What makes a parish worth sticking around?

This article from the April 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic tries to answer the question. Basically, listen to your mama: “You better shop around.” Some highlights:

3. The parish I most frequently attend is the one closest to my home.
Agree – 39%
Disagree – 58%
Other – 3%

4. As long as I can attend Mass there and receive the sacraments, any parish is fine with me.
Agree – 15%
Disagree – 78%
Other – 7% …

8. The important factors for me in choosing a parish are:
Quality of the liturgy – 84% …

A reason I decided against continuing to attend a certain parish was…
Liturgy often was more performance than worship.





56 responses to “What makes a parish worth sticking around?”

  1. Nicholas Moe Avatar
    Nicholas Moe

    I find the last response troubling. Either there are ministers out there taking egregious liberties with liturgy, or there is a poor understanding of the role of performance in the liturgy. I’ll bet it’s a mixture of both. I am reminded of the book, Do This: Liturgy as Performance by Richard D. McCall. Even though I can’t remember much in particular about the book itself, I do know that there is such a thing as healthy performance in the liturgy, as we had here at Saint John’s Abbey for the Easter Vigil during the OT readings.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      @Nicholas Moe – comment #1:
      Good point, Nick.

      I think “performance” is one of those words that has so many meanings, it’s hard to use it without being misunderstood. I sense you’re using it to me “well-done rendition,” which we all want and like (I hope). I wonder what it meant in the response above? Something like “rote going through motions”? Or “empty ceremonial”? Sounds like it might have been.


      1. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #2:

        I think most people understand “performance” in this context to mean a preoccupation with the rubrics, articulating the texts, singing and playing the music, all to the best standard possible, almost as an end in itself. In other words, the music/texts/rubrics become(s) the god that is worshipped, rather than what the rite should be about; and the better the rite is “performed” the better the worship. That last clause is what the answer to question 8 in Diana’s post is objecting to. There are other parameters in play when it comes to evaluating the fulfilment (or otherwise) that a liturgy may provide.

        All of this relates to the realm of semiotics, the science of perceptions. I have written extensively on liturgical semiotics, but alas my text is not yet published and there is no room to do it here, not even in a new thread, otherwise I would point you to it.

      2. Linda reid Avatar
        Linda reid

        @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #2:
        Sometimes, “performance” is taken to mean a liturgy where the choir sings pieces of music that don’t allow for congregational participation, especially the parts that belong to the whole assembly. It has little to do with the quality of the music, just the feeling of being excluded- the feeling of listening to a performance.

      3. Kevin Vogt Avatar
        Kevin Vogt

        @Linda reid – comment #8:
        Linda, I think you might be right about the feeling of exclusion, but I’d suggest that this is a response conditioned by the patterns of CONSUMING music in daily life, and liturgical experience where there the choir does not participate in the economy of differentiated roles and ministries within the assembly. In many places, the priest prays certain prayers on behalf of the assembly, readers, deacons and priests proclaim the Word of God on behalf of the assembly, ministers of hospitality extend a gracious welcome i the name of the whole community, but when it comes to music, the assumption is that whole assemble sings everything, signaled by the presence of an acoustically dominant cantor. Any other differentiated participation by musicians is an easy target for “performance” criticism, all the more so if the appearance and manner of the musicians resemble that which people experience in a concert setting. Ironically, a traditional liturgical choir singing unamplified is about as far away as you can get from what most folks associate with musical performance.

        Still, a choir can have the best of intentions and can be singing parts of the liturgy appropriately given to it, and some people still have the feeling you describe. I suggest that is precisely because choirs are relatively rare (how many Masses does a parish have, and how many have a choir present?) – and that when they are present they often don’t sing integral parts of the liturgy – that people often have trouble receiving the contribution of the choir in the way it is intended. Carefully cultivating the dialogical character of ritual performance carves out the receptive capacity to unite heart and mind with the word-act of another. If not with the choir, or the lector, or the priest, or ones neighbors in the liturgical assembly, how then with risen and ascended Christ?

      4. Linda reid Avatar
        Linda reid

        @Kevin Vogt – comment #12:
        Yes Kevin, agreed. Our society has become a society of listeners with iPods, iPhones and iPads with earphones – silently and solitarily listening. Those who wish to actually sing aspire to be Beyonce or Beiber….or worse…..
        The pastoral musician’s job is a difficult one. We must support, convince, cajole and ultimately invite the assembly to participate with more than just their ears. It seems to me, our tools are accessible repertoire, building a common repertoire through repetition and rehearsal, and doing all this in the best way we can with the resources given to us.
        No matter how much we love it, doing an 8 part Latin, 9 minute long Sanctus doesn’t really lend it self to this goal. It will be perceived as more of a performance, As will a rockin’, highly syncopated, ” really needs to be sung by a soloist” contemporary Lifeteen piece as the communion hymn.

      5. Kevin Vogt Avatar
        Kevin Vogt

        @Linda reid – comment #18:
        Linda, I agree with all of this, too. I would simply suggest in addition, that another tool is a highly diversified (and consistent) musical-ritual practice in which a variety of people can be formed over time in the complex act of full, conscious and active participation: people who have found their voice, but not their interior hearing; those who mightily lift up their hearts, but not their voices; those who phase in an out of ritual attentiveness while fumbling with wallet during the collection or tending to a restless toddler who has slid under the pews while a cantor is trying to “cajole” vocal participation in a song. The liturgy ought to provide for both comfortable modes of participation for all of those folks, as well as opportunities to “stretch.” Simple and accessible can include “high octane” as well, given adequate repetition not only of music sung but of music heard. A carefully balanced recipe of music sung well by the whole liturgical assembly (which I do not think occurs often enough in a genuinely “choral” way), opportunities for dialogical performance of dialogical forms among a variety of forces, and distinct utterances of specific ministers or ministerial groups within the assembly all conspire to cultivate the individual and collective “Ars celebrandi,” not primarily in its outward manifestations, but, as John Paul II described it, the “capacity to live and receive the mysteries celebrated” in the sacred rites.

        I can think of only a few places anywhere at which the Sanctus would be sung by the choir alone, and then relatively infrequently. I have no doubt that there is hostility in some quarters toward robust vocal participation of the whole assembly, but I hardly think there is danger of this position winning the day. But the converse is true: a disciplined, well-integrated choir or schola is a pretty rare animal. Regardless of the “octane” level, cultivation of a “poly-choral” practice would benefit most communities.

      6. Linda Reid Avatar
        Linda Reid

        @Kevin Vogt – comment #27:
        My “toolbox” was hardly all inclusive! Of course, there are many factors involving music choices, degree of competency and the condition of the assembly at any given time! The choir has it’s function and the assembly has their function; sometimes they function in tandem and sometimes on their own!

      7. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @Kevin Vogt – comment #12:

        The broad answer to the relationship between choir and assembly is the effective use of a cantor or leader of song. This ministry can enable the assembly to feel part of what is going on, without necessarily singing everything themselves and even when the choir is providing high-octane performance standards during the liturgy.

        It’s all about how you try to include/involve/engage people in worship. The problem arises, as others have pointed out, when the choir is perceived as excluding the assembly (and indeed some choirs do deliberately set out to exclude the assembly, alas).

      8. Kevin Vogt Avatar
        Kevin Vogt

        @Paul Inwood – comment #23:
        Paul, can you say a little more about how the cantor/assembly relationship impacts the choir/assembly relationship?

      9. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @Kevin Vogt – comment #28:

        I think cantor and choir are complementary. The cantor/song leader stands as a “bridge” between people and priest, between nave and sanctuary, and I believe also between people and choir.

        It’s not the best analogy, but if the priest is like the director of the movie, the one who’s in charge of it (and in particular the artistic aspects of it, the feel of it), then the role of the cantor/song leader is akin to that of the producer, the one who takes care of logistics (in this case music) and is the middleman between the director and the crew. Pursuing that analogy, the choir could then be considered as part of the crew.

        During the celebration, the cantor/song leader acts as a visual reference point for the assembly. S/he is there the whole time (unlike the psalmist who is only the cantor for one or two specific items), guiding and encouraging the people in their singing and their praying. Before the celebration, the cantor/song leader is the one who has care of the people, preparing and encouraging them musically for their role in the liturgy to follow. It’s a relationship with the people that the choir cannot have in the same way.

        The choir have their part in the liturgy, too, but it is possible to worship without them. In my opinion, the cantor is the crucial minister for any liturgy with music. Even if you don’t have a choir or an organist (and it’s great to have both of these), you can still have music with just a cantor and the assembly. But just because you have a choir doesn’t mean you don’t need a cantor — quite the reverse. The cantor is there to co-ordinate the people’s singing, so that they don’t feel that the choir is doing everything and that they, the people, no longer have a role or no longer need to make an effort.

        In practice, and clearly this depends on where the choir is located, a good choir director may simultaneously be the people’s song leader. But if the choir is at the back of the church, then a song leader should always be at the front. Wherever the choir is, the song leader will always be the one that the people relate to, not the choir director (unless they are one and the same person).

        Some people feel very threatened by the presence of a cantor, so it’s worth saying, too, that the training of that person is crucial. Among the gifts required are sensitivity and an understanding that what is asked for is unobtrusive direction, knowing when “presence” is necessary and when to “get out of the way”. I see many cantors who have not been given those skills or that awareness.

        I also see many choir directors who are unaware that the techniques required for leading the people in song are quite different from those required for conducting the choir. In particular, the gestural demands are totally distinct for the two functions, so a choral conductor who also tries to “conduct” the people is barking up the wrong tree. Cantors are frequently given little or no training in the gestural techniques they should be using. They are also given little or no help in how to model an attitude of prayer for the assembly.

        We have had over 40 years of the ministry of the cantor, and still most people do not really understand what it is about and why it is essential. It may help to think of the cantor/songleader like the mortar in the brickwork. You can have all sorts of different bricks, of different hues and sizes and beauty, but without mortar the result is less than solid.

      10. Kevin Vogt Avatar
        Kevin Vogt

        @Paul Inwood – comment #38:
        Thank you, Paul. Your description of these ritual relationships is very much in line with my experience. I’m not sure I could have articulated any of this as well as you have. Thanks for taking the time to spell it out.

      11. Kevin Vogt Avatar
        Kevin Vogt

        @Kevin Vogt – comment #49:
        If I might be allowed to contradict myself, however, I’m not sure I buy the notion that a cantor is any more necessary for worship than a choir. There are moments when the physical-visual presence of the cantor is necessary, particularly at the “proper” moments (chants/songs of the Entrance, Offertory, Communion and between the reading) and occasional ritual additions when the whole assembly has something to sing. While it might be necessary in some less than ideal situations, I have come to reject the idea that the cantor should also be some sort of intermediary between priest (or deacon, or lector!) and people. I think I prefer to think of the cantor as one of several “animateurs” of the assembly, none of which is front and center all of the time.

        I’m sure that among the factors that favor one model over another is the relative stability of the community and liturgical assembly. The cantor as omnipresent “animateur” was more necessary in one of the two cathedrals I have served than the other, or of the suburban parish I now serve. In those communities in which it is possible to rely more on subtle aural cues and consistency of ritual patterns, a “choral consensus” emerges that is not possible with more abstract visual cues (or competing sources of aural cues.)

      12. Doug O'Neill Avatar
        Doug O’Neill

        @Kevin Vogt – comment #50:


        Thank you for this nuanced commentary on the role of the cantor. I have always considered the cantor as one of those “stop-gap” measures after the Second Vatican Council, desperately trying to get the people to sing anything. Since that time, people have created an entire theological role for the cantor that is grounded in not much of anything. We all know many Protestant congregations who sing perfectly well without the visual presence of somebody leading them. Of course, they have a much longer cultural history of doing so, which is important, but also, they rely strongly on aural, rather than visual, cues. We live in a visual age, so it’s always important to remember this point, and to encourage the solid training of skilled organists able to communicate tempi, breaths, etc. If I may be blunt, in most Catholic parishes I have visited, the cantor has gotten in the way of the congregational song more than he/she has helped. This is a serious problem, and it requires sensitive training, a keen ear, and sensitivity to the aural effect to remedy it. And getting back to this “performance” issue (which is really a misnomer – we should all perform to the best of our ability in the liturgy, right?) – the cantor can easily become a substitute for the people’s song, rather than the “animator.” Amplification compounds this problem. People can easily become wrapped up in the beauty of, say, a wonderful piece of choral polyphony and the text it presents, and then it becomes full, active, and conscious participation by mental engagement. Amplified cantors often make true participation next to impossible.

      13. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
        M. Jackson Osborn

        @Doug O’Neill – comment #54:
        Properly understood, a cantor is the one appointed to intone chant, Gregorian or otherwise. A cantor may also be one and the same as the ‘psalmist’. It is not a cantor’s role to ‘lead’ the congregation’s song by singing into a microphone, or singing loudly without one, or waving his or her arms around as if the people could not, and wouldn’t know to, sing without his or her aid. Such a person is an intrusion into the prayerful and praiseful act of singing the mass, which (assuming proper catechesis) everyone knows how and when to do. Such persons are not performing a service nor a ministry: they are a shameless destraction whose presence is a cue for many of us not to sing and to go elsewhere. The role of musical leadership at mass is fulfilled by cantor, choir, and organ.

      14. Connie Black Avatar
        Connie Black

        @Paul Inwood – comment #23:So true. I attend a parish where the choir is the center of attention by their own design. We have great hymnals, printed “worship aides” and yet the director insists on having the choir sing tunes from Christian radio and renditions of the traditional hymns that are full of key changes (always higher and higher yet) and rhythms that are hard for most people to replicate and pull off. Couple that with impossibly fast tempos, and you have successfully alienated and excluded the congregation. People just gice up. I’ve seen people trying. They just give up and stare at the choir.

      15. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
        M. Jackson Osborn

        @Connie Black – comment #47:
        I empathise with you. Clearly this is not a truly liturgical choir sho aare performing their role well. It is a ‘choir’ who are MERELY ‘performing’ unto themselves.

    2. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
      M. Jackson Osborn

      @Nicholas Moe – comment #1:
      I agree with you and Fr Ruff. I have often told my choirs that if they are not performing well their offering falls short of worship. We do go before the Lord to give him our finest, our best (which is really his own finest and best that he put into us). And that means our best performance of music, reading, chanting, of praying the Roman canon, and so forth. A poorly prepared or sloppy ‘performance’ means that we don’t really care.

  2. Eric Fredericks Avatar
    Eric Fredericks

    My parish’s music ministry has in the past been conducted primarily by performing musicians who sing cabaret and other forms of music. Not during Mass, of course, but sadly, they have focused too much on themselves and their performances and less on fostering good quality music during worship. They happen to be very talented, but when the focus is not on Christ, something isn’t right for me. This is, of course, “performance” in a different sense than some of the above comments allude to, but I thought it was important to point out. I decided to stop working with the other musicians because of this misplaced focus, but my parish community is like a family to me, so I continue to worship there. Overall, we do liturgy very well.

    One former business colleague told me that in the wake of Vatican II, the changes to the liturgy were no longer the “theatre” he was used to, but when he said that, I was grateful that in my entirely post-Vatican II lifetime (and at that point, entirely 1973 ICEL experience of Mass), I had rarely, if ever, experienced Mass as “theatre.”

  3. Chuck Middendorf Avatar
    Chuck Middendorf

    Not shock here, but how one unpacks #8 is the million dollar question.

    I’ve always used the 3-fold mantra of how people pick a good parish and define good liturgy:
    1. Great music.
    2. Great preaching.
    3. Sense of welcome and hospitality.
    And over time, it always comes back to these three.

    Of course, each of those are in the eyes of the beholder as well; e.g. comments on #1-4 on what’s “performance,” but I could come up with anecdotes for preaching and hospitality as well.

  4. Steve Millies Avatar
    Steve Millies

    Isn’t good liturgy, in the spirit of SC, really the product of a liturgical community? It’s not the celebrant, the ministers, the choir, or the congregation. It’s the parish, all of them together. We attend a parish 17 miles from our front door, not the one that’s 1.5 miles from our front door. We do like the liturgy better where we are. But our decision to change, and the reasons we like the liturgy better, really have more to do with the worshiping community.

  5. Jack Wayne Avatar
    Jack Wayne

    Taking into account common practices of the last few decades, I would interpret “performance” to mean a Mass where the priest or musicians overpower the liturgy with their personalities or performances. I have known people who have switched parishes because the priest would dominate the Mass with jokes and commentary, or because they would get carried away with gimicky music.

  6. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    The pastor counts for a lot.

    The 1983 Code of Canon Law freed some of the faithful (urban and suburban faithful; not rural or exurban faithful) up from having to endure bad pastors (I say this as someone who pulls up my tent every 7-14 years – I don’t do so quickly, but give it a few years before deciding whether to write a bad pastor off, as I just did last year after a 3 year evaluation period; on reflection, I now realize my intuitions were more correct than my intellect and charity…). But, by the same token, those bad pastors don’t have to eat their own cooking for the rest of their lives, because they no longer have the default right to life tenure in a given church.

  7. George Jones Avatar
    George Jones

    For me, “performance” is characterized by the following:

    1. The priest ad-libbing parts of the Mass. (I’m not talking about gross abuses or honest mistakes. I’m talking about a priest obviously changing parts of the Mass here and there to fit his preferences. Even small changes are jarring.)

    2. A lack of silence – music stuffed into every nook and cranny of the Mass.

    3. Too many instruments accompanying the choir. (At my parish, this means piano, violin, saxophone, drums, bells and two guitars. This many instruments is overwhelming for the relatively small church, and the sound is often discordant. It seems that the goal of maximizing participation in the choir trumped the goal of making good music.)

  8. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    I have experienced a good number of parishes where the extensive use of high-classical music squashes the vocal participation of the assembly. This may include the choir taking over parts that could be sung by all together (polyphonic Gloria, Sanctus, etc.) It may also include more subtle forms of discouragement such as asking an assembly to sing new proper antiphons week after week, or obscure hymn tunes that they hear once in a blue moon. Just because the music is printed in the program or hymnal does not mean that you have empowered them for vocal participation.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Scott Pluff – comment #13:

      Scott, I can’t sing for the life of me. I sound like a car grinding gears. Regardless of the language of the Mass or whether it is sung or said, I speak all the responses in a low voice. I am in awe of the organist-choirmaster and the choirs of my church, who have diligently practiced and performed a very wide range of plainsong, polyphony, and hymnody from a diverse swath of Christian musical history. Many in the congregation find joy, reflection, and higher thought in complex liturgical music, even if our lips do not sound.

      After fifty years of reform, perhaps it is time to say that not all Catholics derive spiritual benefit from singing. Other aspects of the Mass, such as adoration or silent prayer, might be more important for many Catholics. Active participation through singing is an ideal for some Catholics, and beneficial for the spiritual life of many Catholics. Still, lay participation in hymn-singing might not be universally applicable. It’s time to welcome more diversity, and local custom, into the question of congregational singing or the inclusion of a choir to take up the parts of the Mass.

      Let me say, however, that when I say my opinion I feel as if I am insulting musicians or liturgists. I do not mean to insult. It’s just that some Catholics just have no cultural referent for singing in church. I seriously respect the way in which musicians have tried to reform the Mass so that the laity might sing, but not all of us have the breath to make notes.

  9. Stanislaus Kosala Avatar
    Stanislaus Kosala

    I wonder if there is an almost intuitive sense of a distinction between real prayer and mere performance regardless of whether the liturgy has classical music and follows the rubrics precisely or whether it’s much more loose and contemporary. Certain masses feel like prayer more than others, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with rubrics, type of music, etc. I can’t put my finger on it. Does anyone else think this is the case?

    1. Thomas Dalby Avatar
      Thomas Dalby

      @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #15:
      I think that you have hit the nail on the head: too many of the comments here leverage the inscrutability of the word “performance” to confirm a-priori assumptions.

  10. Jim McKay Avatar
    Jim McKay

    I would understand “performance” as an antonym of “full conscious active participation.” Performance implies a passive detached stance that observes from the outside.

    IOW the people polled learned somewhere that liturgy calls for them to participate, not just observe. They don’t use fcap jargon, but find an easy expression of this successful catechesis by condemning “performance.”

  11. Charles Day Avatar
    Charles Day

    Performance calls to mind the Bob Fosse line from All That Jazz: “It’s showtime, folks!” That happens on both sides of the coin. Sometimes it’s costumes, sometimes it’s choreography, sometimes it’s the big finale musical number. Whenever showtime takes precedence over worship, we lose a little something.

  12. Angela Wiggins Avatar
    Angela Wiggins

    @Anthony Ruff – I can’t wait to read your work on liturgical semiotics. When will it be available?

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      @Angela Wiggins – comment #19:

      It’s actually mine, not AWR’s. It is in the pipeline at Liturgical Press, I am told.

  13. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Jack Feehily

    Whenever priests come to cover for me for vacations, they invariably commend the people for their enthusiastic singing and praying. Sometimes they tell me that they have seldom encountered such participation in their visits to many parishes. Everybody doesn’t sing, but even those who don’tenjoy being part of this community. We have periods of silence to provide for interior reflection. What accounts for this kind of musical participation? It begins with my love of praising God in song. A significant part of my liturgical formation came from the Benedictines at St. Meinrad in the early 70’s. it never occurred to me that there was something inadequate about contemporary compositions. There were some awful things but they were quickly replaced by the works of the SLJ, Haugen, Haas, Hubst, Deiss, Toolen, and a host of others. The principal for music selection is to offer people songs they can and will sing. While we have developed a huge repertoire of masses and inspired ones, we don’t keep changing selections for the benefit of choir member and cantors desiring something new. Our masses are 70-75 minutes and few complain. People looking for quick masses with less singing are free to go down the road. But we have plenty of folks who come here from down the road.

  14. Glenn McCoy Avatar
    Glenn McCoy

    Re #15: “‘Certain masses feel like prayer more than others, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with rubrics, type of music, etc. I can’t put my finger on it. Does anyone else think this is the case?”
    As a long-time liturgist and pastoral musician my personal guage for the authentic prayerfulness of any liturgy is the sound of the Our Father, whether chanted or spoken. If the people are truly engaged at that point, the sound and feel of the prayer have volume and power. If the words sound flat or lifeless, the liturgy needs to be evaluated later. Maybe what we prepared was too busy, or too formal, or too informal, or too wordy. Maybe there wasn’t enough silence, and the people were just worn out. I wish there were easy answers, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to fit into any of our cages.

    1. Chuck Middendorf Avatar
      Chuck Middendorf

      @Glenn McCoy – comment #24:
      My over the years observation:
      If people take their jackets off when the come in, they feel connected to the liturgy and it’s prayerful, meaningful and life-giving to them.
      If they leave their jackets on, they are just passing by and they don’t care what’s going on.
      Regardless of OF, EF, high church, low church, denomination, etc.

  15. Jack Regan Avatar

    That’s fascinating… flies in the face of the ‘if we build it, they will come’ approach that so many parishes seem to adopt!!

  16. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

    This is a great thread, but I can’t help but think of other things that do matter, such as how welcoming the parish is, what the sense of ministry is, what opportunities there are for service. Add to that the quality of faith formation and enrichment… For adults and children.

    And of course the liturgy matters, but not always in the ways that those of us who are immersed in it might want, at least that is what I think. I want good liturgy, and am lucky to work in one parish and worship in another, where both are richly found. I simply see a lot of weary people in the pews, too tired maybe to participate, and too confused about what they can or should do, but who want to come sit there and be fed.

    Which brings me back to the character of welcome and belonging that they find when they show up…

    1. John Kohanski Avatar
      John Kohanski

      @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #29:
      That is so true Fran–my parish is in the middle of a city, in the middle of a large university. Our most well attended service weekly is Compline, sung on Sunday night at 9:00PM during term. It is entirely choral. The church is lit only by candles. It is mostly in Latin. Most weeks between 100 and 200 people from the university and the city attend. We usually offer some kind of simple fellowship after. People come because it’s giving them something. They come, sit and are fed.

  17. Steven Surrency Avatar
    Steven Surrency

    I think performance means performance. I think people are tired of the choir doing a Broadway number or the priest thinking a dramatic production is in order instead of a reading of the passion. I don’t see how people could twist the meaning to be “people don’t like preoccupation with the rubrics.” People don’t even know the rubrics. People just want to the priest to do what he is supposed to do, to preach relevant homilies, and to be nice. They want the music to be able God and worship. That’s it. I don’t see how this survey can be read to mean “we need to do more to relate to them because they think we are stuffy and rubrical.” That is just reading into it what you want it to say. Stop trying to be relevant and just be Catholic. Catholics will be happy. Others will be attracted.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Steven Surrency – comment #30:

      I wouldn’t be hard on the “broadway” bit. Growing up, my parish OF “high mass” (we only had “high masses” on Christmas/Epiphany/Holy Week/Easter/Pentecost, if that, low church parish certainly) consisted only of a Proulx Gloria and Credo, invariably from the same Mass. That was the extent of SATB for the whole year. Yes, traddies ridicule even these Masses as “broadway”. This is very disrespectful to the musicians who have composed these Masses. Think of it this way: “broadway” is, for many, a somewhat serious musical form, with ranges which are accessible to many people (could you sing a 18th century aria? I certainly can’t). Hence, for professional Catholic musicians it is an ideal form to fit the contemporary notion of “active participation”. It’s okay to agree or disagree with this philosophy, but not directly criticize other persons’ works.

      If one is unhappy with the post/modern notion of active participation, then it’s best to go Byzantine or EF. There’s no real reason to criticize a liturgical culture which has been set in place for fifty years and is acceptable for most who worship in its mold. I am no saint with regard to criticism, and I do blow hot and cold. It is difficult to keep in mind the integrity of other persons’ work, even if it is sometimes difficult to disambiguate work from artist. I struggle much with this.

      1. Stanislaus Kosala Avatar
        Stanislaus Kosala

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #35:
        Your distinction between post/modern and pre-modern notions of active participation sounds very interesting. Could you say more about it?

      2. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #36:

        Stanislaus: Your distinction between post/modern and pre-modern notions of active participation sounds very interesting. Could you say more about it?

        These are huge generalizations, but the Tridentine liturgy is “modern” so far as it is a extremely standardized, highly rubrical liturgy (cf. Robert Boyle’s enlightenment notion of the “world as clock” which runs according to invariable and precise parameters). The ordinary form is “postmodern” so far as the assembly and the ministers (including presider/s) create the Mass together. With the OF, the Mass evolves through time because it is planned and enacted by the assembly, with each celebration contributing to a perpetual reform. Yes, there are rubrics and general instructions for the OF, but these instructions are nowhere as totalizing as the EF (compare the GIRM with de defectibus).

        One of the spot-on goals of the liturgical movement was to stop certain serious abuses in Tridentine liturgical culture. It’s still not uncommon in some EF parishes for one priest to say Mass and another priest to hear confessions at the same time. Priests not infrequently hear confession throughout the entire Mass, even during the Canon. The ostensible mindset is that to be shriven for a worthy communion is more important than attending the Mass in progress. Few would say that a worthy communion is not laudable, but the prayers of Mass are not filler for the laity. Heck, even a person “misses” the communion, not infrequently a priest will walk back from the sacristy, open the tabernacle, and administer communion after Mass. The latter action is relatively infrequent nowadays, but still happens.

        Certainly, aspects of the liturgical movement and the ordinary form are salutary for the EF. Even so, the idea that “active participation” requires a synchronization of assembly and ministers in response and song is foreign to EF culture, precisely because the EF and OF belong to different historical and philosophical periods. The rubric-centric nature of the EF, combined with “modern” notions of standardization creates liturgy as an edifice extrinsic to the congregant. Put another way, the EF is a universe of its own, where the liturgy unfolds consistently in the same way. An EF congregant attends Mass to “live within” the liturgical microcosmos. Hence, silence during liturgical movement and musical performance is not incongruent with EF culture. An EF adherent’s silence at Mass is not apprehension but rather appreciation for the totalized edifice set before him or her.

        The cultural, historical, and philosophical differences between the EF and OF suggest that discussions of active participation (in the OF idiom) merely speak above the heads of EF adherents. For Tridentines, the liturgical world is often apprehended intellectually and not necessarily confirmed vocally. This is quite in keeping with the notion of the EF Mass as its own well-defined, not perpetually self-creative liturgical world.

      3. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #41:
        One of the spot-on goals of the liturgical movement was to stop certain serious abuses in Tridentine liturgical culture. It’s still not uncommon in some EF parishes for one priest to say Mass and another priest to hear confessions at the same time

        Except that this isn’t a liturgical abuse. See Redemptionis Sacramentum 76 and Notitiae 37 (2001):

        What are the dispositions governing the time for the celebration of the sacrament of Penance? For example, can the faithful have recourse to the sacrament of Penance during Mass?

        Consequently, it is clearly lawful, even during the celebration of Mass,to hear confessions when one foresees that the faithful are going to askfor this ministry. In the case of concelebrations, it is earnestly to be desired that some priests would abstain from concelebrating so as to be available to attend to the faithful who wish to receive the sacrament of Penance.It should be borne in mind, nevertheless, that it is not permitted to unite the sacrament of Penance with the Mass, making of them both a single liturgical celebration.

      4. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Samuel J. Howard – comment #42:

        Is a legalist liturgical minimalism wise? Should priests interpret CIC 1983
        §906, “unless for a just and reasonable cause, a priest should not celebrate Mass without the participation of at least one of the faithful” as an excuse to binate without episcopal permission?

        I wish to judge no priest. Rather, I wish to point out the way in which any canon or instruction can be twisted to suit any preference or ideology. In this way consider the first sentence of Redemptionis Sacramentum §76,

        Prae ceteris, iuxta antiquissimam Ecclesiae romanae traditionem, non licet Sacramentum Paenitentiae cum sancta Missa unire ita ut fiat unica actio liturgica.

        “Above all, according to the most ancient tradition of the Roman Church, it is not permitted to join Confession with Holy Mass, as if one liturgical action takes place.”

        Yes, the conclusion of Redemptionis Sacramentum §76 permits the hearing of Confession during Mass in the place of celebration ( etiam dum in eodem loco Missa celebratur). However, in my experience, persons who wait for Confession during Mass are not actually paying attention to Mass or even looking at the altar. The premium which many of the EF faithful place on Confession and worthy communion, even above the living Mass, suggests that indeed the two sacraments are conflated in the same liturgical celebration in the minds of many. What is minimally permitted is not necessary a good practice.

      5. Jim McKay Avatar
        Jim McKay

        @Samuel J. Howard – comment #42:

        Samuel, I usually appreciate your remarks on precise elements of liturgical practice, but on this matter I think you have misread the documents you cite. The principle is stated in Eucharisticum Mysterium, and quoted in the cited Notitae: “The faithful are to be constantly encouraged to accustom themselves to going to confession outside the celebration of Mass…” In light of that, it is not inappropriate to characterize confession during Mass is an abuse, or at least irregular.

        The point of the Note is that while the faithful should not confess during Mass, “this does not in any way prohibit priests, except the one who is celebrating Mass, from hearing confessions of the faithful who so desire.” It is irregular for laity to confess during Mass, but it would be a greater abuse if priests refused to hear someone who wished to confess.

        The ambiguity arises from the very issue Jordan raises. The laity are participants now, not mere bystanders, and so are capable of “liturgical abuse.” Priests have different responsibilities, the only possible source of abuses in the earlier era.

      6. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        @Jim McKay – comment #48:
        What about members of the faithful who are having recourse to the sacrament of Confession during a Mass that they are not attending? It’s possible for a person to be in a church during Mass for a reason other than attending Mass.

      7. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        @Jim McKay – comment #48:
        In light of that, it is not inappropriate to characterize confession during Mass is an abuse, or at least irregular.

        No, the document explicitly says “it is clearly lawful, even during the celebration of Mass,to hear confessions when one foresees that the faithful are going to askfor this ministry.” That which is “clearly lawful” cannot be an abuse.

        Furthermore, it encourages the practice: “it is earnestly to be desired that some priests would abstain from concelebrating so as to be available to attend to the faithful who wish to receive the sacrament of Penance.”

        In addition Pope John Paul II writes in Misericordia Dei:

        2. Local Ordinaries, and parish priests and rectors of churches and shrines, should periodically verify that the greatest possible provision is in fact being made for the faithful to confess their sins. It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present at the advertized times, that these times be adapted to the real circumstances of penitents, and that confessions be especially available before Masses, and even during Mass if there are other priests available, in order to meet the needs of the faithful.(15)

        This is not how the Vatican discourages a practice, by reiterating over and over that it’s permitted.

      8. Stanislaus Kosala Avatar
        Stanislaus Kosala

        @Samuel J. Howard – comment #53:
        It’s interesting that Bl. John Paul II wrote that, in Poland it is a very common practice for priests to hear confessions during Mass.

      9. Stanislaus Kosala Avatar
        Stanislaus Kosala

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #41:
        I think I see what you mean, and I agree to a large extent. Especially if you say that in the EF, there is a sense that the action of the liturgy is outside of any “mental engagement” of those involved, including the priest-celebrent and that this is not present in the OF. I think that goes a long way to clarify what is at the root of this dispute. I wonder how much this difference is rooted in metaphysics (pre-moderns living in a more ‘enchanted’ world than we do), or notions of subjecthood(premoderns not having the same notions of interiority, lacking the sense of a self that is its own autonomous sphere), Either way, I think it’s a very good point that there is this sense of the subjective attunement of the participants in modern notions of liturgy as being somehow constituitive of the liturgical action in a way that isn’t found in premodern approaches.

      10. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
        M. Jackson Osborn

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #35:
        In recognising the genuine substance of your argument, one is yet compelled to ask if you are REALLY suggesting that the ‘legitimate’ musical vocabulary of Broadway as utilised in the masses of Proulx, et al., is in a category with the profound poeticism, musical and spiritual worth, and awe-ful beauty of those of Mozart, et al., using, as they do, the musical vocabulary of secular Classicism? Surely not!? And I say this as one who really does not care for these classical masses as liturgical music. There is for many of us but one benchmark for a liturgical music ethos, and that ended with the early Baroque, while its likeness is yet found in moderns such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, or Francis Poulenc, et al…. It is a mistake to think of Broadway, or pop and such as modern. They aren’t!

      11. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #37:

        Jordan Z was not suggesting that Proulx’s music used broadway idioms — quite the contrary, he was stating that people erroneosly criticised Proulx for being a broadway-style musician. That is the last thing that Dick Proulx was: he was a consummate artist who drew upon the great traditions of chant and classical polyphony in his writing. You can’t just treat all “contemporary” composers under the same heading. Some have openly admitted to being broadeway-influenced, but Proulx was never one of them.

  18. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    I am not so sure that individual comments from the study especially about what is wrong such as

    Liturgy often was more performance than worship. have much significance beyond one person or one parish , e.g. The pastor telling me that he hates hearing confessions because it’s like having a garbage truck dumped on you.

    8. The important factors for me in choosing a parish are:

    Quality of the liturgy – 84%
    Effectiveness of pastor – 69%
    Extent of lay involvement – 63%
    Music – 60%
    Parish programs – 55%
    Diversity of parishioners – 46%
    Proximity to home – 42%
    Mass times offered – 37%

    The first five items (above 50%) could be boiled down to the top two items in the Vibrant Parish Life Study, i.e. liturgy and community.

    For all the extensive discussions and opinions about music it should be noted the for at least 24% (84% – 60%) of the people the quality of the liturgy must not be centered on music!

    Since this was not a random sample study, it probably oversampled people who deliberately chose not to go to the nearest parish; even among these people “proximity to home” was important to 42%. Even when deciding upon a doctor, most people go to someone within ten miles of their home which is why most doctors have more than one location for their offices.

  19. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
    M. Jackson Osborn

    It occurs to me that SOMEtimes it may SEEM that the choir are ‘performing’ because the observers are not performing their own congregational role with appropriate energy, and that to them it may thus seem that anyone who is is putting on a performance. The congregation should also perform, and perform well. How often do I observe (more amongst Catholics than any others) that people just sort of mumble their responses and amens, they don’t sing their parts of the mass with enthusiastic, praiseful attitudes. This is, of course, not true everywhere; but it is not at all uncommon. An appropriate ‘performance’ is the bounden duty and fortuitous responsiblility of all, not just the choir and sacred ministers. If the choir are doing well, this should infect the congregation to do likewise – that is an implied part of the equation!

  20. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    Preaching, music, and hospitality: yep.

    “Basically, listen to your mama: “You better shop around.” ”


    Now I have Toni Tennille performing in my head. Thanks a lot, Diana.

  21. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    Jordan’s recent posts seem to fully underscore SC’s call for reform and renewal of the manner in which sacraments-especially the Eucharist-are celebrated. The matter of hearing confessions during Mass reminds me of a Franciscan chapel located in downtown Boston which scheduled both Masses and confessions over a wide span of hours each and every day. I would often go there on my lunch break for Mass, but as confessions were heard by multiple priests during Mass, I would sometimes shift my focus from the Mass to prepare for the sacrament of penance. Most often I would get out in time for communion, but it was always a close call since the Franciscans were very expeditious in their offering of Mass. It never occurred to me at that time that this practice might be questionable, but I certainly believe it to be so today. Except, I would add, for aficionados of the EF. Their understanding of participation is so different from that of the reformed liturgy that it probably makes perfect sense, a kind of wonderful “two-fer”: two great helpings of grace. Now if the leaders of the church should determine that having sufficient numbers of priests to hear confessions more frequently, even before Sunday Mass, then perhaps they will entertain a broadening of the qualifications for priestly ordination that would provide those priests.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #45:

      Fr. Jack: Except, I would add, for aficionados of the EF. Their understanding of participation is so different from that of the reformed liturgy that it probably makes perfect sense, a kind of wonderful “two-fer”: two great helpings of grace.

      While I think that the unique EF understanding of sacramental life should be preserved, this understanding can evolve without losing its foundation. One of the strengths of the EF movement is a strong emphasis on frequent confession. However, I agree more with your later statement that priests should try to hear confession before the Mass. That way, confession and Mass can be more clearly defined as separate but equally valuable sacraments.

      I’m also a supporter of vernacular readings at EF low and sung Masses for the reason that this change might encourage more participation at the “liturgy of the catechumens”. The OF’s emphasis on the equal dignity of the Word and Eucharist is a great improvement. All too often I still get the sense that some EF adherents consider the epistle and gospel to be the “fore-Mass”, a ritual less important than the offertory forward.

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