Every Sunday when
I come to the Eucharist and am confronted by the words inscribed in stone over
the entrance of my parish church, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” I am reminded
that the first sacrifice I must make at this Mass is my own ego, and as I
strive to relinquish the need to be in control of what will happen at this
Eucharist I ask, “What does my lord bid his servant?” (Joshua 5:14).
We all face the
same struggle. Some of you may protest:
•“The ushers don’t make me feel welcome in my church.”
•“My parish priest preaches too long.”
•“The musicians in our church are out of control.”
•“People are too loud and talk too much before
•“The people dress too well or too poorly.”
Each of us, if given the opportunity to
share what we think is keeping us from getting the most out of the Eucharist,
is apt to come up with our own list. Recently I asked this question online and
received a deluge of responses. Many were true abuses of the liturgy,and were
worthy of being reported to the diocesan bishop, but just as many were not.
When I shared my amazement at the number
of responses with my wife,she very keenly mused,“They all feel helpless,like
they have no control.” As soon as she said this I realized that this was
exactly the same thing I had heard from priests and musicians, the two groups
who are most often the target of the congregation’s ire.Priests who come into a
new parish and encounter established ways of doing things with which they do
not agree and yet are powerless (at least at first) to change and musicians who
are hired to provide a parish with beautiful music yet find themselves
restrained by parish staff or established practice to playing pieces they feel
are less than worthy of the liturgy often express frustration at their lack of
This brings home a point that we do not
like to admit: None of us is in control, no matter what our function is in the
liturgy. Yet we are all tempted to think that if we were in charge we could
make it all perfect.
The greatest suffering that I’ve endured
at any celebration of the Eucharist has been the few cases where someone,
whether it was the presider, a musician, or, as in several cases, a member of
the congregation, thought he or she couldmake the liturgy more perfect by his or her own inventions. Here are
some examples of this type of behavior, all of which actually happened:
•An Easter Sunday where a visiting priest tried to woo
thecongregation by creating a “Mass” of his own making, never once using the
words prescribed by the Church from beginning to end.
•A musician who saw himself as in a battle with the
cele-brant and who continually and loudly played music over the presider’s
attempts to pray the prescribed prayers of the Church.
•A congregant who screamed out for the priest to
stopbecause “no one” —meaning herself — “knew where he was” in the liturgy.
•A congregant who held up a crucifix as he
processedtoward the altar to receive the Eucharist and then, after receiving
the Eucharist, turned and exorcised the congregation with loud prayers and wild
gesticulations of the cross.
Now, you may think of some of these
people as being mentally ill, and perhaps some of them were, yet a case could
be made that when any of us “lords” it over another we are a little off in the
head, especially if we are doing so and claiming to be a follower of Jesus.
None of this is new, of course; even in Jesus’s time there were those who
sought to take control and lord it over others.Yet Jesus addressed this issue
directly,and clearly specified the subservient attitude that would be required
of his followers:
Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the
rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise
authority over them.It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great
among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be
your slave; even as the Son of man came not be served but to serve, and to give
his life as ransom for many.”