Our recent visit to a variety of local parishes and missions has reminded me of how different things can be parish to parish even in the “universal church.” It’s helped me to also recognize some things that have helped in preserving the reverence of mass for me, my kids and many others. Most of these things are not things we can necessarily change on our own, however, in some cases, we may be able to help our parishes enact small changes if we feel they may help. OR, if you feel your parish is lacking and there is nothing you can do to change it, it may give you pointers if you are looking for a new one.
This is not to say that the mass is invalid if these things are not present. My earliest years of cognizant formation were at a parish that I could easily say is the most liberal in the entire diocese and has almost none of the things I am about to suggest and we did leave that parish in my teen years as a result of many things but I can say that liturgical abuse did go on there, I recognize that now. I haven’t been back in some years so I do not know if that is still going on and don’t wish to speculate on it, but keep in mind, there is a difference between liturgical abuse and less than stellar “ugly” liturgy.
- Physical beauty–Okay, so not every parish will be St Patrick’s in NYC or Maria Maggiore or St Peter’s. However, there is definitely something to be said for vaulted ceilings, stained glass, and gorgeous Stations of the Cross and statues. Great art can bring us closer to our Savior and particularly with children can inspire a sense of awe. It’s a great first step. At our previous parish (a shrine and Basilica) to come in during the day when the lights were out was something to behold. One of the previous pastors took local reporters in one time and legitimately waited a couple of minutes before turning the lights on and he could audibly hear their breath catch. Don’t underestimate the effect of beauty on reverence in worship!
- Liturgical beauty– We attend a lovely parish now but it’s not the inspiring physical specimen our previous parish is. I believe, however, that is more than made up for by strength of the liturgy. My children hear a lot more chant now in Novus Ordo. They also hear the opening antiphon before the opening hymn each week. And that’s just the beginning. Our religious education program is strong on liturgical training which reinforces the liturgy for both parents and children. When liturgy is taken seriously and respectively, it makes for a much more powerful experience.
- Pews–This is versus disconnected chairs. After the experiences of this summer, I can say I really believe that pews promote the Body of Christ and our connectedness in the Body much more than a series of disconnected chairs. Now, my parents’ parish doesn’t have pews and certainly it is not a necessity, but I find that when we feel more connected to the person or family sitting near us, we begin to feel a certain level of respect we might not otherwise (and I realize the drawbacks of pews insofar as people who may have to “escape” the pew with a child and whatnot, but I still prefer them in general).
- Kneelers–As Katherine pointed out on the blog page, kneelers are not the norm in Europe and in general we kneel for a short period of time during mass, so kneeling on the floor is not always a terrible thing. However, I have found that in parishes without kneelers, people don’t kneel. Period. And kneeling is one of the best prayer postures we have. Many of these parishes also do not have pews and have the chair situation I describe above. And I’ve found that the floors tend to be harder and elderly parishoners who may be able to kneel on a kneeler simply cannot when one is not available. Kneelers also encourage my next suggestion…
- Arriving early enough to pray before mass and staying afterward to pray– My desire to be early is in part a quirk of my psychosis of being late but also gives us adequate time to prepare ourselves for mass mentally and spiritually. Simply to thank God for the opportunity to be at mass helps get us in the right frame of mind not to mention having the chance to ask for our hearts to be open to His word. Staying afterward is a chance to thank Jesus for His divine presence in the Body and Precious Blood as well as to reflect on that miracle. When we frame the sacrifice of the Mass, we begin to more deeply appreciate the entirety.
- Communion Rails– The act of kneeling, again, reinforces the gravity of what we are experiencing. So often in the lines we walk up to receive in now, we are in auto-pilot throwing out an “Amen” instead of truly experiencing the miracle, the mercy, the sacrifice, the love. We’ve got to get out of that auto-pilot mentality and while communion rails are not the final solution, they are a huge step in the right direction.
Like I said, if your parish is not equipt to provide all these things, perhaps they will be someday, perhaps you can be a force for enacting some of them (Communion rails aren’t at our parish and I don’t know that they will be unless universally re-added) if you feel that something is missing in regards to respect for the sacrifice of the Mass.