When the Liturgy of the Eucharist Is Fast

And More on Photo-taking at Mass

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ROME, JULY 6, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Even as young children unable to fully grasp the depth of the Eucharistic Prayer, we were taught it was a very sacred time where we knelt, avoided distraction and focused our attention on the priest and altar. Decades later, I am saddened to see the solemnity and sacredness of it being lost. In an average Mass lasting an hour, the first half-hour goes in the readings and homily. Usually, from the prayer of the faithful to the concluding «Great Amen,» the average time taken in most parishes is about 6 minutes. In some places, the announcements after Mass take more time! What can be done to slow down somewhat this pace that is over «in the wink of an eye»? — L.E., Mumbai, India

A: Our reader broaches an important pastoral point. There is frequently a lack of balance in the celebration of Mass that easily leaves the impression of excess haste in the most sacred moments.

This is not an easy question to address. On the one hand, the present structure of the Sunday Mass, with the Gloria, three readings, homily, creed and prayer of the faithful makes it inevitable that the first two parts take up the bulk of the time available.

This is not something new. In his explanation of the Mass addressed to the Roman authorities, St. Justin Martyr (circa A.D. 100-165) explained that Scripture readings and preaching continued as long as the time available allowed. His description of the subsequent Eucharistic rite indicates that it was relatively simple and brief, although lived with an intensity befitting a persecuted Church.

The question of balance is not, therefore, one of attempting to equalize the amount of time dedicated to the various parts of the Mass (something which is neither possible nor desirable) but of giving due weight to the Eucharistic rites. I believe that the difficulty can be overcome with careful liturgical planning in accordance with the solemnity of the occasion. The present liturgy allows for a wide range of choices in the use of music and rites that make it relatively easy to avoid concentrating all effort at solemnizing the Mass in the Liturgy of the Word.

Briefly, I would suggest some elements which can be used to increase the faithful’s attention and the sense of sacredness during the Liturgy of the Eucharist:

1) Avoid the use of Eucharistic Prayer II on a Sunday. While not forbidden on feast days, this prayer was specifically included in the missal with daily Mass in mind. Its sheer brevity on a Sunday effectively makes the Mass appear rushed.

2) Use more music. Singing all or part of the ordinary of the Mass such as the preface, the Sanctus, the consecration, the mystery of faith, the final doxology with its great Amen, the Our Father and its embolism, the Lamb of God, etc., adds to the sense of solemnity and underlines the importance of the Eucharistic rites.

3) Use incense and candles. On solemn occasions incense may be used at all foreseen moments. Even if incense is not used for the entrance, Gospel and offertory on a normal Sunday, it may still be used along with candles during the Eucharistic Prayer. This latter use adds nothing to the length of the celebration and is an optimal means of enhancing the sense of the sacred and concentrating attention on the liturgical action.

4) Finally, the priest should strive to overcome the routine that can creep into frequently proclaimed prayers and make each Mass an authentic encounter with God. Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) once told someone newly ordained that he hoped that the priest’s first Mass would be the least fervent of his life. The Holy Father was not thus promoting priestly mediocrity but challenging the young cleric to seek ever increasing fervor in celebrating the inestimable gift of the Eucharist.

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Follow-up: When a Concelebrant Takes Photos During Mass

Pursuant to our article on priest concelebrants taking photos during Mass (see June 15, a reader asked about cases where laypeople take photos during a Mass. The reader lamented that in some cases it «looks like a big photo studio is present and not the real presence of Christ.»

Although the original question referred to priests, who have a particular responsibility in this respect, our reader makes a valid point. It is incumbent on all the faithful present to live the Mass fully. For a participant at Mass to be continually taking photos is usually unwonted and is distracting to all.

The various norms regarding photographers usually have in mind professionals, part of whose mandate is to be as discreet as possible in carrying out their business. Thus even when the occasion does not warrant the use of professional photographers, it is good to have designated photographers (who can later make the photos available for others). This helps avoid a lot of moving about, shuffling for position, constant flashes and other distracting elements.

There might be occasions when, lacking designated photographers, some members of the faithful may discreetly snap an odd photo without distracting themselves and others. In this case they should avoid doing so in moments when they should be putting all their attention on the liturgical mystery being enacted.

Admittedly, we are before a relatively recent phenomenon, since before the advent of digital photography people would think twice before wasting limited film. Today it has become almost second nature to many people to immortalize an infinite number of «special» moments that are more often than not deleted shortly afterward or deposited in a file and hardly ever opened again.

Perhaps we need to promote a new ascetic practice during Mass: a photographic fast. What needs to be immortalized at Mass is not some fleeting moment of the external celebration but the inner transformation wrought by grace in the soul of those who live the Mass with attention, devotion and true active participation.

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