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Ritual, consistency at Mass

So who really is singing "Gather Us In" at Mass?
 
Does the pastor asking people about their week really make the Mass friendlier and more engaging? Why is the Our Father so engaging? Do people like singing new songs at Mass, or do they prefer tried and true hymns they have been singing for years?
 
Two Catholic researchers are trying to find out.
 
John Ligas and Sacred Heart Major Seminary professor Michael McCallion presented a paper titled "Sociology of the Sacred in Post-Modernity: Ritual Dis-Attunement at Sunday Mass" during the Society for Catholic Liturgy Conference in Philadelphia last October.
 
The study's primary aim was to discover which parts of the Mass local Catholics were most actively engaged with and which parts lacked participation.
 
"We wanted to do research on tuning and dis-tuning at a typical Sunday liturgy," Ligas told The Michigan Catholic, Detroit's archdiocesan newspaper.
 
Ligas is a retired orthodontist and McCallion was hired in 2005 as the sociologist on staff for the seminary's licentiate program.
 
"I was telling John a while ago, there are studies — not many — that argue only 20 percent of Catholics participate in Mass," McCallion said. "(These) are ... very general studies that don't get at what participating actually looks like."
 
McCallion and Ligas went about observing 35 liturgies across 10 parishes — three parishes in the Chicago Archdiocese and the rest in Detroit's northern suburbs. The pair discretely took notes on who at Mass was actively participating in the Our Father, the opening, closing and communal hymns, the Gloria and the responsorial psalm along with other parts of the liturgy.
 
"A good analogy would be at a football stadium," Ligas said. "Everybody is watching the game, but who is participating in 'the wave'? Who cares about what's happening on the scoreboard? Who is checking their phone? We feel the Catholic liturgy is a collective action. So what things contribute to the collective actions and what distracts?"
 
Recognizing the limitations of conclusions one could draw from the observations of two people in a limited scope, McCallion and Ligas just focused on who was singing at Mass.
 
"At every liturgy at every church we observed, everyone joined in for the Lord's Prayer," Ligas said. "On the other side of the coin, the responsorial song was a bust, if you consider how many are participating and how many are not."
 
The summarization of the Ligas' and McCallion's research boils down to the idea that Catholics are more apt to verbally participate in parts of the Mass that are more ritualized, such as the Our Father. The response to the general intercession had the highest rate of response and participation, while more "changeable" parts of the Mass, such as the hymns, psalms or the pastor asking the congregation to greet one another, tended to have low rates of participation.
 
"From our initial responses, we found that ritual comes to form again," McCallion said. "If people are not singing the same songs, people are less likely to sing. That's our hypothesis that bore out in the data. Some hymns, some other parts of Mass that are constant, we found a greater rate of response."
 
Ligas and McCallion did make other observations at the Masses, from how many times people check their cellphones, to what they wear at Mass but limited their analysis to participation in singing.
 
"We might have had a feeling the Lord's Prayer was going to be No. 1 as far as the congregation participating," Ligas said. "But we were shocked with just how poor the responsorial song is."
 
The initial analysis implies that when pastors and music directors change the pattern of the liturgy in an effort to make the Mass more accessible, it tends to have the opposite effect.
 
"When you know what's going to happen, you will know what's going on," McCallion said. "When you go to a baseball game, nobody is sitting right next to you telling you every single rule. You just know them, because of the repetition. You know what you are supposed to be doing to enter into the collective ritual.
 
"The liturgy is supposed to be a communal event, but American postmodern culture is really focused on individualism," McCallion said. "I'd argue that our liturgy has been affected by individualism. Sometimes as, Emile Durkheim (a sociologist who studied the Mass) said, the 'secular invades the sacred.'"
 
The tension between making the liturgy a communal prayer experience while at the same time fostering an individual relationship with Christ is something everyone involved with liturgy -- pastors, music ministers and catechists -- will have to address in the new evangelization, McCallion said.
 
"In the new evangelization, there is a stress on having a personal relationship with Jesus, but the Mass stresses you are supposed to have a communal relationship with Jesus," McCallion said. "It is both/and, the sacraments are all communal. The Eucharist, if you want to find the physical body of Jesus, is communal."
 
The concept of a solely personal relationship with Jesus is a Protestant influence on the Catholic Church, McCallion argues, since the Catholic liturgy invokes the intercession of a communion of saints and the collective prayers of the church.
 
"In the liturgy, both sacramentally and sociologically, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts," McCallion concluded. "When we come together for Mass, something happens that can't happen when we're by ourselves. From a Catholic perspective, we hope the communion of saints, our deceased family members, are still praying for us."
 
McCallion and Ligas want to expand their research to parishes in the inner city, along with Hispanic and Tridentine Masses, looking for similarities and differences in Mass participation between those liturgies and the liturgies they have already observed.
 
McCallion hopes the research they've already done can be used by pastors and music ministers to better prepare a Mass that encourages more participation.
 
"All we are arguing, from the conclusions of the data we've collected, is priests and musicians need to come up with habits that encourage the social or communal ritual practices that people need," McCallion said. "Maybe encourage more seminarians and priests to take courses in ritual studies, recognizing the importance of ritual. It would help people to have a more personal, as well as a communal, relationship with Jesus."
 
  • Published in Nation

Worship and social justice

By Steven R. Marchand
 
It has been said that one of most striking characteristics of modernity is the fragmentation of the once-cohesive social fabric that held together political, moral and social communities. Concretely, this view of life results in many either-or ultimatums where a truly Christian view would suggest a both-and response.
 
In Catholicism, we hold many paradoxes together -- such as grace and nature, faith and reason, scripture and tradition, body and soul -- in such a way that each element remains in place in tandem with the other. True Christian teaching keeps us from veering into any kind of extremism.
 
Unfortunately, there crept into the minds of many in the Church in the mid and late 20th century a kind of dualism that pitted the worthy celebration of the liturgy against service to the poor and social activism. If one used resources to beautify the liturgy one was accused of stealing from the poor, and conversely, those laity, priests and religious who sought out the poor and marginalized were accused of abandoning prayer and the worship of God.
 
In reality, however, these two missions of the Church -- worship of God and service in the world -- are two sides of the same coin. It is impossible for the Christian community to worship God at Mass, hear the message of the Gospel and ignore those in need around them.
 
In the Old Testament, the connection between worship and justice is clear. In the Book of Amos we read, “Even though you offer me your burnt offering and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:22-24).
 
In the New Testament, St. Paul warns both who would seek to put worship and justice over the other in 1 Corinthians 10-11. He begins by pointing out that it is hypocritical for the community that celebrates the Mass to do so while the poor go hungry. He follows that by stressing the importance of eliminating abuses at the Lord’s Supper and participating in the Eucharist only worthily.
 
In fact, both the worship of God and service to the disadvantaged are aspects of justice and charity. We all have a duty to pray and worship God according to the mind of the Church, to offer to God only the best of what we have in our churches (like music and sacred art) as a matter of rendering to God what is due.
 
These worthy services are for the edification of the whole Christian people, the rich and poor alike. The virtue of religion helps us to grow in our relationship with God through our attention and participation in the liturgy. Our participation in the Eucharist ties us into the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our salvation.
As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the power and life of the Church. The King of Kings deserves all the glory we can render Him as He is made present again on our altars.
 
And serving the Lord at the altar should be part of a seamless life of Christian charity. The spiritual treasure we receive at Mass should inspire and inflame our hearts with charity in service to our neighbor. Indeed, the Christian’s motive for social service and justice is that Christ himself is served when we serve those in need.
 
There is no contradiction then between service at the altar of the Cross and the altar of world, for Christ died that we all might have life and have it to the full.
 
As Catholics, we are all obliged to attend Mass with a pure heart and with great praise. At the end of every Mass, we are equally challenged to bring the
Good News and the love that we have first received from Christ into the world.
 
Let us worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and remember that we serve the same Christ in both our worship and our service.
 
--Steven R. Marchand, a seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington, is scheduled to be ordained to the transitional diaconate by Bishop James F. Checchio, bishop of Metuchen, on Sept. 28 in Rome at the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican at the Altar of the Chair.
 

Originally published in Vermont Catholic magazine, Fall 2017.
 
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