Parish announcements should happen before Mass
The voice of my childhood pastor, Father Kerwin, was just short of Edward R. Murrow in wartime England. Except instead of saying “This…is London,” he would declare five minutes before Mass began: These…are the announcements. Grave proclamations in his deep, chastening, black-coffee voice that could refreeze a melted glacier: Ladies’ Circles, Holy Week schedule, parking advisories, adoration times.
He came out, he told us what was what, he went back into the sacristy. A few minutes later, he appeared again, vested in green chasuble and stole, entrance hymn, bow at the altar, Mass begins.
And after Communion ended and everyone was just sitting there—and this is the important part—he stood, we stood, he gave the final blessing and processed out.
After Communion ended and everyone was just sitting there—and this is the important part—he stood, we stood, he gave the final blessing and processed out.
Father Kerwin did not stop the liturgy entirely and have us sit down again to hear about what was going on in the parish. The announcements had already been done. He did not need to interrupt the show for a commercial break. Did not have to halt the play just before the final curtain.
Father Kerwin kept the steady train of the drama on its tracks. The sacred ritual, the numinous tone, the mystical orientation of the Sunday morning passion play he let go uninterrupted to its logical conclusion.
The Russian actor Michael Chekhov wrote that all good acting should have, among other things, a feeling of beauty, a feeling of form and a feeling of “the whole.” A natural theatrical flow, a beautifully rounded out creation. You lift the cup, you drink from the cup, you put the cup down. Grace notes between each action. Clear beginning, middle and end. Aesthetic beauty. (Even ugly moments in the most chaotic of plays can be played with beauty.) The liturgy is a set piece, a whole. The fundamental story structure, the narrative steams toward an ending with nothing stopping it.
Having Mass announcements right before the liturgy ends is like having the director come out and stop “Hamlet” three minutes before it finishes in order to tell the audience where the best post-show night spots are. And only then calling on young Fortinbras to come finish things off.
Having Mass announcements right before the liturgy ends is like having the director come out and stop “Hamlet” three minutes before it finishes in order to tell the audience where the best post-show night spots are.
This would not be awesome.
(Unless it were one of those meta, Brechtian productions, where it is part of the whole gig to remind us we are watching a play—and even then disrupting the form is part of the form.)
The Mass announcements immediately grab everyone’s attention. They are vital. They introduce warmth, relatability, a conversational tone into the proceedings. They involve people, concretely, in the whole Catholic thing. Everyone leans in to listen more closely when given actual news, upcoming events, names and dates and places and times. This is personal; this is directly for me. They want me to show up at something. This church is my home.
Did the way Father Kerwin intoned the Mass announcements make people feel cherished and at home? I cannot say. But he did them at the correct time. Right before the liturgy began. And there are about ten thousand Catholics out there—including lay men and women—who could pull off pre-Mass announcements with elan and warmth. (There may be concerns that, if announcements take place before Mass, people who come late to Mass will miss them, miss hearing about the important events and fundraisers and so on. The answer is to simply make the announcements engaging enough that people will want to be on time to hear them.)
Individual parishes decide when to say the announcements. So, maybe they do them at a time that doesn’t interrupt the poetry of the prayer, that lets the sacred theater be the sacred theater, that instills a feeling of beauty and of the whole, beginning, middle and uninterrupted end.