What makes for a "good" liturgy?
Michael Garvey’s thread below, about parish-shopping, has prompted an intelligent discussion which I wish many priests would read and take to heart. I was particularly struck by Claire’s first post, and these two paragraphs:
These days I spend at least half of my Sundays exploring, going to parishes where I have never been before. I feel like a little bishop, witnessing the incredible diversity of Catholic Mass liturgy, yet learning to recognize what constitutes the common core. They have in common that if I prepare the readings in depth, get there early, watch everything, listen to every word of the liturgy and try to pray them, then at some point during Mass I will be filled by a sense of profound peace, of being refreshed, of having a new start for the week; and that's independent of the specifics of that particular celebration. So my impression is that this peace is the core experience of going to Mass. The other potential perks - uplifting architecture, moving music, arresting homilies, smiling pew neighbors, etc. - are just bonus, occasional unexpected gifts.
...Then there are some Sundays when I don't do my homework, and when everything about the Mass is banal, I essentially sleep through it with nothing to wake me from my slumber, and afterwards I find myself exactly as though I had not gone. What's the point? And did anything really happen? I fear that that's the normal Sunday experience of many, and that is not nourishing. If one needs something special in order to participate, say, a particular style of music for example, then why shouldn't they go where they can find it?
What I liked about Claire's comments was, first, her recognition of the importance of her own participation in determining whether a liturgy has “worked” for her, and, second, her listing of some of the elements that go into an actual event of a liturgy. And this second point prompts the following questions: If someone asked you why you go to Mass, what would you reply? What is it that you want from a liturgy? What counts as a “good” liturgy? What do you take away from a “good” liturgy? What elements make for a “good” liturgy? How would you rank them in importance? An encounter with God? Receiving communion? The biblical readings? The music? A sense of community? The homily? The priest’s performance of the gestures and prayers? One’s own personal participation and effort? Reverence? Quiet? Other things?
About the Author
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.