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Keeping Liturgy in Balance
‘How long is a Mass?’ Part II: Keeping Liturgy in Balance
It is useful to keep in mind that the Mass is not simply made up of a whole lot of ritual elements strung together: there is a structure, balance and flow to the liturgy that need to be respected and retained when additional elements are incorporated.
The Mass consists of two central elements – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Introductory Rites prepares the assembly for worship and the Blessing and Dismissal conclude the celebration. The Preparation of the Altar and Procession of Gifts and is a low-key bridging rite between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The time spent on each part of the liturgy must reflect this structure: the two central elements need to occupy the greatest, and approximately equal, amounts of time, with the other parts being much shorter by comparison.
It makes no sense, for example, to include every element of the Introductory Rites given in the Missal plus added extras such as a lengthy welcome by the commentator and explanation of the readings of the day so that they last a good 15 minutes, and then celebrate a Liturgy of the Word with the psalm and Gospel acclamation spoken instead of sung, no times of silence, a very brief homily and hurried Prayer of the Faithful. It is completely out of proportion and suggests that the word of God is of lesser importance than the gathering and introduction of the Mass.
Just as bad is the situation where the Liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated with no sung responses, the shortest Eucharistic Prayer, communion under one kind only and ministers distributing communion at the back of the church ‘to save time’, and then after communion come lengthy announcements, an appeal for St Vincent de Paul volunteers, a Thank You to all who helped with the liturgy, presentation of certificates for those who were confirmed, etc, etc. I am sure many of you have experienced something like this.
These extraneous elements detract from the mysteries we have just celebrated and take on a sense of importance which they do not have. Most of them could happen at another time and place and leave the period set aside for worship for just that – a time when the community gathers to be church and offer its sacrifice of thanks and praise to God, not to be informed or cajoled!
I am not suggesting that liturgy leaders should pander to the needs of our consumer-driven and time-conscious culture, but we ignore the time constraints on people today at our peril. As with most things in liturgy and in life, it is a matter of balance.
Personally, I would consider a rushed half-hour Sunday Mass with no time to reflect on God’s word and offer thanks and praise in return to be a waste of time, whereas a full hour of liturgy which offered a sense of the sacred would be time well spent.
But a longer Mass of which half is taken up with non-liturgical ‘padding’ is worse than the 30-minute ‘special’ because it satisfies nobody.
When the liturgy engages and involves the assembly, not many of them will be checking their watches during Mass!