Liturgy: the bar is low, sadly

In Catholic circles people often talk about the same old things: a decline in numbers; young people don’t seem to be interested in the church, many don’t darken the door of a church after Confirmation or defect to other Christian communities; parishes struggle to survive financially; bad sermons … the list goes on. It is easy to find counter arguments to some of these talking points.

Some people argue that young people join other churches because it “feels good” and this should not be the reason for attending church. Others excuse bad sermons by saying we should go to mass for the Eucharist and not the sermon. But there comes a point when we have to stop and ask ourselves an important question: what is the quality of our liturgical service or pastoral care?

In the last few weeks I have been to at least three parishes incognito. Two of the three would fail a quality test if one took the Sunday Eucharistic celebration and “measured” it against the liturgy documents of the Church and its local implementation.

A number of things are inflicted upon mass goers: Christmas carols sung like funeral dirges – or songs and hymns irrelevant to the liturgical season; endless words – “mini-sermons” – outside often long-rambling, out-of-touch-with-reality homilies; in some parishes the insertion of private devotions at different points that are not proper to the liturgy. There were also badly prepared proclaimers of the Word and, embarrassingly, presiders who had clearly not looked at the Eucharistic Prayer (especially the first Eucharistic Prayer) and so landed up butchering it.

One gets the feeling that in many parishes little time is spent on liturgy preparation. In some places choirs are well prepared, but the rest of the liturgical ministries are poor. Often people (especially presiders) are quick to jam all sorts of irrelevant extras into the liturgy, but the very basics are done badly. The quality bar, sadly, is very low.

Like it or not, the days of people going to Sunday mass because it is an obligation are waning. Bad liturgy does not inspire. There is also a plethora of choices. People choose to go to other churches where they are more likely to be fed spiritually so that they can live their lives in a difficult and complicated society. For the most part, the quality of preaching in Catholic pulpits is abysmal. Sadly, for many young people, the fact that the Catholic Church has the Eucharist does not keep them coming back when everything else is done half-heartedly.

The Catholic Church has a beautiful liturgical tradition which, if done accordingly, is full of symbol and wisdom which conveys simply and beautifully the Good News of salvation.

Why, in so many places, do we ignore the books, and think that DIY liturgy is more meaningful? Why do we jam all sorts that is not proper to the celebration of the mass into the Sunday liturgy? If we just did what the liturgical books prescribe, we might immediately up the bar and raise the quality of our service.

Follow Russell Pollitt SJ on twitter @rpollittsj

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church. @rpollittsj
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