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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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