Struggle Street: Priorities for learning in Liturgy
...Learning about and renewing our understanding of liturgical practice would seem to be critical for the evangelisation of our existing community...
How often have you listened to a colleague or family member tell you that they no longer go to Mass because it is not meaningful? Or the music is terrible? Or the homily dreadful? If liturgy is the source and summit of Roman Catholicism then who are we? Probably tired, old and a little cranky. Good liturgy can sometimes be low priority and it shouldn't be.
I understand that perhaps Mass is not the best place for evangelisation. I struggle with this sometimes, but I understand it. A colleague of mine recently commented that a mark of a successful parish is not full pews but what a parish does through the week, in the world. We know the word 'Mass' comes from the dismissal in the earlier form of the latin Mass, ite missa est: 'Go, you are dismissed'. The very name that we use for Eucharist is a reminder that our identity does not come from inside the Church, but our mission: as we go out into the world as people of Good News. But, here's the kicker: why come back to be nourished if the Liturgy is dreadful? How can we be well-nourished by a poorly prepared meal?
Good practice comes from a good understanding of liturgy. Learning about and renewing our understanding of liturgical practice would seem to be critical for the evangelisation of our existing community. But how to get there? Effective formation for better liturgy can be difficult, especially when working with volunteers. If you want to prioritise liturgical formation, I think parishes need to be strategic. As I am the education officer at Liturgy Brisbane, my core business is teaching about liturgy. Here are my best four tips:
Liturgical formation needs to be authentic.
My most successful workshop this year was with with 170 musicians. We had some great presenters, but I think the reason people came was that it was authentic: the music ministry team from Maroochydore led the day. Real people in ministry sharing best practice. My learning was that people in parishes carry so much untapped wisdom. Experience counts. I wonder if learning in parishes could be more about facilitation than presentation? For example, would it work better to get our parish readers together to talk about the ministry rather than have a guided power-point presentation?
Liturgical formation needs to be realistic about who needs to learn what.
A few months ago I was invited to speak at a parish about preparing for the Eucharist. One old fellow was very keen to continue communion directly from the Tabernacle. I gently assured him that it was the best practice and even better theology to eat from the table. I think he fumed at me for the entire hour! There was no way I was going to move that fellow's opinion in a presentation and he was probably a large part of why I was invited into the parish. The way we change is just as important as why we change. Parishes need to have very clear objectives around formation, sometimes for individuals, and then propose a methodology afterwards. Sometimes meeting via Skype, sharing a YouTube film or taking someone for coffee can be much more successful than a general workshop. One size never fits all!
Liturgical formation needs to have detailed objectives.
A quick audit of your liturgical practice with your Liturgy preparation team can identify particular needs. For example, most parishes would have an annual workshop for their communion ministers. I recommend going deeper than generalities. If you can read it in an email, why gather? A formation opportunity for your parish should speak to the particular needs of those gathered: 'we have trouble when we approach the altar as extraordinary ministers' or 'where we are standing doesn't work', or 'we don't understand the theology that underpins our ministry'. Adults learn best when their own questions are answered, not at general presentations.
Liturgical formation needs to be a priority.
As we head towards the Plenary Council, we need to ensure that liturgy is an important part of the conversation. We need courageous priests who prepare their homily well. We need proclaimers of the Word who don't read the text just before Mass. We need musicians who play what the community needs not what they want. Most importantly, we need to recognise that Eucharist is the 'source and summit' when we position it there - through preparation and intention.
Further Resources: Check out Liturgy Brisbane's new online learning portal: DISCOVER films, modules and online learning in Liturgy.
James Robinson is the Education Officer with Liturgy Brisbane