There is an old joke about a family on the way home from Sunday Mass. The father said, “That was the worst homily the priest has ever given.” The mother responded, “And did you hear the choir? They were off-key all day.” The big sister added, “Couldn’t the Altar Servers have at least combed their hair.” Finally, the little brother said, “Gee, I thought it was a pretty good show for a dollar.” I suppose many priests would laugh at that joke because of the concept that their donation to the collection was just a dollar, but I also think it demonstrates that we sometimes think of the Liturgy as a show, as something someone else does. The Second Vatican Council called for full and active participation among the faithful at Mass.
Of course, participation is easier the more we understand what we are doing. We can simply tell you what to say or when to stand or sit, but then we feel like we are going along with a practical joke. “No, really, just stand there with your eyes closed and pay no attention to what I’m doing.” So I am writing today to call your attention to a series of one-paragraph articles that will run in the bulletin for forty-one weeks, beginning this weekend. I wrote this series a few years ago when the parish I was in wanted to give the people a richer understanding of the Mass. Since then I have reprinted it in a number of different assignments since then. I urge everyone to read these paragraphs, and I hope this will make the things we do clearer and more meaningful.
I mentioned that I wrote this series a few years ago. I have edited and adapted it over the years, as I have continued to study and grow in my appreciation of the Mass. I did a more complete revision after the new translation of the Mass came out a few years ago. My first reaction to the new Missal, when we were preparing to implement it, was like a student just starting to study Shakespeare. He may find Shakespeare’s language to be different and hard to understand and may wonder why we don’t just put it into modern language. Yet as we study Shakespeare, we find timeless themes, and the language helps us step into a different mindset. Similarly, I find the new liturgical translation to be a little harder. But it also sets a particular tone, showing that what we are doing here is different from the world of TV shows or dinner table conversation. I dedicated my “Ponderings” column at Nativity Parish to some of the changes on occasion, and I may take time to reprint some of those columns here as we go along. When you see one of those columns, think of it as a further attempt to help us come to a fuller appreciation of the incredible privilege we have in celebrating the Eucharist. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I couldn’t think of anything else to write on that given week.