The National Catholic Review
Patricia A. Kossmann

Every practicing Catholic, if asked, can summon a number of memorable moments (memorable being the operative word) in their liturgical life experience. Lucky for me, these span two time zones: pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II. I am convinced it was the magic and mystery in the priest’s Introibo ad altare Dei or the choir’s rendering of Salve Regina, among so many others, that instilled in me a desire to learn Latin. Fortunately, the whole baby did not get thrown out with the bath water. There are still Latin hymns to be heard in many parishes, at least for occasional special events. And the use of incense, which40 years laterstill transcends the olfactory experience, induces in me a spiritual euphoria. Okay, what can I say? I’m a sensate person. I notice a lot.

Ms. Elizabeth Ficocelli, who writes in this issue (Avoiding Mass Hysteria), is on the money as far as I’m concerned. There is nothing worse than having your focus broken by a munching smallster from the pew in front who stands up practically in your face and then having to watch his Cheerios drop all over the place. My parish lacks hourly janitorial service, so those Cheerios get crunched into the carpet to stay. I wish parents were more cognizant of this.

On the flip side, I am often inspired at the sight of many families with young children, collectively at worship. It brings to mind the great pride I felt as a youngster to attend early Sunday morning Mass with my father, seated up frontalways up frontmissal in hand. Or rising at 2:30 a.m. on Holy Thursday night (actually early Good Friday) to join him in the holy hour from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. in church. Those moments, of course, were pre-Vatican ones. My father passed away a year before the council ended.

Fast forwarding to the present: this year our parish liturgy planners made some changes in the Holy Week and Good Friday serviceson the face of it, perhaps, nothing jolting. But change doesn’t have to be. For instance, on Good Friday, the people in church ministered to one anothersomething I have not witnessed since our special parish Mass in time of civil crisis or war last September. The ministering actually took the form of volunteerism. During the veneration of the cross (a single huge cross sans corpus), members of the community at random came off line and relieved one of the two candle-bearers on either side. Men and women of all ageseven with infirmitiesas well as kids as young as 2 or 3 (with Dad helping, of course). The liturgy that afternoon was different. The experience was rich and powerful. The faith community was united as it should always be. All because the change in ritual called the people in a special way. Good liturgy does that. I telephoned our pastor upon returning home and told him. Lay people should take the same amount of time complimenting the staff as complaining.

Complaints, in my experience, usually involve sermonizingboth the homily’s content and its delivery. But this is a delicate area. I have found that when praise is truly merited, and I bestow it upon the preacher of the day, the following week or month a clunker will issue from the same mouth. And not just a clunker, a looong, boring and bereft clunker!

Speaking of speakers, occasionally at Mass, whether in our home parish or another, during travel or vacation, the lector of the day, unfortunately, is off duty. So we listen to a reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Coliseums or to the Filipinos or some such. I always feel for that reader, who obviously has difficulty. I’m tempted to put into her or his hand a copy of The Lector: Effective Delivery of the Word by Mary Lyons (Pastoral Press). It’s a resource every parish should consider using.

Quibbles aside, many are my memories of vibrant liturgies, whether in the pew or through ministries of the word and music. If yours are not so, I leave you with this thought: qui cantat bis orat.

Patricia A. Kossmann is literary editor of America.

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