'Hearts on Fire' Liturgies

“Hearts on Fire with the love of Jesus, Hearts on Fire let’s spread the word….”  These words are still going round and round in the heads of all those fortunate enough to be part of the marvellous National Catholic Conference on Evangelisation held in Brisbane from July 14 to 17.

Participants have named the liturgies at the conference as a highlight of the gathering.  They worked well because they were based on sound liturgical principles.

Planning for the celebrations was done by a team of people with experience, knowledge and a variety of talents in the area of liturgy.  The group first spent time discussing the purpose of the conference liturgies, ways of linking them with the conference topics and the need to provide models of good liturgy for participants to use in their own communities.  This ‘brainstorming’ provided essential raw material for detailed preparation of individual celebrations.

It was agreed that the purpose of the conference liturgies was to ground and surround the event with prayer, to offer thanks, to express joy and to invoke God’s blessing on the gathering.

With the large numbers attending the conference and the layout of the hall where it was held, there was always the danger of the liturgies becoming performances to watch rather than prayerful times when all present could experience the presence of God.  Some of the techniques used to overcome this included:

Processions with candles, incense, the book, etc which moved through and around the gathering space.
Making use of artistic elements to define the worship space and give visual links, such as the placement of the conference candle, banners and braziers.
Encouraging the participation of all present by rehearsing new music beforehand, ensuring that all present could hear and see (the large screen assisted with this) using expansive and inclusive gestures and large symbols that would fill the space, not be dwarfed by it, and finally by providing the words for responses and songs and any necessary directions on leaflets and on the large screen – but only those elements needed to aid participation, not every word of the service.
Incorporating periods of silence for reflection and prayer.

The forms of the celebrations drew on our liturgical tradition, including liturgy of the word, penitential service, evening prayer, mass and Marian prayer.  Care was taken to ensure that the liturgies related to the time of day when they were held and to the real life situations of those participating.  Familiar and new elements were incorporated.  Both the prayerful unaccompanied singing of the traditional Salve Regina at evening prayer and the lively “Hearts on Fire” song composed for the conference by Michael Mangan lifted spirits and touched hearts.

The celebrations were effective not because they were new and different but because the basics were done well – big symbols, lively proclamation, thoughtful preaching, good music, prayerful silences.

What would happen to parish liturgies if we tapped into the talent of the community, made liturgy a parish budget priority, trained all our readers and musicians, renovated our worship spaces?

We might just start a blaze and set hearts on fire too!

Elizabeth Harrington