Reflections for Liturgy
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Liturgy: Not just a Job - an Adventure!
As I became more curious about liturgy, I asked myself what the word "liturgy" really meant. This is one of those words we have heard since we were little. We take it for granted because we think we know what it means. Many of us know that liturgy is the work that people do to worship God. Sometimes the words ritual and ceremony are loosely used in the same discussion. Ritual and ceremony are found in liturgy, but liturgy is much more than that.
We can enact a beautiful ceremony or perform a meaningful, traditional ritual. Think about how you feel when you participate in a veteran’s memorial service. Think about how you feel when you experience a parade, an inauguration, or a birthday party. These are representative of ceremonies or rituals, but they don’t have the power of liturgy.
Yet liturgy is like a good parade or a festive birthday party. The major difference is the reversal of the roles of performer and audience. In liturgy, God is the sole member of the audience and we, the Church, are the performers. God just loves a party or a parade held in God’s honor. In fact, God would not think of missing a party or parade held in God’s honor. That’s what separates simple ritual, ceremony or tradition from real liturgy. In liturgy, God becomes present within the assembly. In the Liturgy of the Word, we listen to scripture. The Word of God is revered and treasured because the Word of God is God! So the Word of God, when proclaimed, becomes God alive with the assembly. (This is difficult to put in writing because the Word of God always exists and doesn’t "become" more just because it’s read. However, the assembly will "become" aware of the intensification of God’s presence during the proclamation of the Word.) The Word of God is not a narration, seminar or lecture. It is the real presence of God among us! Similarly, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the gifts of bread and wine become the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. During Communion, we share in the Eucharistic food and we become Christ to each other within our COMMUNity.
Aidan Kavanagh said in his book Elements of Rite that liturgy is "serious business." Liturgical ministers need to develop an artistic approach to liturgy. He compares the artistry of a good cook as being more important than any recipe ever written. Liturgical ministers "should know both the assembly and its liturgy so well that his looks, words and gestures have a confident and easy grace about them." Choir, cantor and all liturgical ministers are servants to the assembly.
In order to be servants to the assembly, we look at the cantor "commandments" from Diana Sotak, Handbook for Cantors:
Be attentive to the liturgy.
Never steal the focus from others.
Lead with authority.
Listen for the singing of the assembly.
Participate fully and enthusiastically.
Take a look at this excerpt from Liturgical Music Today #64:
What motivates the pastoral musician? Why does he or she give so much time and effort to the service of the church at prayer? The only answer can be that the church musician is first a disciple and then a minister. The musician belongs first of all to the assembly; he or she is a worshiper above all. Like any member of the assembly, the pastoral musician needs to be a believer, needs to experience conversion, needs to hear the Gospel and so proclaim the praise of God. Thus, the pastoral musician is not merely an employee or volunteer. He or she is a minister, someone who shares faith, serves the community, and expresses the love of God and neighbor through music
Symbols of the Liturgy
Over a period of time, I have tried to cultivate an understanding of many of the church’s symbols used in liturgy. For example, during Advent, we have the Advent Wreath. As a physical symbol, it consists of several other symbols. The candles have a flame. This flame gives us light. (Jesus is the Light of the World who guides our path.) It gives us warmth. (Jesus is the is the fire which burns but does not consume. He is the fire in our hearts.) It gives protection from danger. (The fire of Christ protects us from the power of evil.) As we light an additional candle each week of Advent, the amount of light increases as we approach the birth of the Messiah.
Later, I learned that liturgical actions are more important symbols than the physical symbols. For example, it is not much good to have an Advent Wreath if we don’t perform our ritual actions as a community around the wreath. Eventually I learned that the Advent Wreath, even with its meaningful use as a symbol, is not part of the liturgy of the Mass at all. It's proper placement is outside the sanctuary. The dominant focus at Mass is the Paschal Mystery, and nothing else. What we do during liturgy is a symbol of what we believe. What we do when we bring our liturgy outside the church and into the world after Mass is more important that anything else.
I have been struggling with the problem of the assembly’s lack of liturgical knowledge. How do we help the community understand liturgy so that they could more fully and actively participate? How do we teach them? The liturgical books specify that the liturgy should not be used for "teaching." So, other than classes, workshops or seminars for the people, there doesn’t seem to be any convenient or appropriate time. How do we reach all the people who attend weekly Mass?
Well, it turns out that they don’t need this "teaching" or "training classes." We, as cantors and ministers need training to further our growth. The assembly learns about liturgy by our implementation of the liturgy. They may not fully understand what’s happening, but when we do it right, they will feel it and will want to come back week after week. Our liturgy, our rituals are a symbolic expression of what we believe as a Christ-centered community. We use symbols, but the symbols are not static. They are dynamic. We move with them. Our movement throughout the worship space is a dance of joy to God.
Another concept to understand is that God doesn’t "need" liturgy. People need liturgy. (God doesn’t need anything.) It is our jobs as liturgical ministers to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the Mass. No one is a spectator. Everyone is a celebrant. (There is only one presider, the priest.) What we "do" is more important than the prayers and the music. How we sing is more important than the music. How we move about the sanctuary is more important than how we sing. We become living symbols who represent the living faith of the assembly. We have the responsibility to never let them down