Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Liturgy and distractions
by Father Jan Larson
(From the June 10, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Some decades ago the liturgical authorities in Rome and many national conferences of bishops gave permission for the Eucharist to be celebrated in homes. These home Masses became quite popular, but in a few years their popularity vanished. One reason was because of the growing priest shortage. Indeed, today most pastors I know are stretched too far in the number of Masses they have on their regular schedule of parish liturgies, and many priests must refuse requests for additional liturgies.
Most churches in those days did not have a small chapel where liturgies for small groups could celebrate, and the home provided such an intimate space. Today most new and renovated churches have such small chapels, so homes are no longer necessary. But perhaps the most compelling reason for the demise of home Masses, at least in my own experience, is the distractions that are so common to our home environments. I found it especially difficult to pray. Concentration on the prayer and the ritual is not easy when pets are walking through the room, when background television sound is coming from some other room, and when telephones and doorbells are ringing. Liturgical prayer requires concentration, and this makes some clear demands on the environment of its celebration.
Some distractions are unavoidable. A child occasionally cries, someone sneezes, a song book accidentally drops onto the organ keyboard in the middle of the homily. But many other distractions are quite unnecessary if liturgies are prepared carefully and with a good sense of how ritual action works. Here we need only look to how a play, or an opera, or a musical concert are prepared.
One thing that is always so obvious (that we may not even notice it!) is that everything is ready when we arrive. By the time people gather and are seated, no one is visibly adjusting microphones or arranging seating. The lighting levels are set and musicians have finished with last minute rehearsals. Stagehands are invisible.
Liturgy, however, is unlike plays or concerts, because it is much more important. Look, for example, at the Liturgy of the Word at Mass. Why do ushers seat people in the middle of a Scripture reading or homily? When this happens, attention is immediately diverted from the speaker to the person who is arriving late. If servers forget to light the candles, why light them in the middle of a reading or homily? The candles are not that important. Light them when people are not trying to concentrate on God speaking to us. If a microphone is not working, or if furniture needs arranging, why not make needed adjustments when no one will notice?
The United States bishops are quite correct in their teaching: “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken and destroy it.” Needless distractions only make for poorer celebrations.
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)