Liturgical Relevance

A brief commentary on PrayTell laments relevance, or more accurately, a particular clerical interpretation of it.

I remember the associate pastor coming to our classroom in the period of 1970-72. I don’t know how school Masses were determined in terms of readings and prayers or saint observances, but student input was sought for “theme,” or, if you will, the votive intention of the day. Liturgists are rightly skeptical about imposing themes on the liturgy. Truth is, however, the Church does quite a lot of that in the Roman Missal. Chrism Mass, ordinations and other sacraments, plus the whole lot of VNO causes.

Asking a priest about what is relevant to lay people could be effective. How often can you ask men what is relevant to women? You can ask, I suppose. Will you get something accurate? Who knows.

When someone discusses relevance to me, usually I perceive what they might be seeking. Homilies are a good start.

  • Instead of relaying a joke shared with another priest over dinner, perhaps a parable from the life of an ordinary person of faith. A bit of humor is okay, but imitating the tenor of the Lord’s parables might be the most relevant as it was twenty centuries ago.
  • The perspective of people who work in the world, go to school, raise a family, or have a married relationship with someone. Preachers sharing life details is best accomplished in committed friendships. I do hear clerics want people to know them, but there’s a solution for that problem: make more friends among the laity.
  • Concerns of parishioners that are a threat to the faith: uncertain economies, child abuse, race relations, getting older, losing fervor–things like that.

Another area of irrelevance in liturgy is the use of canned intercessions. (Homilies, too, of course.) A good homilist can’t bring up every issue of the day–one is enough. But prayers for the concerns of ordinary lay people in the parish are one way of making relevant connections. If parishioners aren’t writing the prayers, the input from their intentions can certainly be gathered, sorted, and scripted.

Over the years, I’ve experienced a lot of relevant assistance from parishioners: a vintner, bakers of bread, writers, a chant scholar, an opera student, people experienced in community theatre not only as actors, but in set design and even stage managers.

There is bad relevance, which is often lone ranger stuff. Good relevance probably takes a bit more effort.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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