ColumnsDisciple’s Corner

How to break out of routine and be robust in the way we worship

I don’t know if anyone has ever actually said “familiarity breeds boredom,” but I’m sure someone has had that thought after leaving Sunday Mass.

And I think that’s the point Joe Paprocki is making when he says Catholics have “grown lazy and settled for perfunctory expressions of our rituals, all in the name of convenience.”

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“Our worship—the most important thing we do as Christians—often lacks the richness and depth needed to inspire us,” Paprocki writes in his book “A Church On the Move.” “Too many of our most sacred Catholic rituals have become routine; we do them without thinking.”

Paprocki offers of long list of suggestions for how to make our experience of worship less routine and more robust. A few may leave liturgical purists sputtering and celebrants cringing, but many seem so practical that you have to wonder why they aren’t already a regular part of liturgy in every parish or school.

One problem, Paprocki believes, is that “the liturgy tends to pull into the station like a train or bus that doesn’t quite slow down long enough for passengers to climb aboard;” in response, he urges parishes (or, I would add, school liturgists) to fashion an introductory ritual which precedes the official opening of the Mass and better prepares people for what is to come.

He suggests that the parish train members of the assembly who can conduct this welcoming rite in a friendly but not irreverent way, welcoming the assembly (and, in smaller communities I would imagine, recognizing guests), acknowledging the lit­urgical season, explaining any special activities happening that day, and introducing the theme—or the challenge—of the readings.

It seems this might also be a good point at which to remind the assembly that we are the People of God on pilgrimage to the Kingdom; our present (and our presence) are shaped by both our past and our future, united in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ re-presented in every Mass.

Those of us who are responsible for the church in the home — parents, grandparents, and by extension teachers and catechists — can provide this kind of introduction or orientation even if our parish or school does not.

It means taking time before Mass to have a conversation (if our children are disposed to conversation) or providing a non-threatening introduction which helps all of us focus more clearly and intentionally on what we are about to do and why it makes a difference.

We believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives as Catholics. I agree with Joe Paprocki that we need to focus a little more intentionally on what that means.

What do you think?

 Learn More

Find suggestions on how to have an introductory conversation with children before Mass here:

 Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how “perfunctory” (i.e., boring) Mass seems to be for you. How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • What about Catholic Mass makes it either inspiring or boring for you? In what ways have you tried to be more attentive and more intentional about your participation in the liturgy? What makes it either inspiring or boring for your children, grandchildren or students? In what ways could we help them appreciate it more? Do you think stopping to think or talk about the Mass beforehand would help?
  • I think the best way to be more intentional and attentive about participation in the Mass is …

 Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at­Corner/.

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.