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Pastor’s Corner – March 15, 2015


Liturgy Corner 21
with Fr. James

Mandatum Novum: “A New Commandment”

If you are a regular at the 11:15 am Mass on Sunday, you may have wondered about the Taize chant, in Latin, that the choir has been singing at the dismissal of the Candidates. During Lent the choir decided to accompany them on their way out for discussion and meditation on the Liturgy of the Word with the Latin sentence: Mandatum novum do vobis, dicit dominus, dicit dominus. The English translation is “I give you a new commandment, says the Lord, says the Lord.”

This is taken from John 13:34, which is the Gospel acclamation for the Holy Thursday Mass. The Gospel for this Mass is also taken from John 13, where at the Last Supper Jesus washes the apostles’ feet as an example of the humility with which we are to approach being Jesus’ disciples.

So the New Commandment, that we love one another with Christ-like love, is a fitting meditation for us all, but especially for those preparing for full communion with the Catholic Church. And for those of us hearing this every week, it will serve as a prelude to the beginning of the Triduum.

Pastor’s Corner – March 1, 2015


with Fr. James

Distraction at Mass, Part 3:
Distractions of Spontaneity

In one way of looking at it, “liturgy planning” sounds like an oxymoron. Since the structure of the Mass is always the same, and the readings and prayers of the seasons are prescribed, what’s to plan? But, of course, for the Sunday Masses homilies must be planned, music selected, intercessions composed, and logistics for any special rites need to be thought out and sometimes even rehearsed. So considerable time, thought, and effort may go into any given weekend liturgy. But isn’t even this all too rigid, not leaving any room for the Spirit to move? Isn’t there any room for spontaneity in Catholic Sunday worship? The General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes it sound like the answer is no:

[T]he priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass. [GIRM #24]

However, this statement occurs in the context of accommodations and adaptations that are allowed in the Missal. Not only is there structural wiggle room in the Mass, but a degree of spontaneity can naturally happen in the delivery of the homily, or what words or phrases are emphasized, and the like.

On the other hand, spontaneity is the antithesis of formal, ritual worship. For a minister to “express himself” by innovating on the spot can be a major distraction to the effect of engaging in such a communal act of formal worship as the Mass. Even in that first formational generation of Christians when the formal structure of the Mass was more fluid, St. Paul in his instructions to the charismatic Corinthians sought to control spontaneous outbursts in the Sunday assembly for the sake of order. “Indeed, the spirits of prophets are under the prophets’ control, since he is not the God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:32-33). So clearly, spontaneity as such does not have a high priority in the Mass itself.

Pastor’s Corner – February 22, 2015


with Fr. James

Distraction at Mass, Part 2:
Explanation & Self-Reference

Consider the words Irénée-Henri Dalmais, O.P. wrote in his 1967 The Liturgy as Celebration of the Mystery of Salvation:
Liturgy belongs in the order of doing…not knowing. Logical thought cannot get far with it; liturgical actions yield their intelligibility in their performance, and this performance takes place at the level of sensible realities, not as exclusively material, but as vehicles of overtones capable of awakening the mind and heart to acceptance of realities belonging to a different order.

There are occasions in the Mass when the Celebrant may helpfully provide a brief explanatory intervention. But this should be done seldom and with great prudence. That is because, in Dalmais’ turn of phrase, it diverts our attention from the order of doing (worship) to the order of knowing – logical thought.

Similarly with self-reference in the Mass. When we add self-conscious language to the Mass, we are also detracting from our experience and action of worship and turning instead to thought about our worship. A simple example of self-reference: There’s a setting of the Great Amen that says “We sing Amen”. In this way we point out our act of singing Amen.

C. S. Lewis in his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed” noted that we cannot look at a sunbeam and look up along the sunbeam at the same time. The act of worship is like sticking our head in the light and seeing the sun. Turning our attention to the fact that we are worshiping is like looking at the light, rather than with it. And that’s a distraction.

Pastor’s Corner – February 15, 2015


with Fr. James

Distraction at Mass, Part 2:
Distractions of Creativity

The general direction of this series on Distraction at Mass will be from the more abstract to the more specific. Surely the topic of “creativity” is suitably abstract.

New & Improved. But why consider creativity to be a source of distraction at Mass? Surely we do not want Mass to become so static and stale that absolutely every word and gesture is 100% predictable. Of course not. However, in our consumerist American culture we place a high value on variety, options, and “new and improved” products to alleviate boredom.

We tend to bring these same sensibilities into our liturgical planning and expectations. At the extreme, we can make a virtue out of creativity simply for variety’s sake.

Nature of Ritual. When we participate in Mass, however, we are engaging in formal, ritual worship. This particular ritual event follows a pattern set down in the first century A.D. The primary method of its preservation was continual repetition handed on from generation to generation. For a ritual even to be a ritual, its primary mark is that it is a repetition of what happened before. Rites evidence a high value placed on having an unchanging core of meaning and action.

On the other hand, a degree of intentional creativity and adaptation is necessary for the viability of a sacred ritual over time. Contrary to the historicist fallacy about some golden age where the liturgy was perfect and later developments are always corruptions, change over time is also necessary for the long-term survival of Christian rites.

But when creativity in liturgy is sought for its own sake, then it is a major distraction. One of the reasons that so-called liturgical dance has not had staying power is because it is not a valid development of the tradition, but has all the markings of creativity for creativity’s sake.

The Balance. There is a fine balance to be found here. But if we keep in mind the nature of ritual itself, as well as the focus of the Mass as the worship of God for the purpose forming Christ within us, a measured degree of creative enhancement can lead us into deeper worship rather that distraction.

Pastor’s Corner – February 8, 2015


Liturgy Corner 17

with Fr. James

Distraction at Mass:

Eucharist as Formation


It is obvious that when we gather at Sunday Mass we are engaged in the worship of God. But what is not so obvious is what deepens and what limits that activity. Before we can usefully explore what does and does not make something a distraction at Mass, we need a clear notion of what the Eucharist’s intended focus is.

Focus. As I wrote in my very first Liturgy Corner article, neither the Vatican II documents, nor official documents since, have ever made any such shift in emphasis from God to the congregation. God is ever the focus of the Mass, through the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Jesus Himself being offered back to the Father. Everything else is secondary to that focus. Community is a product, not the main focus, of Mass. But why?

Purpose. To answer why is to tell the primary purpose of the Eucharist. The deepest purpose of the Mass is formational. Both as individuals and as a community, the goal of Mass is to conform us to Christ, to turn us into saints. Just how it is supposed to do that is part of its mystery.

In the weeks that follow I hope to show some rather surprising conclusions of what kinds of things detract from both the proper focus and the primary purpose of our weekly Eucharist.

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