Whenever a coach feels his/her team is not living up to their potential, he/she will always say something typical like, “We’ve got to get back to basics.” Without demoting anyone to the minor leagues, let’s look at some of the basics of liturgy that we would do well to return to. I’ll call them my seven deadly liturgical “sins”. The first four “sins” we have little control over due to COVID; the next three we are totally in control of. A number of years ago in a document concerning liturgy, the American bishops wrote that good liturgy builds faith while poor liturgy destroys faith. Notice there’s nothing in between. We are either being built up in faith, or we are going home after mass wondering why we did not simply go to the park and feed the ducks. Let’s look at our situation here at St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. There are some temporary accommodations, due to the pandemic, that fly in the face of good, meaningful, uplifting liturgy. We have taken these interim measures for the safety of all, after all, people are always more important than liturgy, even good liturgy. Always remember, though, they are interim.
What we are not in control over
- We have not been able to shake hands and greet each other in the normal way during the “sign of peace.” What a shame that the power of good, human touch has to be reduced to a nod from a distance.
- We are not able to share in the Cup, the Blood of Christ, at Communion time. This is the hardest part for me. With the very words of Jesus on my lips, I look right into your eyes at Mass and say, “Take this all of you and drink from it…” yet I have no intention of giving it to you. Again, for the safety of all, we cannot do as Jesus asked us to do.
- Our ability to participate in processions has been curbed. Hopefully, as pandemic restrictions are lifted we will have gathering processions at the beginning and end of Mass as well as Communion processions where we don’t have to keep physical distancing going. Without such processions, the Body of Christ seems so fragmented.
- We are not able to sing freely without masks. Again, this is a temporary measure. When the assembly is not singing (COVID or not), we have a Mass; when the assembly is singing, we have a celebration. While we are not in control of these four liturgical “sins” just know they are temporary measures but far, far, far from what good liturgy calls us to.
What we are totally in control of
5. You have noticed that the Communion rite during COVID has changed. We have asked you not to respond “Amen” when you receive Communion. The priest or Communion minister will not be saying “The Body of Christ” to each individual. We do it collectively, that is, we all say together, “Amen” to start the Communion rite. There are no words exchanged after that. This is to minimize the chances of air-borne particles being transmitting. However, 25% of you still say, “Amen.” Please don’t do that. Here is an interesting fact. Before COVID, when you were expected to say, “Amen” at Communion, only 25% of you actually did. (This is not anecdotal but based on a sample size of 2-3 million over my 24 years as a priest). When you were encouraged to say “Amen,” only 25% did so; when you were discouraged from saying, “Amen,” 25% of you still do so. And you wonder why priests have so little hair!
6. There are still some of you following the readings and Eucharistic prayers in your missals. Some of you never look up into the face of the priest, the reader, nor your fellow parishioners. Remember, those personal missals are not liturgical texts and should not be used during liturgy. They are preparatory texts; you prepare at home with them. There are only two liturgical books that are to be used during Mass: the Lectionary (readings—Word of God) and the Sacramentary (Eucharistic prayers). What you hear at Mass is a proclamation and should never be reduced to multiple, simultaneous readings. God is speaking, look up!
7. There are a few couples and families that show up to Mass late week after week after week after week. This is very disruptive and shows little respect for the Body of Christ, the parishioners. On top of that, it is disrespectful of the presider, the music leader, and the readers. Anyone, including myself, can be late on any given Sunday. That’s normal and perfectly forgivable. However, when the same few families show up late every week, it shows a lack of respect for everyone. This is the easiest thing on the list to correct.
These three last deadly liturgical “sins” are totally within our control, COVID or not. Let’s make an effort to avoid bad habits. Remember, we are a team, a family. We are the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ deserves the best (not second, third, or fourth best) from the Body of Christ. Let’s get back to basics, for the price we pay for shoddy liturgy is too high. Good liturgy builds faith. Poor liturgy destroys faith. And, there’s nothing in between.
Fr. Phil Mulligan