The Church’s worship is the daily action by which the work of Christ is most visibly perpetuated. At each celebration, the Lord’s words and deeds are made present anew. Often times this can be lost in the midst of everything else that goes on inside our churches.
Too often the critique is made that Mass is boring. Clergy and lay-faithful alike wrestle with how to make our worship somehow more relevant to the sensibilities of today’s world. Perhaps the answer lies not so much in what we can do as in how we can come to worship God.
There comes a point in life when most of us begin to drive. It isn’t until then that the seemingly never-ending car rides of our youth suddenly do not seem so long. Those who are blessed with many earthly years almost without fail notice how much faster time seems to pass as we get older.
What links these examples is our level of engagement. Sitting in a car staring out the window can make time seem to crawl. Driving requires deep engagement, making time seem to advance. The longer we live the more we focus on time because our remaining days are fewer than before. The more we engage in something the less room there is for boredom because it means something to us.
Perhaps this is why the very first teaching of Vatican II spoke of the need for a deeper level of engagement in every Liturgical event: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations.”
What these words mean and how best to fulfill the noble desire has been the subject of much debate since they were first uttered in 1963. Initially “active participation” was interpreted as a call to action by which every Mass attendee had to have some role like lector, or extraordinary minister of holy Communion, or usher during the Liturgy. But a work-a-day Liturgy becomes as exhausting as the work-a-day world and can make us think more of ourselves than the One we have come to worship.
Perhaps the prophet Jeremiah said it best when he cried out, “You duped me, O Lord!” The word translated as “duped” can also mean “enticed,” or “seduced,” which helps us see that God did not so much call the prophet into action as He did captivate Jeremiah with His beauty. God’s beauteous deeds are captivating and the things that captivate must be contemplated, not acted upon, to be appreciated.
If our best music, decor, dress, and, most especially, our deepest contemplation manifest at the Liturgy then it reflects the work of Christ rather than that of man. The more we make it a reflection of human work, the more it can leave us as bored, tired, or unfulfilled. Participation need not be action of movement so much as action of the mind, which is where the Lord speaks most directly to us. Let go and let God.
FATHER BRYAN BABICK is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.