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What Mass Isn't
Last week I wrote about what is meant by the term ‘Mass’. The Mass is just one of several forms of liturgy, or public worship, that the church celebrates, although it is the most central. Forms of liturgy that are not Mass include morning and evening prayer, the funeral liturgy, liturgy of the word with communion, and rites of reconciliation.
This week I want to look at what Mass is not, which might strike some readers as rather strange.
The Mass is not a vehicle or backdrop for every activity in the life of a parish or school.
I have an order of service from a school Mass which includes the blessing and presentation of senior badges, the senior covenant, presentation of college leaders, leadership pledge (all before the Liturgy of the Word), commissioning of the senior class, staff and parent commissioning. It seems that the Mass merely provided the framework for these school rituals. Surely they would have been better done in the context of a liturgy of the word or simple blessing ritual.
Mass is being misused when it becomes the setting for events or matters other than prayer and becomes just another ‘ceremony’. As one author put it, Mass is not ‘a town meeting with prayer’. When we come together to celebrate Mass, we enter into a sacred time and place.
Among the many, and surprisingly supportive, comments I received after writing about eulogies a few weeks ago was one from a gentleman who had recently attended a funeral where five eulogies took up the first fifty minutes of the service. By the time Mass began, children were restless, older people tired and others squirming in the uncomfortable pews, and what should have been the high point of the funeral became a rushed ‘add on’.
The Mass is never an opportunity for promoting a worthy cause to a captive audience.
This can happen when a particular theme or appeal, like World AIDS Day or Refugee Week, overshadows the character of the Sunday Mass because it is made the focus of the homily and the hymns and takes precedence over the prayers and readings of the day.
I have witnessed people using Mass to propagate information about a private devotion to an apparition of Mary by putting leaflets on the pews when people went to communion
During the Liturgy of the Word at one special Mass somebody passed around an anti-abortion petition. This showed a total lack of respect for the Mass, for Christ speaking through the scriptures, for members of the assembly whose concentration and participation were interrupted, and for the organisers whose permission was not sought or given.
Mass is not the time for testing the orthodoxy of a particular priest or parish.
There have been many instances of people attending liturgy and making notes so that real or perceived breaches of the liturgical law can be reported to Rome. Liturgy is not an exercise in rule-keeping but an exercise in worship; it is the gathering of the faith community to give veneration to God.
The Mass is an act of worship, of praise and thanksgiving to God. At Mass we join with Christ in giving thanks to God and, with Christ, we offer ourselves to God. Every Mass is a celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that is, the paschal mystery.