Fr Kevin Murphy offers us this commentary which he explains is: "An approach to Liturgy and Church Life" suggested in the article "Asking for Direction…..Finally" by Peter Feuerherd in U.S. Catholic Number 12, December 2007, pages 18-23 and made available in Australia in Perspectives, April 2008 Vol 17 Issue 3"
Football as a model for Church and male spirituality…
Perhaps the best model for male spirituality and active membership of the Church might be indicated by the institution which most engages with Australian men: FOOTBALL.
Football is action: not only for the players and all those directly involved, but also the spectators, even if is only in front of a TV.
Then after the game there is always the analysis, whether that be from sportscasters, or in conversations – here there and everywhere.
Then there is the development of proposed plans and strategies for the next game.
Perhaps men's spirituality and religion should be more like that: action >> reflection >> planned further action.
That model could also influence our Liturgy, and not only might men be attracted and benefit: Many others, youth and an increasing percentage of women, might find it more connected to the way they think and live.
The Action dimension could be anything that happens in daily life. Obviously, as far as Liturgy is concerned, the action in life happens before the Liturgy starts. In the liturgy, significant reference would be made to life and action in the world of the participants. The analysis and planning stages of the model would also be included.
This could be done without doing violence to liturgical law: it would only require giving more emphasis to some parts of the Liturgy. It would be easier to implement in Sunday lay-led Liturgy. which can be more flexible.
It would require more interactive participation which works best in relatively small gatherings.
At the beginning of the Liturgy a brief report on significant action or events or questions could be given. After the proclamation of the scriptures, in an interactive way, an analysis of the reported-on action or events or questions could be introduced in a way that relates to the readings. Certainly, the Word of God has to be brought into dialogue with the action and life being analysed.
Before the end of the Liturgy, at the Dismissal — the "missioning" stage, plans and strategies for manifesting the Spirit of the Lord Jesus in the action of the week that is beginning would be developed or endorsed.
The subsequent action in life will then become part of the action stage for the Liturgy of the following Sunday.
Lay led Liturgy – Shortage of Priests…
In my estimation, the likelihood in the near future of a change in policy regarding the normal criteria for admission to ordained ministry is very slim – certainly by the Vatican or even in individual dioceses. If we have to wait for that change, the Catholic Church will shrink to a very small defensive remnant – even though the Catholic systems of education, health, aged care and social services will probably continue, supported by finance that is not dependent on the Mass-going remnant, but decreasingly influenced by the shrinking remnant church.
In many places, is there any other way of enabling Catholics to regularly remain in contact with an active church community apart from having Sunday lay-led Liturgy?
It is now becoming clear that whenever and wherever there is a decrease in the times and places that the Sunday Liturgy (Sunday Mass or lay-led Liturgy) is celebrated, there is a consequent decrease in the overall number of people in the area who are regularly involved in the church.
To state this in a positive manner: One way for the church to grow in vitality and numbers is to increase significantly the number and places where Sunday Liturgy is celebrated, even if this means, in the short term, often having lay-led Liturgy, with much support for the leaders.
The introduction of Sunday lay-led Liturgy will help stem the flow of people away from the church. Even while, from a theological point of view, in comparison to the Mass, it is a second-best option. (Of course, those who so wish, and are able, always have the right and option to travel to a distant Mass. It seems unfair to deprive people of the opportunity of lay-led Liturgy simply to maintain the "purity" of our sacramental system or to promote the sense of impending disaster.
It seems to me that Sunday lay-led Liturgy works best when congregations are relatively small, allowing good interactive participation to happen.
Interactive Liturgy, in small gatherings, also enables "action" to be brought into the Liturgy, addressing the question: Why do men (and now women and youth) not feel comfortable in coming to Sunday Mass or Liturgy?
An action >> reflection >> action approach would surely strengthen the "mission to the world" dimension of the liturgy of the church community, which would be for the good of all concerned.
If, in a city parish, there is a multiplicity of lay-led Liturgies in small church communities, with their own characteristics in liturgy, mission outreach and pastoral care, there would be a better chance for people to find that particular group in which they can comfortably feel at home. Others, of course, might prefer the anonymity of a large Sunday Mass in a central parish church, with a quick, not-too-challenging Liturgy. A large city parish might have the benefit of being able to provide a range of options in the way parishioners gather as church.
In rural areas it is often a choice of travelling a long distance to Mass or of having a smaller gathering with lay-led Sunday Liturgy in a local community. With the increasing price of petrol, more people will be reluctant to travel long distances to Mass. There is also a significant number of people who are unwilling or unable to travel long distances for Mass.
Having read Paul Collins' latest book Believers – Does Australian Catholicism Have a Future, I note his reluctance to promote Sunday lay-led Liturgy (which he refers to as SWAP – Sunday Worship in the Absence of a Priest). Paul uses the drastic situation of people who are unable to find a Sunday Mass to emphasise the need to consider the introduction of married clergy, male and female. Because it would take years to implement this change to the extent needed, even if it happens it is not going to address the critical situation which we face now.
Occasional Large Gatherings…
As well as appreciating the basic value in small gatherings for Sunday Liturgy, it is good to remember that the occasional large Sunday Gathering, made up of people who normally have small gatherings for Sunday Liturgy, also has great value. In the large, combined gathering all the involved Catholics in an area, or parish, can get to see each other and renew connections. Combined initiatives for action can be brought to everyone's attention.
The Sunday Liturgy in such large gatherings would be a Eucharist led by an ordained priest. It could be more elaborate, with rituals and décor, music and singing that are not possible in small gatherings. The special large gathering for Sunday Liturgy can generate an atmosphere which enables the Spirit to communicate particular gifts of solidarity, enthusiasm, mutual support and an awareness that the participants are a part of a great Catholic Church.
What about those who have already left?
More people might be inclined to return to a church that is interactive in its regular church gatherings, and when the gatherings are small a sense of supportive community will usually develop.
Interactive, small gatherings for Sunday Liturgy, with opportunities for people to bring their action, their dreams, their questions and their insights from their own life experiences as contributions to a dynamic, respectful and prayerful exchange, attentive to the Holy Spirit, being enlightened and guided by the Word of God and all for the glory of the Great God, creator and sustainer of us all, have the potential to revitalise the church.
If we try to get people to come back to the old way of being church, the church they left, perhaps the response will be very limited.
IMAGES: from the collection of Brian Coyne.
Kevin Murphy, Ballarat
IMAGE CREDITS: from the collection of Brian Coyne.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2008Fr Kevin Murphy