It’s a principle of good writing: show the readers what is going on. Don’t tell them.
Overheard in church the other day: “Please stand.”
Very often, the same principle can be applied to good liturgy. Show people what to do; don’t tell them. I’ve never been a big fan of too much chatter in the liturgy. It’s the way I was formed as a liturgist. It’s that Franciscan principle, perhaps: Preach the Gospel; use words when necessary.
In our parish this Lent, we’ll use “Parce Domine” for entrance music with three verses adapted from the entrance antiphon text of the day. My suggestion to music group leaders is to announce the hymnal number twice (for the first two or three weeks) then simply gesture the people to stand. The liturgy requires nothing more, and the lack of a wordy announcement contributes the the ideal atmosphere we want to reinforce.
You may wonder how that turns out in our parish. We’re awash in college students from parishes all over Iowa and beyond. These people experience any number of decent to bad liturgical practices in their church of origin. I watched the silent gesture to stand at our 10PM Mass on Wednesday. It was almost 100% students. Lots of people were whispering before Mass–a sort of hushed murmur in the building. The group leader resisted the urge to “instruct” the inattentive and I was very glad. It took about ten seconds for everybody to stand, and it showed two things. First, that good liturgy is not military formation and that people can take their time. Second, when you’re in church and Mass is close to starting, it’s a good idea to pay attention. Or at least, cultivate a side awareness in one’s conversations or prayers. I noticed people sitting quietly, inwardly attentive, who were standing toward the end of the movement.
I once told a cantor before Mass, “Tell the people to stand silently.”
“Please stand silently,” the instruction came.
Take my own advice, I thought. Show, don’t tell.