What makes for a “good” Mass? After our Catholic Schools Week celebration Mass at 5 PM on Sunday, Jan 30th, many people expressed their feelings of joy and enthusiasm about the presence of such joy and enthusiasm at that Mass.
What makes for this kind of experience? It is, really a gift of the Holy Spirit and can’t be “made to happen” but there are some “ingredients” that make it more likely we have such a positive experience. What are they?
I think this is part of the recipe:
A sense that people are there. The Assembly is present.
There’s a joyful energy that grows as each person is greeted and finds a seat.
The church need not be full (it wasn’t on Jan 30) but a half- or three-quarter empty church takes away from the experience that everyone enjoys. This is why Church documents teach that we shouldn’t be celebrating weekend Masses that are regularly less than half-full.
A full use of liturgical ministers, including servers (who can be adults as well as children), well-prepared readers, possibly several of them, greeters, Eucharistic Ministers. Having a number of people involved in the action of the liturgy makes a difference that you can feel. We can get by with fewer people serving as liturgical ministers, yes, but that’s a missed opportunity.
Attention given to the surroundings, decorations, etc. Use of the banners at that Mass in the procession and on the altar, for example, made it feel more festive and special.
Well-prepared presentations, reflections or homilies.
A willingness on the part of those attending to take part in the liturgy by responding to the prayers with enthusiasm, by joining in the singing.
Good music. This includes both the music that is being sung and the willingness of those present to sing (as we often say at Mass to everyone “you are the choir.”)
A visible expectation by those attending that this will be a good experience.
In a real sense, every Mass is “special.” This was certainly the case at that Mass. How might we repeat this recipe? A question for us to consider is this: what is important for us to do as a parish to invite these kind of positive experiences at Mass to happen as often as possible? The congregation (the “Assembly”) is a very important part of this picture. It is from the congregation that the readers, greeters, servers, etc. come. We minister to each other in the liturgy. The whole Mass is a responsive prayer between the presider and the assembly. When people respond or sing with energy and enthusiasm, the energy level grows, and that is what you feel at a “good” liturgy. If the response is weak or absent or other parts are missing, then the energy is just not there. When we all do our part as we come together to celebrate the Mass, when we have the resources and people there in the necessary numbers, then we give that important opening for the Holy Spirit to light a fire of excitement, energy and love. This is a good goal to have and to work toward. Let’s do that!
Fr. Paul SJ .