In the liturgy, the aim to be considered before all else is the full, conscious, and active participation of the assembly. How well is your community doing at implementing that prime directive from the Second Vatican Council (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 14)? Here is a self-evaluation to guide you in improving assembly participation.
Grade your community as a 1, 2, or 3 on each statement.
1 = seldom true; 2 = sometimes true; 3 = often true.
_____ 1. Everyone sings the opening song. The opening song is a key element in the full participation of the assembly. Most people will sing most of the time if the right song is chosen. And if the assembly sings well at the beginning of the liturgy, they are much more likely to participate fully in the rest of the liturgy. Keep these principles in mind:
- Never do a new song for the opening.
- Don’t be a slave to the readings; better to pick something that will be well sung than something that is an exact fit for a given Sunday but won’t be well sung (cf. Music in Catholic Worship, 61).
- Keep the repertoire small. Find six to eight songs people know well, and rotate them.
_____ 2. Everyone is fully engaged in the readings and the homily. The lectionary was revised after the Second Vatican Council in order that “the treasures of the Bible…be opened up more lavishly, so that a richer share in God’s word may be provided for the faithful” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 51). But simply reading from the lectionary on Sunday is not sufficient to engender full participation.
- Lectors must be fully trained and well-rehearsed.
- The readings must be broken open in a meaningful way for the community by a skilled homilist. “A homily is not a talk given on the occasion of a liturgical celebration. It is ‘a part of the liturgy itself’” (Fulfilled in Your Hearing, 60; see also Lectionary for Mass, Introduction, 24 [LMIn]).
- The members of the community must come prepared to hear the readings (cf. LMIn, 48). Preparation can mean, at a minimum, reading the readings at home before coming to church. Parishioners can also be encouraged to form small faith-sharing groups to pray over the Sunday readings. And parish meetings can always begin with a reflection on the Sunday readings.
_____ 3. The prayer of the faithful deeply reflects the needs of the community. The prayer of the faithful (also called the general intercessions) is a central moment in the liturgy. It is the moment when, having been called and formed as a priestly people by the Word of God (cf. LMIn, 44), we exercise our priestly role by lifting our communal prayer to God’s ear.
- Canned intercessions can never adequately reflect the needs of your community and, therefore, cannot fully engender community participation.
- The prayer of the faithful has a set structure that, if followed, helps the community enter into the prayer. The prayers are always for the Church, the world, the oppressed, and the community. Some communities add a final prayer for the dead.
- Changing the response (“Lord, hear our prayer,” in most communities) does little to help participation; unfamiliar responses can actually hinder participation.
- Singing the intercessions, if done well, can enhance participation.
_____ 4. The community understands and is engaged in the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer.
- The Eucharistic Prayer is supposed to be one of the climactic moments in the liturgy, but it seldom seems so. Some of the texts lack literary style, and some have become worn from overuse.
- Use musical underscoring on occasion to enhance the prayer.
- Make the choice of which prayer to use part of the liturgical planning process. Which prayer does your community most need to hear on a given Sunday or in a given season?
- Presiders must proclaim the prayer with the same skill and passion we ask of the lectors when proclaiming the Word of God.
- Create seasonal faith sharing groups around sections of the Eucharistic Prayer.
_____ 5. Communion seems more like a banquet and less like quiet time with Jesus. The Communion Rite is perhaps the least participative moment in most liturgies. While it is true that most in the assembly come forward for Communion, we could encourage more singing, more sharing from the cup, and less private (and, therefore, not communal) prayer after worshipers return to their pews.
- Use freshly baked bread every Sunday; avoid using Communion hosts or consecrated bread from the tabernacle; provide Communion from the cup at every liturgy (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 85, 281, 320).
- Use the Sunday bulletin and regular announcements to encourage the community to stand throughout the Communion Rite (from the Lord’s Prayer through the Prayer after Communion; cf. GIRM, 43).
- Change the way we talk about what we do. “Receiving” Communion reinforces a passive attitude. “Sharing” Communion is active.
- Begin the Communion procession from the rear of church instead of the front to create a greater sense of the entire community coming to the table.
_____ 6. Life in the parish, the neighborhood, and the city is better because we celebrate Mass every Sunday. The ultimate evaluation of the liturgy is how well the values of the gospel are promoted in the world after the liturgy ends. If your community still suffers from homelessness, unemployment, drug or sexual abuse, or other chronic social ills, more must be done to bring the heavenly banquet from the altar to the streets.
- Preach on the social teaching of the church.
- Create awareness campaigns on particularly difficult issues surrounding the parish.
- Practice seeing Jesus in everyone. Start with those who you worship with but do not know. Gradually move toward recognizing Christ in those most different, most frightening, most repulsive to us.
How did you score? If your total score is 6-10, lock the doors and turn out the lights. The liturgy police are probably on their way over to your church right now. If you scored 11-14, there is no need to go to confession, but you might want to make an act of contrition and resolve to do better in the future. If you scored 15-17, you are dispensed from ever having to do one of these evaluations again. Your parish obviously knows what it’s doing. If you made a perfect score of 18, send us your address. We’re all coming to your parish for Mass next Sunday.
Reprinted from Whole Community Liturgy: A Guide for Parish Leaders & Lay Ministers by Nick Wagner (Twenty-Third Publications). © Nick Wagner