At this morning’s funeral, I noted the nice speaking voice of the first lector, who was assigned Ecclesiastes 3:1-11. She was also fast. It might have been nervous fast, as she seemed to slow her pace by the end of the reading. That’s a tough reading to rip through–there’s a lot of thoughtfulness in the litany, which the pastor touched on in his homily.

Speed seemed to be one possible hallmark of preconciliar liturgy, as people once explained it to me in the 70’s. Be glad you’re a Catholic now, they said. Father N could get through Low Mass in 20 minutes or less. But it’s so much better now with music and Scriptures. I know what they meant.

A rather traditionalist friend was ordained a number of years ago and we visited his parish while on summer vacation a few years after he became a priest. He absolutely ripped through the Eucharistic Prayer like he was a valley girl on speed. He slowed down for the institution narrative. But only then. After Mass, my wife told him he was raised better than that. Usually I’m the one she has to hold back from a liturgical comment when we’re on the road.

In the late 80’s when I began full-time church ministry, I found myself combating the modern American approach to speed reading. My colleagues in ministry, the same. Take time with the reading, we counseled. I would tell school kids to speak slowly like they were explaining to their 5-year-old sibling. I would institute pauses before and after each reading in the parishes I served. Good that people not dart up to the ambo, then do their darndest to get the heck out of it as fast as they could. Read Proclaim the Scriptures like you deserve to proclaim them. Like they are yours. Like you prayed them all week, and perhaps, instead of them being yours, the Word has made you his own.

All too soon this morning’s reading came to an end, and I thought that this was yet another area where conservative and progressive principles in liturgy should align. We who are concerned about good liturgy should be on the same page, in the same boat, on the same side when it comes to a careful treatment of the Word and all things liturgical. For goodness sake, slow down.

But to my young priest friend, it didn’t seem to matter. Pronounce the words quickly and accurately, and give the people the forty-minute Mass they clamor for. (Do they really clamor for it? Really? I wonder how he manages with MR3.)

I don’t perceive these sorts of concerns being furthered in the neo-traditional movements within the Catholic Church, an attention to pace and speed. Not on a front burner it seems. The Word only need be communicated and if the people can’t pick it up in time, God will do the rest. When I asked my wife how much traction she got with our priest friend, she mentioned a bit of dismay on his face. Recovering quickly, he suggested that the people know the Eucharistic Prayers pretty well anyway, and they could follow in the missalette, and speed didn’t matter much as long as he got the words right.

We should be raised better than that.

Slowing down a proclamation of Scripture isn’t as much about dramatizing the liturgy, but inviting people into it. It’s as much about intelligible words as it is about giving space for Christ to seep out of it and reach us.

Silence and pauses are not so much about resting our ears and providing pace, as they constitute a first step to a spiritual encounter of and in the liturgy.

Speed? Bah! Slow down, please.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgy, Scripture, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Speed

  1. John McGrath says:

    In the northeast that low Mass took 15 minutes. But it didn’t make any difference to a lot of those in attendance because they were busy saying the Rosary.

    • Jimmy Mac says:

      Not just the NE. The upper MidWest was the same pre-V2. Even today my bro-in-law in Iowa starts looking at his watch at 45 minutes and gets an annoyed look on his face.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    The main Sunday liturgy at my parish takes a minimum of 60 minutes and most often 10-15 more. Anything less than 60 minutes ensures questions of and upraised eyebrows to the presider as we leave the sanctuary. 7 minute homily? An insult! Either give us some meat or shut up.


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