Tuesday, September 28, 2004

3 More Simple Things You Can Do This Sunday to Improve Your Liturgy

1) Lectors, Music Ministers, and Homilists: Use silence.

Liturgy is a fluid balance of tensions—light and darkness, movement and stillness, sound and silence. When I was taking piano lessons, my teacher taught me that when I sit down at the piano bench, before I begin any piece and after I end it, I must let there be silence and stillness, because you can’t have music unless you have silence. There’s a musical axiom that says that the secret to making music is to pay attention to the space between the notes.

The Word of God needs silence for it to speak. This is because we hear God’s Word only when we are attentive to it, and attention to the Word needs to begin with silence and stillness and focus. Silence in the Liturgy of the Word is not just a good idea; it’s required. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 56 says:
The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, and so any sort of haste that hinders recollection must clearly be avoided. During the Liturgy of the Word, it is also appropriate to include brief periods of silence, accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the first and second reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the homily.
Lectors: Wait until the assembly has settled back into the pews and has become still before you begin the first reading. Wait until you have their attention. This is especially critical if your parish does children’s Liturgy of the Word and the children have just processed out. Wait at least 30 seconds after the last note of the psalm before you begin the second reading. Give several seconds of silence before you say “The Word of the Lord.”

Music Ministers: Wait at least 30 seconds after the assembly’s “Thanks be to God” before you stand to begin the psalm or the Gospel acclamation. In Advent and Lent, wait even longer.

Homilists: After your homily, sit down and let the assembly soak in the Word that has been proclaimed and preached. Give at least 30 seconds of silence before you begin the Profession of Faith.

2) Music Ministers: Be fully participating members of the assembly.

Your primary role at Mass is first as assembly members, secondarily as music ministers. Have your instruments, mics, music binders, and song books well prepared before Mass so that when the assembly is invited with “Let us pray,” you can actually pray. Wait until transitional moments, such as when the assembly is changing posture or when the lector is moving to the ambo, to turn your music pages to the next song. During the readings and prayers, do not tune your instruments, adjust the mics, or flip through your music books, but give your full attention to the ritual action taking place at that moment. You are often in a visibly prominent place, and any extraneous movement from you will make the assembly focus on you. Even if you are not in a visible place, you should still be fully focused on praying and attentively listening as part of the assembly.

3) Celebrants and Deacons: Be a good example for the assembly.

Because you are in front of the entire assembly, all your actions will be seen by them. If you are not singing, you are telling the assembly that it’s okay not to sing. If you are slouching or looking distracted during the readings, you are teaching the assembly to do the same. In the same way, your good example will encourage the assembly to follow your lead. Where you focus your attention will be where the assembly looks.

One note of caution that I also give to cantors and music ministers: Contrary to belief, singing louder into a microphone doesn’t encourage the assembly to sing more. It does the opposite. Do not overpower the assembly with your microphone. Turn off your microphone during the psalm and other sung acclamations, but don’t turn off your voice. Sing all the acclamations with the assembly and let your voice blend with theirs. Remember that you preside not only with your voice but with your actions. When the assembly sees you singing, they will want to sing too.


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