Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Liturgy Reflections
'Mysterious liturgy' revisited

by Father Jan Larson

(From the Oct. 26, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson In May of this year I wrote an article titled “Mysterious liturgy,” offering my opinion that those who plan the ETWN daily televised liturgies could do better (IR 7/6/06). The article resulted in a flood of emails, most of them critical of my comments.

I am reminded that I am certainly not the first one to be uncomfortable with these televised Masses. In February of 2000, the bishop of Birmingham, Ala., where these broadcasts originate, found it necessary to issue guidelines for televised Masses in his diocese. He was clearly not happy with the way ETWN liturgies were departing from what the celebration of the liturgy usually looks like.

And here is exactly the point I am trying to make: One can speak of various liturgical styles. There are, for example, liturgies with contemporary hymns, or with the more classical hymns, or liturgies with some Latin or some chant. There are liturgies planned for certain groups of people in mind, for example, young children, teenagers, elderly, people on retreats, military people engaged in combat, and so forth. One kind reader reminded me that ETWN liturgies are really the liturgies of a monastic community, to which the public is invited. Her implication was that the monks have their private Mass, so they can do what they want, even though a lay congregation is present.

I think this is wrong on two counts.

First, there is no such thing as a private Mass. All liturgies are the public prayer of the church. Therefore, even monks, if they open their chapel doors to lay congregations, should plan those liturgies to incorporate the full and active participation of the lay people present, as well as of the monastic community. Thus lay people should be encouraged to be readers and servers. At least on Sundays there should be the prescribed procession with the gifts. There should be the exchange of the Sign of Peace, and Communion from the chalice should be available to all. Also Communion should not be distributed from what has been reserved in the tabernacle from previous liturgies. Also, if Latin is used in the liturgy, it should be used sparingly.

These are simple norms providing for full and active participation of all in the assembly – not just for a chosen few. These norms apply even more obviously when the liturgy is going to be broadcast daily to thousands and thousands of households worldwide. These elements that deepen the participation of the laity are a part of the liturgy in the vast majority of parishes worldwide. I think that a daily televised Mass ought to reflect the way the liturgy is celebrated in most parishes.

Priests today try to be personal and warm at our parish liturgies. As I have said, ETWN priests appear to me to be cold, impersonal, mechanical and lifeless. I doubt they are that way personally, but the ETWN style forces them to appear that way. That is my impression. I feel that Jesus at the Last Supper was warm, inviting, personal, and yet was leading “authentic” liturgy. If this does not happen in parishes, then many people, especially young people, will stop coming to the liturgy. I am always moved by the way the pope will greet children as they bring him the gifts of bread and wine for the Mass. He embraces them, kisses them, and gives each one a gift. This is a small thing, and not even a part of the official liturgy, but it allows the pope’s warm personality to help shape the sacred rites. I see nothing of this personal touch on ETWN.

I appreciate the sense that readers expressed that the liturgy needs to have a sense of mystery about it. The challenge to those who plan the liturgy: how can the priest be warm, personal and friendly, and still maintain the sense of mystery that the liturgy requires? I believe that if the priest just follows what the liturgical books indicate, and does everything well, the sense of mystery will be preserved, and the priest does not have to become mechanical and lifeless in the process, nor does he need to become like an entertainer or a game show host. The sense of mystery is lost when priest and planners make the liturgy more of an experience of entertainment than an experience of prayer.

Finally, some readers are rightly concerned about what they perceive to be liturgical abuses. Certainly there are liturgical abuses happening in various places, as there always have been. But heeding the words of Pope John Paul II, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, it is unfortunate that some “have turned back in a one-sided and exclusive way to the previous liturgical forms which some of them consider to be the sole guarantee of certainty in faith.... This should not lead anyone to forget that the vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedience and indeed joyful fervor.” I am happy to include myself in this vast majority, and hope that each reader may come to share this common joy.

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)


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