to the fact that some people hold different opinions than what he would deem correct.

He states or implies that these dissenters are without means to express their views while those of the opposition are readily available. It is hard to feel much sympathy for Mr. Golway or his thoughts when the opinions of the dissenters find free expression in virtually all of the print and visual media. The owners of radio outlets and FOX news must be pleased to know that they are the only media listened to by the public. One can expect that their rates will be going up.

Don Henderson | 5/11/2003 - 7:23am
Mary does a great job setting the scene. Many of us have had the same experience at Mass: people coming late, people leaving early, noisy, distracted and distracting, ministers unprepared, ministers hardly dressed, poor homilies, poor attention, worse behavior, and the list goes on. But she completely begs the question and cops out at the end: "attend every Mass as if it were our last."

In our parish, our folk group is "casual." Even at sacramental celebrations when children are supposed to be dressed up, at Triduum liturgies when catechumens and candidates are received into the church, the members of the folk group refuse to wear ties/jackets and the women wear whatever. They say that their casual style is their identity; to be otherwise wouldn't be "them." Give me a break.

Among our parental refrains with our children was, "We don't do that, we don't say things like that, in our house this is the way we act, you are part of our family and this is how we do things, etc." Children need to be taught, carefully and thoroughly taught, as the song from South Pacific opines. Adults need to be taught as well. Just because certain ones are caught in a time/culture warp doesn't mean that they should stay there.

Jesus didn't stand on formality. The only clothing he owned (other than a loincloth, I presume) was the seamless garment soldiers threw dice for at his crucifixion. There may have been intimacy and quiet at his last supper, but his death was mayhem and his resurrection was totally unobserved. Nevertheless, liturgy is a public act of his communal Body, and our dress, our behavior, our attention and our whole presence should reflect an understanding and an appreciation for what is taking place through Christ and through us, with Christ and with us, in Christ and in us. I've lived through Vatican II and its aftermath. My conclusion? People simply don't know, don't appreciate because they haven't been catechized.

I am leaving my parish in seven weeks after thirty years of ministry. I will be looking for another parish in which to worship as a member of the assembly. I will be looking for a place where pastors truly shepherd their sheep, gently leading and guiding them to drink deep from the waters of salvation, to be nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, to journey ever onward, transforming themselves and the world in the process, toward the realization of the fullness of the kingdom. Do you think I will ever find such green pasture?

Virginia Ryan | 6/2/2003 - 11:08pm
Regarding Mary Sherry’s “Sometimes Your Best Friends Do Tell You” (5/12/03) I found myself agreeing with her worries about the noisiness of children or parents and the regrettable tendency of some to arrive late and/or leave early. As a matter of fact, these concerns have been the focus of our associate pastor over the past few months. We have heard from the pulpit pleas and at times scolding about such things. But ultimately I must part ways with Mary Sherry and my associate pastor.

I attend the family/children’s Mass regularly and know that there is an abundance of noise and distraction at this particular Mass. I’m quite sure that every one of us in attendance reacts interiorly to the parent who doesn’t seem to address a child’s behavior promptly enough by removing her or him to the “cry room” or the vestibule. But whenever I have this reaction I stop and feel the greatest tenderness for that parent and child and all the people in attendance.

I think about the family of five or (a sure sign of a Catholic parish), six or seven or eight… They are here! The fact that they come to worship at all deserves a big “Amen!” What has it taken for this single parent or set of parents to make this happen? A minor miracle, I suspect, that occurs each and every Sunday.

I think about those of us who come despite our serious struggles with a hierarchy that has betrayed the laity, a Church that does not yet appreciate that we are more than the financial backbone of the institution or the bodies that occupy pews. I think about the women who long to find a place at the institutional table and still come because they refuse to give up the Church they love. The miracle is we are here, each and every Sunday.

And what about those who leave early, a national Catholic pastime? To be sure, some leave because that is what their parents did but I suspect that there are quite a few who leave because they are already late for a soccer, basketball, softball game or some other occasion that is imposed by their children’s’ schedule. Is this a good enough “excuse”? I guess that I don’t think I am one to judge.

Mary Sherry wonders if “we pride ourselves on our hospitality, social service activities and financial generosity at the expense of reverence.” Oh, if only every parish would have to worry about too much emphasis on these things. Ultimately, the reverence found in any Sunday Mass finds its roots in hospitality, social service and generosity. I don’t think it is wise to separate these aspects of our life together from the sacred mysteries of the “holy Mass.”

And finally, I am reminded of Cathleen Kaveny’s reminder that the “process of redemption is immersed in the messiness of sinful human life.’ (“Wholesomeness, Holiness and Hairspray” (3/3/03) The holiness (and reverence) in which every Sunday liturgy participates and to which every parishioner is called is indeed loud, distracting, ill-dressed and all the rest. There are moments of aesthetic beauty, one hope. But all in all, aesthetic beauty and a holy order are not the same as reverence. They are qualities that may accompany reverence, but they cannot take primacy lest they begin to take us away from a true participation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Thomas Weaver | 5/24/2003 - 6:56pm
It seems to me that Mary Sherry's Parish, like most Parishes, is very much in need of liturgical catechesis. The Assembly needs to appreciate at a very deep level the action in which it is participating. One approach to this need is to have a knowledgeable liturgist address the Assembly for five minutes before Mass begins, on one particular part of the celebration. Over several weeks, the Assembly's understanding will increase significantly.

Lectors need specific training, as to music ministers (and I don't mean musical training!).

This continues to be a most neglected topic in catechesis. The laity have reclaimed their right to full participation in the liturgy, but of course that carries with it the obligation to be adequately informed.

Willis Jensen | 5/16/2003 - 12:48am
Your issue of May 12,2003 offers a clear comparison of two different styles of trying to make a point.

Mary Sherry leads her readers through situations within their experience and without rancor makes her point.

On the other hand Terry Golway attempts a tortured comparison between Northern Ireland and the United States in the treatment of those dissenting from a governmental policy. In rather intemperate language, a normal technique used by Mr. Golway, he objects to the fact that some people hold different opinions than what he would deem correct.

He states or implies that these dissenters are without means to express their views while those of the opposition are readily available. It is hard to feel much sympathy for Mr. Golway or his thoughts when the opinions of the dissenters find free expression in virtually all of the print and visual media. The owners of radio outlets and FOX news must be pleased to know that they are the only media listened to by the public. One can expect that their rates will be going up.

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