We should do what we should

Last night, my daughter “graduated” from her Catholic primary school. The event was a big “Graduation Mass”, attended by all the families and friends of the year 6’s. It focused, as one would expect, on the children. It was a celebration of the last seven years of their lives and of the school community. It was, of course, very emotional and touching.

I just kind of wish it wasn’t a mass.

Apart from the fact that very many of the people who attended would not have been practicing Catholics (if they were, our attendances on Sunday would be five times a high as they are), there was the simple fact that our Lord Jesus Christ, who is present “body and blood, soul and divinity” (as they say) in the Eucharistic species, was not the focus. Everything was focused on the kids and on the school.

There is a passage in “Light of the World”, where the interviewer, Peter Seewald, cites Ratzinger’s Way of the Cross meditations at the Colosseum on Good Friday 2005:

How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realising that he is there!

I felt a bit like that last night. The liturgy of the Sacrifice of the Mass was incidental to the main event: the kids’ graduation.

The other thing that deeply saddened me was the liturgy itself. There were just so many levels on which it failed to be what the Church’s liturgy should be. None of them in themselves were really horrendous; but the accumulated effect was a little sad. The people were not asked to stand or kneel for the Eucharistic prayer; they sat right through it. The parts of the mass (with the exception of the Lamb of God) were not sung. The “theme” was “Butterflies”. The First reading from Thessalonians was billed as a reading from the Old Testament. The priest wore white vestments (early Christmas?). The “hymns” were MP3 recordings of songs that none of those attending knew; they were difficult to sing, of dubious quality as liturgical song; and even my own children felt them to be a little childish. Effectively it became a matter of listening to the songs played through the audio system rather than anyone actually participating by singing.

I know all that all sounds a bit picky, but the overall effect was a bit shabby. I wonder which of us in our professional capacities would serve up to our clients substandard unprofessional work and then justify it by saying “we want to be at the level of the people”? Only the Church does liturgy. Why can’t we do it well? Why can’t our schools make it a priority to form choirs and train musicians to lead the people in song? Why can’t they train servers to attend at the altar? Why can’t the parish use the school masses as an opportunity to teach the school community how to celebrate the liturgy? Why do we expect less from a school mass than we would on a Sunday Mass?

I know. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Why can’t you say something positive for once, Schütz? You’re such a Grinch.

Which reminds me of a story that a friend told me recently, of having been to a Catholic wedding mass in which the Second Reading was (wait for it) from Dr Seuss. “Is that allowed?”, he wanted to know. “No,” I answered, “It’s called an “abuse””.

If Dr Seuss were given the chance to have his say on the matter, I wonder if it would go something like this:

What you do is not right
What you do is not good
We should do what is right
We should do what we should.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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23 Responses to We should do what we should

  1. Catherine says:

    Keep on grinching, you are abolutely right! Some music played at masses is absolutely woeful.

  2. Tony says:

    Wow, that is sad, David. Your reaction that is.

    But I guess if you can’t have a grumble on your own blog, where can you?

    I assume all your offers of help directed at raising the school’s liturgical ‘standards’ were rejected?

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, very early in the time that my children were at the school I made some suggestions for improvement in the school masses and asked if I could help. My offer was not taken up. One of the first jobs I had when I became Catholic was Music Coordinator for a parish in Eastern Melbourne. I worked with the school there, taking the years 3-6’s for an hour each week to learn singing for the school masses. The priest and staff and musicians there put a lot of work into it. I know it can be done, and I would dearly have liked to have been able to help in this context as well.

      But honestly, it would take more than someone coming in from outside and teaching songs for an hour a week to create the necessary improvement. As in my previous workplace, it would take cooperation from the parish priest, the headmaster, and the staff. There would have to be decisions at levels of policy, such as a decision to use live musicians (however elementary their ability), to teach songs that belong to a standard repetoire of Catholic liturical music, to train servers, to follow the standard rubrics with regard to sitting, standing and kneeling etc. It’s about developing a whole culture in the school which says “This is important and it is important to do it well.”

      And can I ask why you think my reaction is “sad” but the situation I describe isn’t? I would freely acknowledge that my reaction is a bit sad (I certainly feel very sad about it, and wish I could be more generous), but my sadness is in reaction to what I would regard as a truly sad situation, in which we were not treated very generously.

      • Tony says:

        And can I ask why you think my reaction is “sad” but the situation I describe isn’t? I would freely acknowledge that my reaction is a bit sad (I certainly feel very sad about it, and wish I could be more generous), but my sadness is in reaction to what I would regard as a truly sad situation, in which we were not treated very generously.

        You’ve more or less answered your own question, David. I wish you could be more generous too.

        To me (emphasis: to me) the tone and content of your post is similar to the tone and content of Fr Eric Hodgens albeit on different subjects. Fr H is negative and critical and lacking in generousity toward the wider church, you are the same about the ‘local’ church although the depth and bredth of your critique must surely go to the responsibility of the Bishop (?).

  3. Peter Golding says:

    I suspect Fr.Hodgens would approve of this sort of sloppy liturgy David.
    In fact,he would probably encourage it.

  4. Henrietta says:

    As a teacher (last year), one of my pet hates was having to have everyone ‘involved’ in the Liturgy, so that no student feels left out – this lead to such things as role plays during the readings, and even during the Penitential Rite and all sorts of items being processed in at the offertory….the list goes on!

    I don’t even know whether schools should be having Masses at all – Schools are now ‘Mission Territory’ where the majority of students do not go to Mass and sometimes the Non-Catholic enrollment can be as high as 40% – I think schools need to be evangelizing these students and not taking it for granted that they should go to Communion. The only saving grace is that most students would be ignorant of the fact that they are not practicing Catholics and so would be unaware that they are not supposed to receive Communion.

    Perhaps its time for the Archbishop to step in and produce some guidelines (like he did for Catholic Funerals) instructing teachers how to best prepare the students for Mass and reminding them of what is appropriate and what is not for a School Mass. It also wouldn’t hurt for schools to include some ‘Guidelines for Receiving Communion’ in the Mass booklets (I tried this in 2007 and the Priest objected so the guidelines had to be removed…..a long story!!)

    • Tony says:

      As a teacher (last year), one of my pet hates was having to have everyone ‘involved’ in the Liturgy, so that no student feels left out …

      I can’t believe someone could ‘hate’ that.

      I don’t even know whether schools should be having Masses at all – Schools are now ‘Mission Territory’ where the majority of students do not go to Mass and sometimes the Non-Catholic enrollment can be as high as 40% …

      I can’t believe you’d write that either. Surely if schools are ‘mission territory’ it’s all the more reason to have mass?

      I’m not a teacher but my experience as a parent and having many relatives and friends who are teachers, is that school liturgies are one thing that kids consistently ‘take away’ from their school experience because they are involved. The liturgy, when done well, speaks to their own experience and forms of expression.

      Who is in charge of judging what ‘done well’ means? Teachers and priests who work with the authority of the Bishop.

      So the bottom line is that this is a diocesan issue — if it is an issue at all. Take it up with him.

      In the meantime, maybe in a spirit of Christmas, it would be better to look upon these events with as much generousity as you can muster. Human nature being what it is, you’ll find people are much more willing to listen to your suggestions too!

      • Arabella says:

        Tony, you wrote: “I can’t believe you’d write that either. Surely if schools are ‘mission territory’ it’s all the more reason to have mass?”

        Henrietta made a good point. Surely if many who attend are not practising Catholics having a mass can create some awkwardness as many won’t fulfil the requirements for receiving the Eucharist.

        Maybe a Liturgy of the Word would be more suitable.

        • Tony says:

          Again, Arabella, those charged with judging those things, judge them and they do so with legitimacy.

          I’d be very surprised if the bishop, even of a very large diocese, is not aware of the demographic mix or the demographic trends in Catholic schools. I’d also be very surprised if he didn’t get feedback of the type given expression in this post.

          So, with no indication to the contrary, we surely have to assume that such masses are held with the blessing of the bishop? If people still feel awkward about that, then maybe it’s something they should examine about the attitude they bring to mass?

      • Henrietta says:

        I think its important to remember that everyone ‘participates’ in the Mass – but there is a difference between exterior and interior participation – this is something we should teach the students.

        I can’t participate in a role-play at Mass on Sunday, but does that mean that I am not participating in the Mass?, surely this is an important lesson for the students to learn.

        I don’t think we need to wait for a pronouncement from a Bishop to know that things are not being done properly – we received the ‘Guidelines for Catholic Funerals’ in Melbourne recently, obviously intended to correct errors that had become ingrained in the Catholic Culture….of course the contents of this were nothing new to those who had faithfully tried to follow the guidelines of Catholic Liturgy before.

  5. LMA says:

    David, I think you are absolutely right and you have expressed your disappointment as school masses in a far better way than I could (or would). The school mass is an extraordinary opportunity to “evangelise” non-practicing Catholics who wish their children to have a Catholic education and every time I have been to one, they have failed to deliver in most of the ways you mentioned in your post. If the school families were able to participate in a most beautiful liturgy that was focused on the Lord and us developing or desiring to develop a deeper relationship with Him, many may actually return to weekly Sunday mass. I feel you pain David.

  6. I sympathise, David.
    I went to so many masses like that with my then Catholic wife in my pre-conversion days that p6 from the Lutheran hymnal came as such a (beneficial) shock…so this is what real worship looks like!

    Btw, Dr Suess being a good Lutheran and all, I think he would put it like this:

    What you do is not right
    What you do is not good
    We are to do what is right
    We are to do what we should.

    As you will remember, I’m sure, in Lutheran theology true obedience that pleases God springs from what we are in Christ, and not we ‘should’ be according to the Law.

  7. Paul G says:

    Hello David,
    If I may lighten your grumbling load by having a grumble of my own….
    I’ve seen a couple of Masses in very different circumstances recently. Last Sunday, I was at the Matt Talbot hostel in Sydney at their morning Mass. The impression I had was that the men there were regular participants in the Sunday Mass, but the slightly unusual thing was, like at your school Mass, everyone sat all the time, including the consecration, and only moved around during an extended peace offering. Personally, I don’t have a big problem with this, because it would probably have been difficult for some of the men to focus on all the details of sitting, standing, kneeling etc. It seemed to me that there was still a reverence during the Mass and especially the consecration.

    The other example was at a Sunday Mass in a suburban parish. They followed the practice, which I think is fairly common, of asking all the children into a room at the start of Mass, where they had some form of instruction, and emerged holding colouring in sheets related to the readings. They rejoined the rest of the congregation around the time of the Offertory. No doubt there is some good intention behind this, but I think it is short-changing the children. Even if they don’t understand everything about the readings and homily as presented to the adults, I think it is better for them to feel part of the community for all the Mass. One problem in this case was that the lay reader was dreadful, and I couldn’t understand him myself, so the children would probably have had difficulties.

    There you go, a shared grumble. No doubt all parties have the best of intentions, but my feeling is that we shouldn’t deny children the drama and wisdom of good liturgy.

    • Brenda says:

      I agree Paul, if children are excluded from the liturgy, how can they ever feel a part of it? It won’t happen by osmosis from the colouring-in room. Those sorts of ‘solutions’ are designed by adults who want children out of the way so as to minimise the noise during Mass. Children are a part of our congregations and need ministry just as the adults do. I like the idea of some Masses being specifically geared to children but with the children remaining in the church throughout. Children learn through modelling. Sitting by their parents, they learn what to expect and what to do in church. It also helps to sit up the front if you have small children. That way they can see what is taking place and will feel more involved. In a parish I was in in Melbourne some years ago, I attempted to encourage a short, monthly Mass specifically aimed at ministry to families with young children. I had limited success because the parish priest was fairly resistant.

  8. Tony Bartel says:

    I have to say that my daughter’s graduation Mass was a different experience, but then our school is in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga.

    The priest was very prayerful and had a good homily on Saint Lucy (it was Monday) talking about how every young person can witness for Christ following her example.

    We had the readings and prayers for the day with Red Vestments.

    There were a few things I could grumble about, but on the whole the liturgy was focused on our Lord and through him in thanksgiving for the schooling the children had received.

    Or to put it another way, there was no apology for the Church’s liturgy and it became the vehicle through which we gave thanks.

  9. Stephen K says:

    David, I’d like to respond to your question “Why can’t we do it well?” But it is not the only question implied by some of the responses; I discern the complaint or question “Why can’t we have/insist on a more reverent mystery-heightened liturgy?”
    The two questions are distinct. In the Catholic Church there are wide variations in liturgical literacy, awareness and preferences. For some people, the liturgy is the most important aspect of their religious life, and many of these want and support the Latin liturgy; there are others, also self-described traditionalists, for whom the Latin liturgy is not so much an end in itself but a sine qua non for integrity of ‘faith’. There are others who are passionate about the idea of vernacular, inclusive, participatory liturgy, and so on. Many Mass-goers however would have little contact or awareness of the battleground of liturgy over the last few decades, and if they have any preference, they do not know how to express it or influence the shape of liturgy in their own domain/parish. A musical education invariably introduces a person to a wider range of styles and liturgical possibilities, especially the traditional.
    Not every traditionalist is musically fluent, but many musical people gravitate towards more “formal’ more stylised liturgies because music plays such a significant role in stimulating the emotional response in religious activity, prayer and worship. It’s significant that some of the contributors explicitly comment on the music: I think that of all liturgical components (colour, text, choreography, smells etc) music is the most singly powerful.

    These observations of mine lead me to suggest that the whole post Vatican II experience has had four effects: (1) it has, partly because of the widespread banality and dumbing down of Mass liturgy, brought the critical importance or effectiveness of good liturgy to the forefront (I opine that prior to the 1960s reforms, the Latin ceremonies, now so passionately appreciated – like a near extinct species – were taken largely for granted); (2) it has, largely through the dissipation of the formerly tight annual seasonal theology into a three-year cycle, resulted in a lesser awareness of liturgical symbolism and seasonal/festal themes; (3) it has, largely through the loss of the huge musical repertoire in Latin, resulted in a lesser reservoir available to congregations; (4) it has, through not only having made an attempt to prohibit the older liturgical forms but because of the deliberately different language of both, resulted in a lamentable politicisation of the liturgy and the community-at-worship, such that now the type of liturgy one attends, prefers or promotes is interpreted – sometimes incorrectly – as the type of faith one has (with gnashing of teeth on all sides).

    In my view there are two important foci in community liturgy: (1) the purpose of sacralising a space and period so that people can sense an encounter with God and the mysteries of their religion; and (2) the purpose of joining together in shared experience and a sense of belonging to God and each other. The former I could call “consecration”, the latter “communion”. I could also characterise the former as “Temple worship”, the latter “Assembly prayer”. High churchers favour the former; low churchers favour the latter, but in reality, both aspects serve an important end and, notwithstanding that the former was largely discarded for a long time I think it was good that the conciliar-induced reforms introduced the latter.
    So why can’t one have more mystery-focused liturgy? I don’t think the beneficial answer lies in trying to re-triumph with the extraordinary rites because I think that will perpetuate spiritual divisiveness. Yet somehow I think people have to embrace both consecration and communion.

    Why can’t we do it well? I suggest there are several causes to address: (1) good liturgy is not spontaneous or unrehearsed; one has to practice and spend time at it. Pastors have to be trained in liturgy – perhaps even more than things like canon law or systematic theology – and support and encourage servers, acolytes, choirs and ushers, with some budget allowances; (2) good liturgy depends on simplicity of theme, so that the symbolism of the prayers and ceremonies is clear; and pastors could spend less time hammering the elderly about the evils of abortion and contraception ad nauseam and spend time explaining the colour of vestments, the reason why a Gospel text was chosen and why one sings one hymn rather than another; (3) good liturgy is prayer, not a political statement; one has to re-learn how to appreciate it as a formwork for an encounter with God and fellow, rather than as a manifesto pro- or anti-“Vatican II” (whatever that means); (4) good liturgy involves all the senses and faculties, not just the dozing intellect, so more good singing, clear Scripture reading and less sermonising would help. It would also require more people to be encouraged to listen to Gregorian chant and the better, less-florid polyphony and have some background to the text and composition explained to them.

    Finally, dare I say it: (5) apart from Cathedrals and some fine parishes, Australian Catholicism has a poor history of liturgical appreciation. I think it is true that missionary religion, operating in a mindset of political and social oppression as the Irish did it, focussed on nearly everything but liturgy and singing. Modern Australian Catholics suffer from that legacy and that had nothing to with Vatican II reforms, and everything to do with a pre-occupation or even at times a prejudice against “high-falutin’ things an’ sich”.

    I’ll bring this long post to a close by simply saying we ought to be careful to remember that our preferences and dislikes in liturgy no less than in other religious aspects, are mostly reflections of our experiences and understanding and spiritual needs, and we respond to those forms with which at any given time we feel most familiar and comfortable. These are bound to differ, so we should quarantine our criticisms of liturgical forms from any criticism of people who disagree with us.

  10. Jim Ryland says:

    David,

    I read your post with great interest and I agree. Masses that are used to celebrate what are largely secular events are seldom worthy. The Mass suffers from attention being focused on the event and the event suffers from the gravity of the Mass.

    I had the great pleasure of serving as music director in a large parish with several priests, a convent, school and all the trappings. The senior pastor, a monsignor, in his prenuptial counseling always reminded the couple that the Solemn High Nuptial Mass was not the “Bride & Groom Show”. That couple had chosen this venue to ask the Lord to participate as an ever-present member of their union. In other words, it was primarily the Eucharist and not the flowers, gowns, and tuxedos. He was very adamant about the choice of music, tasteful sacred only, and asked them to “keep the love songs for the reception entertainment”. I have often wished that he could be cloned.

  11. Christine says:

    The people were not asked to stand or kneel for the Eucharistic prayer; they sat right through it. The parts of the mass (with the exception of the Lamb of God) were not sung. The “theme” was “Butterflies”. The First reading from Thessalonians was billed as a reading from the Old Testament. The priest wore white vestments (early Christmas?). The “hymns” were MP3 recordings of songs that none of those attending knew; they were difficult to sing, of dubious quality as liturgical song; and even my own children felt them to be a little childish. Effectively it became a matter of listening to the songs played through the audio system rather than anyone actually participating by singing.

    Oh dear. I’m going to have to extend some sympathy to David on this one. Not that we don’t have lemons here in the U.S., but over the past fourteen years since my conversion to Catholicism the situation, at least here in the Northeast where I live, has changed considerably and I continue to see a return to the basics as well as a great deal of enthusiasm among clergy and laity about the new Missal translation.

    I also find Stephen’s comment:

    Finally, dare I say it: (5) apart from Cathedrals and some fine parishes, Australian Catholicism has a poor history of liturgical appreciation. I think it is true that missionary religion, operating in a mindset of political and social oppression as the Irish did it, focussed on nearly everything but liturgy and singing. Modern Australian Catholics suffer from that legacy and that had nothing to with Vatican II reforms, and everything to do with a pre-occupation or even at times a prejudice against “high-falutin’ things an’ sich

    Very interesting as that is precisely the position taken by Thomas Day in his book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing.” There was definitely a time when the Irish influence was very strong in America, particularly in the hierarchy and I don’t for one minute want to minimize the historical burdens of the Irish, but we have pretty much moved past that period of history. Stephen’s observation that it takes practice and effort and certain fundamentals to achieve good liturgy are also well taken.

    My own parish pastor, a Benedictine and our parish DRE run a tight ship. I can’t for the life of me imagine a graduation scenario at our parish school like the one David describes, and all Catholics deserve better.

    I am grateful to note Jim Ryland’s comments.

  12. Tony says:

    Our parish has two small, but great choirs. The more formal one has been going for over 50 years and has been blessed with great leaders. The other is newer, more informal and focussed on young people.

    It has been consistently difficult, however, to get a regular musical presence in the Saturday evening vigil.

    In the last year or so and new parishioner has appeared on Saturdays. He’s an oldish man who looks Indian and is always in his electric wheelchair. In the silence of most masses he started to get out his mouth organ and play a recognisable hymn. These days he plays at the beginning, during communion, and at the end of mass and is acknowledged at the beginning of mass as ‘the musician’.

    I’d estimate that he has a repetiore of 6 hymns and they often merge with each other. Technically he’s really not very good but the music, such as it is, is not obtrusive and I think people regard his humble efforts with some affection.

    When I read through the responses in this string I wonder what many here would think of this mass and our ‘musician’.

    • Schütz says:

      Do you know, I would say that at least this is “authentic”. We used to have an accordian player at vigil mass once.

      In fact, I would like to see musicians of every stripe encouraged to use their talents in the service of the Lord in the liturgy (yes, even drummers and harmonica players!!). One of the “sad” things about the situation that I describe in the blog is that the prinary school has some very, very talented musicians on a whole variety of instruments, but they have never been invited to play for school (or even parish) masses.

      In my wife’s Lutheran parish, as soon as any youngster begins to show any competancy with an instrument, they are invited to become a part of the parish music program. Thus the number of people involved in music ministry at this relatively small parish (as compared to the average Catholic parish) is over seventy (including choir and cantors).

      It starts with appreciating what people can offer to the liturgy and using their talents when they offer them freely.

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