Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bad Liturgy, Awkward Moments, and Improper Thoughts

Mass is the source and summit of the Catholic faith.  I love the Mass and most people who know me would never question that.  However, I'm sure like many people, my mind can tend to wander around a bit during Mass both through my own fault and sometimes as a result of bad liturgy.  I'm sometimes bemused by bad liturgy, awkward moments, and/or improper thoughts.  For example:
  • Priests that like to make small talk
    You know those priests that try to make a personal connection with the congregation either right after the entrance song or right before the recessional song?  The ones that say something like "How is everyone today?" or "Have a great day!"?  It's always funny to watch how the congregation responds.  For the greeting, some people respond with, "Good, Father."  Others say, "Fine," or, "Great."  For the farewell, you hear some people say, "You too, Father," and others, "Thank you."  Some of the responders speak up forcefully as if trying to speak for everyone while others sort of respond quietly out of automated politeness.  For both cases, there are also those who sense the awkwardness of the situation and simply nod or shift uncomfortably and don't say anything.  Altogether, it makes for a few moments of a messy din that makes me just want to look at my feet.  I think it actually makes the point of why liturgy, the definition of which is a prescribed form of public worship, is practical, necessary, and important.

  • Judging the Cantor, Lectors, etc.
    This is the one where while the cantor or lector is doing their thing, you find yourself distracted because you're thinking more about them.  Perhaps it's because you're judging them because of "stuff" you know about their personal lives which, for whatever reason, makes you deem them "unfit" for their role.  Or maybe you feel like they're cantoring because it makes them feel like a rock star or lectoring because they just like to hear the sound of their own voice instead of seeing themselves as a vessel of the Holy Spirit.  In any case, your thoughts are distracting you from paying attention to the Word of God.  And by "you," I mean "me."  However, the reverse is also true where an inspirational lector or cantor can also lead you into a powerful experience with God.

  • Gift Bearers Bowing During the Offertory
    I especially love seeing large Catholic families bring up the gifts to the altar.  It's so heart-warming for me.  However, it could easily degenerate and this is where having a good liturgical coordinator is crucial.  The pace down the center aisle is important, but not as important (to me) as coordinating the bowing.  It's painful for me to watch when after presenting the gifts to the priest and altar servers, one of the gift bearers unsure of whether or not to bow begins a half-hearted bow.  The second gift bearer, who wasn't going to bow in the first place and has already slowly started to walk away turns back and starts a quick bow because the other gift bearer was bowing.  The first gift bearer has already stopped bowing and is walking away.  It's like liturgical teen angst.

  • Musicians Coming in at the Wrong Time
    I tend to see this more when there is a new priest or if the lead cantor has zoned out a bit.  It usually goes something like this.  The priest has just finished saying, "And so we join the angels and saints in proclaiming your glory..." and is waiting for the musicians to come in.  They are a little bit late and so the priest begins to say the Sanctus.  Just as the congregation is about to join in, the musicians come in and everyone stops in their tracks and then begins singing.  If it's not late, then it's early.  I imagine that many Catholics have experienced a moment where in the middle of the beautiful Eucharistic prayer, the overzealous pianist or organist comes in with a triumphant chord jarring everyone and throwing the priest off.  People spend the rest of the prayer trying not to look at the embarrassed musician who is trying to hide. 

  • and my personal favorite: Has a Priest Ever Been Hit in the Face with the Thurible?
    Incense is a beautiful image and symbol within the Mass and the moment during the Mass when the priest and the people are incensed with three swings is one of my favorites.  One day, while the altar server acting as the thurifer was incensing the priest, I had a horrible thought.  For the next few seconds, it was all I could do to not burst out in giggles because I couldn't stop picturing the altar server accidentally swinging the thurible into the priest's face as he bowed, knocking him backwards with a solid "boink."
I need to go to Confession.  However, most importantly, I am reminded of how human liturgy is and the amazing grace it is for God to make Himself physically present in the midst of such brokenness and awkwardness.

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