ViewpointLiturgy is work — not 'fun' or entertainment

Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the Canonization of St John Paul II and St John XXIII April 25 2014 Credit Stephan Driscoll CNA

I was taken aback recently when a sixth-grader from our parish school told me as he left the church with his classmates after a school Mass that he thought the Mass that day was "fun." I tried to interpret this in benign terms, thinking that the young man's liturgical vocabulary was still underdeveloped. Yet, I still wince at the thought that Mass is "fun."

Because we live in a society notable for its entertainment and consumer culture, we are easily inclined to see everything in entertainment and consumer terms. It is striking how often the word "entertainment" appears in our language. And we consciously speak of ourselves as entertainment consumers, and we see the process by which entertainment is created as an "industry."  

The person with a consumer/entertainment mentality treats the world like a giant supermarket or place of entertainment. In such a climate, people, created things, the gifts and talents of others, relationship, sexuality-all are considered objects of consumption.

When we come to worship, it is easy to bring an entertainment mentality with us. With our cultural outlook, we can think that we go to worship to be served and entertained. (This is especially true in the area of liturgical music.)

Such an expectation brings quick disappointment. People who go to Mass with such an expectation will get very little out of the liturgy and are apt to find it dull and boring.

Needless to say, the liturgy should never be dull and boring; it has its festive and emotionally satisfying dimensions. The ritual, music, and preaching should be conducted with grace, and be spiritually uplifting and humanly attractive.

But if the model of the supermarket or entertainment industry is not appropriate to the liturgy, what model would one put in its place? In my view, one of the most valuable and authentic ways of viewing the liturgy is as work, good, solid work. Indeed this is exactly what the word "liturgy" means: the work of the people. Liturgy is the Opus Dei,the  work which God enacts for our salvation. Now, if the liturgy is work, this means that it is often challenging and demanding. Like many things in life, liturgy demands a great deal from us, and we know in faith that what it demands will rebound to our benefit.

It is no accident that the liturgy is called a "school of prayer." In the English church, the scripture readings were traditionally called "lessons." The word of God is read as judgment and challenge.

In Christian history, it was commonplace to speak of certain kinds of activities and prayers as "spiritual exercises." (St. Ignatius wrote his famous Spiritual Exercises between 1522  and 1524, and they are as popular today as ever.) The spiritual exercise is a very helpful way of understanding the liturgy and what it requires of us.

We know from experience how important discipline is in every aspect of life. Going to school is a discipline that not everyone enjoys. Being able to do a job well requires the discipline that comes from education and the development of skills. We know how athletes go to exhaustive lengths to prepare themselves for the Olympics and similar contests.

In recent decades, people have become very conscious of the importance of diet and exercise. Almost nobody enjoys a diet. Many people enjoy exercise, but others (like me) do not. But, we know that they are good for us in the long run and we will enjoy their benefits.

Worship demands sacrifice, dedication, and costly commitment. But liturgy is not fun!

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.