Q. At our parish, so much of the Mass is sung that the Mass lasts more than an hour. Also, when it comes time for the readings, the lector walks all the way up from a pew in the congregation, and that creates further delay. Then there is a minute of silent reflective time after the readings, which I find tedious.
My husband and I (who are both of Social Security age) have no patience for such deliberate delay. Many parishioners have complained, but the pastor has dismissed our voice.
What can we do, short of joining another parish? (Cherry Hill, N.J.)
A. Your question is a frequent one, reflecting the feelings of many parishioners, especially older ones. Therefore, I think that it merits a longer-than-usual response.
While I understand your concern and trust that it flows from a deep Catholic faith, I have to tell you honestly that your pastor is being faithful to the thinking of the church. The church’s official “guidebook” on celebrating the Eucharist is called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). That document makes a strong plea for periods of quiet within the liturgy.
In the Mass, the GIRM tells us, we are invited to silence at five particular times: in the beginning, at the penitential rite; at the start of certain prayers when the priest says, “Let us pray”; after each of the Scripture readings; after the homily; and after all have received Communion.
There is no “rule” as to how long each of these silences needs to be, and certainly discretion is in order. The ordinary congregation at Sunday Mass is not a contemplative monastic community.
The GIRM directs that, at the conclusion of each reading and of the homily, “all meditate briefly on what has been heard” (No. 23). I would say that perhaps 30 seconds is appropriate at each of those points, with an even shorter period after the priest’s “Let us pray” (so that all present can call to mind their own prayer intentions before the celebrant “collects” them.)
The periods of silence, then, need add no more than about three minutes to a Sunday Mass, which seems a small price to pay once a week to ensure that the Eucharist receives the reflection it deserves.
There is a proverb that says, “The quieter you become, the more you hear.” Incorporating even these short periods of silence invites members of the congregation to hear with both their hearts and ears.
As for music at Mass, what the GIRM (No. 40) says is this, “Every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.”
It is hard to escape the conclusion that at least some congregational singing is expected at every Sunday Mass, but the extent of that singing is discretionary.
Priests would be well-advised to follow an earlier recommendation in that same section of the GIRM (No. 40) that states that there should be “due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly.” The goal should be to encourage as many people as possible to attend Sunday Mass and to have them worship productively.
Aware that a fair number of Catholics prefer a quieter celebration, many parishes have at least one weekend Mass where the hymns are fewer and shorter.
If you don’t find that in your own parish, it is entirely proper to seek another Catholic parish.
Whereas, at one time, Catholic parishes were strictly “territorial” (you went to the closest church), now parishes are largely “intentional” (you go where you’re comfortable with the priest, the congregation and the liturgy).
Celebrating the liturgy should challenge you to learn and to grow. It should comfort you, too, and bring you peace.
Q. My wife and I are in our mid-70s and have bought cemetery plots and made our funeral arrangements. We selected immediate burial, without any rites, ceremony or embalming. But after talking to family members, we are worried that perhaps, in not having a Catholic funeral Mass, we are sinning gravely and making an irrevocable mistake. Please advise us about this decision, which now weighs heavily on our hearts. (McCamey, Texas)
A. First, to relieve your burden: You are not sinning. A funeral Mass is not an absolute requirement for the burial of a Catholic, and so if you proceed with your present plan, you may do so without guilt. But you might want to give this some further thought.
The Eucharist is the center of Catholic life. It is there that we celebrate the dying and rising of Jesus, there that we celebrate our own hope of resurrection; and it is there, at the time of death, that family and friends gather to pray for the deceased and to commend that person to the mercy of God.
Maybe this is selfish, but when I die I want as many people as possible to gather to say for me the strongest prayer they know — and that prayer is the Mass.
(Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.)