But, of course it’s Liturgy. . . .?

Sunday by Sunday you faithfully attend the liturgy of your local church.

Lately, though, many of your friends have started attending worship at the made-over movie theater out on the edge of town that’s now known as a “praise-and-worship center”. Your friends seem to be, well, happier; maybe more committed. Jesus is taking a prominent place in their lives (or, at least, in all their conversations with you), which is a good thing. And you, for your part, can’t help but wonder just what they’re experiencing out there — but for your own Sunday church obligations, you would find out for yourself.

Well, here’s an inside peak, complete with on-screen ordo for your convenience.

Of course this is a spoof — well produced, but still a spoof. But it raises some important questions: what are the underlying deep structures (ordo/ordines) of liturgical worship? How do such structures communicate in a way that is logically prior to particular forms, rites or uses? How do we best attend to those structures — what does it mean, in other words, that most liturgical churches have the same ordo at the core of their Eucharistic worship?

Ed. note: Link no longer operational as of 1/1/11.







17 responses to “But, of course it’s Liturgy. . . .?”

  1. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    Ah yes, we have one of these “pastor in blue jeans” nondom churches near us–filled largely with Catholics who had fallen away long ago and are now turned on to this style of worship.

    These churches that draw heavily on pop culture are highly successful at reaching “seekers” or the unchurched. Yet they MUST bring in hundreds of new people every week, because after a while many of their members move on to other denominations or quit coming–it’s sort of a revolving door.

    I have a theory. The Catholic Mass, especially if celebrated in a high-ritual style, can be intimidating for unchurched or long-since-fallen-away persons. Someone coming in off the street may well find our liturgies confusing, complicated, and walk away unchanged by the experience. Perhaps dioceses should develop a kind of regional seeker service that borrows from these nondom models of worship: big music, big preaching, lights/video/sound, etc. Not a Mass, just music, preaching, and prayer. The stated goal would be to bring in the unchurched, meet them where they are, and invite them to go deeper–then to somehow graduate to the fuller ritual experience of the Mass in a regular parish.

    I have known undergrads who were first drawn to faith by LifeTeen Masses and a few years later became regulars at the Tridentine Mass across town. People can mature toward richer forms of worship and spirituality if we offer them an on-ramp to the highway.

  2. Joel Walkley Avatar


    What you are suggesting (develop a seeker sensitive non-mass for the purpose of outreach) is basically what has been done here. The risk however is normalizing it. “Graduation” becomes a little difficult because people seek worship experiences which are similar to when they discovered the faith.

    But yes, we hope for maturity among new believers. I have sometimes heard of this type of worship as “gateway Christianity.”

    For further reading check out Reveal: Where Are You?
    The leaders of a mega-church recognize that they have not made disciples with their program-driven church.

  3. Alan Hommerding Avatar

    I got a great number of scowls a few years back at NAAL in the Exploring Alternative Worship seminar when the folks happily quoting statistics kept pointing out that RCs make up the biggest portion of the (and I quote) “audience” at these types of places. At last I snapped and pointed out that this was partly a function of statistics since there are more RCs than any other kind of Christians in the US, and asked why nobody quoted the statistic that more RCs than anybody else also LEAVE these places to return to their home denomination.
    The Chicago Tribune had an article on church comparison shopping this morning, featuring a website designed by an atheist: http://tinyurl.com/2d7p6l6
    That Wacky Paraclete (as an ND classmate of mine used to refer to Her), She sure moves in many mysterious ways.

  4. Lauren L. Murphy Avatar
    Lauren L. Murphy

    Cody, you raise good questions about this issue. (Not the point of your post, and possibly just a fluke, but I was struck by the fact that there were no women in the spoof.)

    I wonder what role, if any, Liturgy of the Hours could play in the type of “introduction” Scott mentions. It is, perhaps, a less overwhelming liturgy, but it’s certainly not going to satisfy those seeking to be entertained during worship.

    And are we confusing entertainment with fulfillment? Are the two mutually exclusive? Is this one reason why people who attend these churches for a while end up returning to their original denomination or seek another one?

    1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      The Liturgy of the Hours is certainly an underutilized resource for contextualizing worship for various groups, from Gregorian chant to rock music, without alienating other people who have to attend Mass at that time.

      I have heard that at least in some Eastern traditions, people who celebrate Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer on Sunday feel they have done their share of the community’s worship without assisting at the Divine Liturgy. Remember in these traditions the Liturgy of the Hours is a one hour service and Mass a two hour service. Also they tend to view worship as the community’s obligation more than an individual obligation.

      1. Lauren L. Murphy Avatar
        Lauren L. Murphy


        Indeed, LOH should not serve as a replacement liturgy. The prayers of the church are meant to complement, not compete with, one another. Setting one over against the other is unhelpful catechesis.

        Perhaps the key is to focus on doing our liturgy well: effective and relevant preaching, mystagogical catechesis, and quality music in addition to (as Earle says below) hospitality and outreach.

      2. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Like Lauren, I think Mass is really important and shouldn’t be displaced by LoH. But I can confirm that LoH was once so common in parishes East and West that some of the faithful considered it to be their way of keeping the Lord’s Day. In Munich until WW1, only 1 Sunday Mass was celebrated in each church. The mother who prepared the noonday feast might well have attended only Morning Prayer, and then cooked through the 10:30 High Mass. I don’t find this entirely bad (I mean this way of keeping the Lord’s Day, not having women do all the cooking!) – in fact I long for that kind of LoH familiarity in our parishes.

      3. Cody C.  Unterseher Avatar

        Of course, for many in Protestant Churches, non-Eucharistic worship has long been the mainstay. For Lutherans and Anglicans, this long meant the Liturgy of the Hours. While Eucharistic worship is increasingly normative among these Christians, Choral Offices still hold great appeal. Because they are usually “performed” (I use that term very loosely!) by the choir and ministers, participation is neither demanding nor threatening; because the settings used are often at the aesthetic high-water of the western musical tradition, they’re captivating. And because they’re the LoH and not Eucharist, they’re ecumenically open and inviting in a way that the Mass simply cannot be, even in churches where intercommunion is the norm.

        I’m an eucharistic sort of fellow: the Mass is my bread-and-butter come Sunday. But I understand and appreciate the appeal of the Office, whether sung or recited, choral or popular; and I’m committed to a vision where both go hand-in-glove. The whole of the church’s worship for the whole of church!

        The real issue, if I may be so bold as to suggest a diagnosis, is that the activity of worship has become compartmentalized among “liturgical/sacramental” Christians, rather than integrated into the rhythms of the day, the week and the year — and that’s a real problem that I’m not entirely sure how to address.

    2. Scott Pluff Avatar
      Scott Pluff

      There may be a pattern of excluding women from leadership roles. Our local nondom church, affiliated with Willow Creek, is governed by a Council of Elders, “The team of men called by God to prayerfully serve the people of -church name- and oversee its direction and leadership.” Hmmm.

  5. Earle Luscombe Avatar
    Earle Luscombe

    One issue that has not been touched upon which I think makes a real difference is hospitality. Too many Catholic parishes fall down on this. I have attended masses where there was on one at the door to greet me. A quick handshake be the celebrant on the way out, and a coffee hour, where not a soul spoke to me. One could get the feeling: “Why sould I come back here, no one cares.” Constrast that with a conservative Protestant congreation, including the mega churches, and well, do I need to say more. We Catholics, need to improve dramatically in this area. Couple real, genuine hospitality with well done high church liturgy, and I my view you have a winning combination.

    1. Fr. Allan McDonald Avatar

      I’m not opposed to hospitality and I encourage all my parishioners to be friendly with each other and visitors and that this hospitality is not like greeters at Walmart. As Fr. Eugene Walsh use to say, we all minister to each other, we don’t seek volunteers to do it for us. But for Mega Churches and non Liturgical Churches, they don’t really have the sacraments as Catholics do, so their hospitality becomes their “sacrament.” Their music becomes their “sacrament”, their preaching becomes their “sacrament” and since their services all hinge on hospitality, music and preaching, what would they have if these were missing or done very poorly? Nothing! What do Catholics have when quite often these are missing or done poorly? We have the Holy Eucharist, the One Sacrifice of Christ in a bloodless, timeless way and Food for the pilgrimage. I’d take the real Sacrament over hospitality, music and preaching any day.

      1. Lauren L. Murphy Avatar
        Lauren L. Murphy

        Fr. Allan,

        Is the Eucharist separate from hospitality, music, and preaching? Certainly, we receive the grace of the sacrament despite a lack of hospitality, poor music, and uninspiring (uninspired?) preaching. But your last few lines imply that within the Catholic Church (and I’d extrapolate that to other liturgical churches) the Eucharist can be divorced from the other elements of the liturgy. Its efficacy transcends such elements, but does it not also work in and through them? And if that’s the case, should these elements not also rise above the status quo?

      2. Fr. Allan McDonald Avatar

        I’m all in favor of hospitality, good music and fine preaching, just come to St. Joseph in Macon and you’ll see, feel, hear and experience! But I also recognize that these elements are lacking in many Catholic parishes/Masses. So, fortunately for these poor souls, that’s not all that makes up our Sacramental experience. So, if I belonged to a non-liturgical church and I didn’t get welcomed, didn’t meet friendly people and didn’t hear the word preached! I’m out of there. But as a Catholic, I’m be a bit more patient as long as at least the Holy Eucharist I receive and participate is valid. But, yes, ex opere operato is rock bottom, we should do better than that, but at least we have it when we hit rock bottom!

  6. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    On the Divine Office Reply to #4. 5, 6, 7 and 8.

    The key data for Divine Office as outreach: as many people pray daily but do not worship weekly as people who do worship weekly. Put a big sign outside the church “Do you pray daily? Come worship with us this weekend!” Develop simple prayer/catechesis materials for the gathering period linking daily prayer, and themes of the Divine Office e.g., “O God come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me.”

    The Divine Office can be excellent personal faith formation. The materials of the Divine Office in various forms (Short Breviary, Roman Office, Monastic Office, Liturgy of Hours, Byzantine and Anglican traditions) have been my ongoing faith formation since grade school in the 1950s,. Some Protestants are very empowered by life time Bible Study; something similar happened to me with the Office. The Divine Office for personal faith formation has to be very flexible and adapted to changing circumstances. It not the priest saying his breviary.

    The Divine Office can be excellent for small group faith formation. My large collection of CDs is equally divided among Anglican, Latin, Eastern and Contemporary music traditions. Extend the Anglican model of lessons and hymns to alternate readings, music and faith sharing. This allows people to integrate scripture, liturgical traditions and person faith experience. Again flexible models adaptable to different groups are necessary.

  7. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Continued On the Divine Office Reply to #4. 5, 6, 7 and 8.

    The Divine office could be excellent for parish faith formation. However, the Roman LOH is a prayer book for priests. “Bible services should be encouraged, especially on the vigils of the more solemn feasts, on some weekdays in Advent and Lent, and on Sundays and feast days.(SC,34.4)” Construct them using the Anglican model of hymns and readings. Our choirs are growing in sophistication and need outlets. The Nine Lessons & Carol’s Service has a nice model for hymns; some easy sung by congregation; some familiar but difficult sung by choir; some unfamiliar or new sung by choir. The Bible service could be an hour as a stand alone service, or 45 minutes followed by a 45minutes of some faith formation program like Little Rock Bible Study.

    The Divine Office has the advantage that it can be lay led as in the early monastic situations. The very different monastic divine office traditions suggest that the Divine Office in families, small Christian communities, bible study groups, workplace groups need not be the same as in parishes. Many of these non parish situations including families are now ecumenical so this should be a grassroots movement of reform rather than a product of the ecclesiastical bureaucracies or academia. They may classify the movement as para-liturgical; that’s fine. Pray always not just when you are in a church building.

  8. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

    Earle Luscombe :
    One issue that has not been touched upon which I think makes a real difference is hospitality. Too many Catholic parishes fall down on this. I have attended masses where there was on one at the door to greet me. A quick handshake be the celebrant on the way out, and a coffee hour, where not a soul spoke to me. One could get the feeling: “Why sould I come back here, no one cares.” Constrast that with a conservative Protestant congreation, including the mega churches, and well, do I need to say more. We Catholics, need to improve dramatically in this area. Couple real, genuine hospitality with well done high church liturgy, and I my view you have a winning combination.

    Yeah, that approach doesn’t work for everyone. When I was on the tentative path of becoming a Catholic, one of the things I liked about the Catholic Church was that I could go and be with people without anyone bugging me.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    ‘So goes the Catholic mass; so too I will go’

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