success stories

Posted January 13, 2004

Book: How Not To Say Mass: Revised Edition: A Guidebook on Liturgical Principles and the Roman Missal
Author: Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J.
Paulist Press, New York, pp. 126

Excerpt from Introduction:

It may also seem that this book is overly concerned with liturgical law and the many rubrics that exist, and not really concerned about the underlying spirit. In one sense, it is correct that rubrics are emphasized in the sections that follow, but only because I believe that law tries to enflesh more important underlying principles and less important cultural options for the purpose of preserving the heritage within a given tradition and in a cultural manner with which most people would feel comfortable. But law is only one aspect of what liturgy totally is. Liturgy also involves culture, theology, psychology, history, to name a few other “supporting” disciplines. We can break a law and at the same time be on very good grounds theologically, psychologically, symbolically, historically, and culturally. But, in my experience, that occurs rarely. More often, when rubrics are violated, other aspects of the liturgical experience are damaged as well, and this book is concerned with the total experience — an experience that should help lead people to a deeper love and praise of their God. In some situations, a law can be good — eliminating bad liturgical practices, like the law stating that there should be no music during the eucharistic prayer. We do not need competition during the most important prayer of the Mass. The same law, however, can be enforced counterliturgically, as when an instrument is needed to help a presiding priest sing the eucharistic prayer and the assembly sing their acclamations. In cases like these, we do well to respectfully “violate” an unliturgical interpretation of the law, without violating its fundamental purpose and spirit. My intent is to help the reader to learn the true spirit of what may seem to be very confusing (and at times antiliturgical) rubrics and liturgical laws. We need always remember that just because something is legal does not make it morally right or personally expedient – for example, the legality of brothels in Nevada or of abortions in the United States. Similarly, just because something is illegal does not make it morally evil: it is legal for the Byzantine Rite to use leavened bread at the Eucharist, but not for the Roman Rite. Law is more complicated than we tend, at times, to admit. Law is also less absolute than we tend, at times, to practice.

Although the suggestions that follow are given as absolutes, very little is really absolute in this world. The wording is occasionally strong to indicate the importance that many liturgists attach to the topic under discussion, but some of the practices may allow for variation in special circumstances. When the special becomes the typical, however, it is then that the general thrust of good liturgy may be ignored, and it s then that the liturgical experience of the assembly will suffer.

Excerpt from Book:

When making the sign of the cross, do not say, “Amen.”

Most of us have been at Mass in which the priest presiding began the liturgy with a strange gesture, as if he were chasing flies away from his face and trying to catch one in front of his chest, and an even stranger statement (usually spoken in one breath), something like: “In t’nay mov t’fath’r, so nan holy spirta men t’lord be wi tyu.” Avoid duplicating this at all costs!

The “Amen” is the response of the people and NOT of the one presiding and in the Judeo-Christian liturgical tradition, this word in particular is a unique way of allowing individuals to affirm statements made by others. Hence, the importance of the “Amen” in worship services among African-American Baptists, especially during sermons. By usurping this response, or making the sign of the cross in such a way that the assembly is unable to respond properly, the entire worship-dialogue between the one presiding and the assembly is off to a bad start. The assembly has been told (non verbally) that the presiding priest does not want them to become involved — that he can do it all by himself. This may be the farthest thing from a given presider’s mind when he absentmindedly says “Amen” to the sign of the cross, but it sets up a psychological environment that is not well suited to good worship.

Do not replace the “sacred greeting” with a “secular greeting.”

The late American liturgist Ralph Keifer made the following comments about the initial greeting:

“Distortion of the formal greeting (“Good morning,” “The Lord is with you”) is inappropriate — a violation of the ritual bond already established by the song and process. To say something like “Good Morning” is to say loud and clear that the ritual is a barrier to communication. It is felt as a break from pattern and is experienced as the celebrant’s peeping over or around a wall of ritual at the people . . . To say either “Good morning” or to change the greeting formula into a flat statement is to treat the congregation as if they were bored or ignorant.”

Benedictine Father Aidan Kavanagh essentially says the same things:

“The reason for which some presidents choose to greet the assembly with “Good morning, everybody” instead of “The Lord be with you” is difficult to fathom. It cannot be that the former is more appropriate to the assembly’s purpose than the latter. Nor can it be that the first is theologically more sophisticated than the second. And since one would prefer not to entertain the possibility that the secular greeting is a mark of clerical condescension to the simple and untutored laity, the only alternative is to attribute the secular greeting’s use to presidential thoughtlessness of a fairly low order.”

These are both somewhat strong positions, perhaps too strong for each and every situation, but they make the point that some seemingly insignificant adaptions are not all that insignificant, if one takes a wider picture into view. Monsignor Joseph Champlin, another well-known American liturgist, takes a slightly milder approach, however. He suggests that the presider might offer a simple “good morning’ to the assembly in addition to the formal biblical greeting. He does grant that this somewhat duplicates the ritual greeting, and other liturgists suggest that the Introductory Rites already contain four or five beginnings. Thus, an additional greeting does not seem to be in the interests of better liturgy.

It is preferred that the homily be given from the chair.

The Introduction to the Lectionary reiterates an ancient tradition in #26: “The priest celebrant gives the homily either at the chair, standing or sitting, or at the ambo.” This emphasizes a tradition that was observed by bishops but overlooked by others — that delivering a homily is part of the presidential office, and thus should be delivered at the place where the presiding priest presides — the chair. Also following an ancient episcopal tradition the presiding priest may sit while preaching the homily.

Do not begin or end the homily with a sign of the cross.

Do not give a sermon, but rather “break the bread of the word” with a homily.

A sermon is a holy speech, a sacred oration — but, of its nature, it need not be connected to Scripture. A homily should start with the context of the celebration, particularly the feast being celebrated, or, if there is no feast, the experience of the Scripture just proclaimed. It should be a holy reflection on the Scripture, “breaking the bread” of God’s written word for the assembly so that those present can be nourished by it. It should offer practical applications to the contemporary culture. It is not an academic lecture containing absolute truth as perceived by the homilist, but a humble sharing of God’s graces and insights for the building up of God’s priestly people. Most authors suggest that ideally, the homily should be only around 7 to 10 minutes long on a typical Sunday, and 4 to 6 minutes long on a week day. A special occasion might be able to tolerate a homily of 12 or 14 minutes. Homilies longer than 15 minutes, however, are usually an imposition on the psyches of members of the assembly. In addition, oftentimes, “homilists” who go longer than 15 minutes have not said anything that could not have been said in the first five minutes anyway. Some homilists have a bad habit of multiplying words so that (both they and) the assembly do not realize that there is no real substance.!

Don not change the intercessions to prayers of thanks.

Sometimes, one hears petitions that read something like, “For Mary and Joe, IN THANKSGIVING for all they mean to us, let us pray to the Lord.” Although such a petition somewhat retains the general form for an intercession, it basically states a motive for thanksgiving, and thanksgiving belongs during or before, the eucharistic prayer.

Do not over-localize the prayer of the faithful

Never plan on using host from the tabernacle at Mass — or, correlatively — always consecrate enough bread and wine to minister to those present.

It is better to prepare the chalice at the credence table. This should be done by the deacon or concelebrant (and not the presiding priest). In addition, the water is not blessed.

Do not prepare the offerings at the altar while the collection is being taken.

Do not make a habit of saying the “offertory” prayers aloud.

Do not clutter the altar with unneeded ciboria and chalices.

Do not wash your fingertips — wash your hands.

Do not interrupt the eucharistic prayer for announcements

The presiding priest should not “distribute” the sign of peace to the assembly.

The presiding priest ought to minister Communion personally.

Do not make announcements before the prayer after Communion, thereby turning it into a preliminary blessing.