Liturgical freelancing

Liturgical freelancing

Matthew Lickona hits on one of my liturgical pet peeves: liturgical oddities without explanation. At Mass last Sunday, during the first reading, which was about Paul and Barnabas being attacked by Jews as they preached, they noticed something strange about the lector.


Why was the fellow at the lectern, the fellow reading this reading of all readings, wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl? Was he in fact a Jew? And if so, why, if there was some reason for having a Jew read a reading in which the Jews condemn themselves as unworthy of eternal life, was no mention made, no explanation given, no comment offered? Maybe I just missed it. Mystifying.

Why do we introduce oddities such as this, sure to cause folks in the pew to wonder what’s going on, and then say nothing about it? Oh sure, maybe regular parishioners may have heard something the week before or maybe it’s the parish’s custom to have the First Reading always done by someone in Jewish garb to emphasize the Old Testament’s roots, and forgetting that during Easter it’s not from the Old Testament. But not everyone is a regular, or we shouldn’t assume they are.

This is one of the problems with the Mass as it is celebrated today: freelancing. Time was, you celebrated the Mass like the book says—read the black, do the red—and no matter where you went in the world, if you attended a Latin-rite Mass, you were able to fully participate.

But now any priests and liturgists think they’re cruise directors, needing to jazz up this week’s Mass to keep it from getting stale. And so you need a program and a five-minute introduction just to keep up and all too often you don’t get that and you spend Mass trying to figure out what’s going on. Is that supposed to be active participation?

Homilies are not immune either. I’ve heard my share of homilies that wander all over the place, never making a solid point, or worse, starting off with some rhetorical device and never getting back to it, leaving the congregation with a misunderstanding of Church teaching.

It’s time for a new reform, one that cracks down on such freelancing and brings us all back to praying as one Church, the same no matter where we are.

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  • At my old parish, our pastor started incorporating parts of Morning Prayer into the weekday morning Masses.  Not before or after Mass, mind you, but actually incorporated into the Mass itself.  There was a little basket in the center aisle that had the prayer books.  After awhile, Father stopped announcing what page we were on since the “regulars” came every day and left the ribbon marker in the prayer book.

    It was wonderful to be introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours, but for anyone who just happened to drop in for Mass it must have been terribly confusing to figure out what was going on. I don’t know if it is acceptable to “blend” the Morning Prayer with Mass, but even if it is I think it’s confusing. 

    One of the beautiful things about the Mass is that you should always feel at home in any Catholic church; you always know what is going on, without explanations.

  • Beginning Mass with Morning Prayer (the Liturgy of Hours) is perfectly appropriate. In fact, restoring the Liturgy of Hours to parish life is one of the unrealized mandates of Vatican II.  The option used of “blending” the LOH with Mass is not the ideal but it is an option in the Instruction.  It is not an “innovation” of the pastor.

    Every Catholic should be familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours and able to participate, regardless of whether they are dropping in to a new parish.  The Church’s liturgy should never be confusing to a Catholic; that it is shows the defects of the Tridentine era. It’s really a shame that Roman Catholics have lost so much of our Tradition over the last 1000 years.  Thank God Vatican II made some effort to restore this liturgy to the Catholic faithful.

  • +J.M.J+

    >>>or maybe it’s the parish’s custom to have the First Reading always done by someone in Jewish garb to emphasize the Old Testament’s roots

    That’s what I was thinking.  If so, it’s a bad idea even apart from the obvious tinkering with the liturgy.  AFAIK, the yarmulke/kippah does not trace back to OT times, so using it to emphasize the “Old Testament roots” of the Church is anachronistic.

    The prayer shawl/tallit is a Jewish prayer garment which carries deep spiritual significance to Jews.  As the Wikipedia article explains, “Although non-Jewish male visitors are expected to wear a kippah (headcovering) when visiting a synagogue, it would be frowned upon for a non-Jew to put on a tallit, unless he is studying or preparing for conversion to Judaism.”  The idea of a Gentile putting one on just to “dress up” like a Jew for a Christian liturgy would be rather offensive to Jews!

    I wish I could think of a parallel, like a hypothetical Muslim wearing a blessed scapular, not because he believes in what it signifies but just to “dress” like a Catholic for whatever reason.  I don’t think that kind of thing would happen, and maybe it’s not a good comparison, anyway.  Yet the point is that people should be careful not to cavalierly adopt the religious garb of another faith tradition.

    In Jesu et Maria,

  • If they’re doing this in a Catholic mass, they obviously don’t know where they are.  Someone should give them a map and a good dropkick in the right direction.  Help them along, you understand.