DIY liturgy

Yesterday I had the pleasure of serving at a wedding Mass. It was the first time for to even attend a wedding Mass, let alone be a server at one. The soon-to-be-weds had brought their own priest, as far I understood a friend of the family.

When introducing myself to him and discussing some points of the Mass, he seemed surprised that there would be servers, but pleasantly surprised, and he asked me what our duties would be. Well, just the usual ones: preparing the altar, carrying the gifts, assisting with a few other things, and also the washing of the hands before the Consecration. “Oh, I never do that”, he replied. I nearly raised an eyebrow and asked him why on earth not? I didn’t though, merely mumbled something that we do do that here, and he seemed okay with that.

Anyway, that by way of introduction, because that little occurence led me to fear that the wedding Mass that the priest would celebrate would suffer from what I call a DIY liturgy. And that fear was confirmed. The experience was rather paradoxical for me: on the one hand the liturgy bothered me, and on the other hand the clear happiness of the bride and groom and their friends and family made me happy as well.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder what lies at the root at this urge (if it is an urge) to adapt the liturgy to your own personal preferences. In this case the Mass was valid (the priest used a proper Eucharistic prayer and so on), but the introduction of extra prayer within the Eucharistic prayer, the involvement of the congregation in the various prayers of the priest, the priest’s apparent lack of awareness of certain rituals and their meaning, and, worst of all, the invitation to everyone who felt spiritually close to the bride and groom to receive Communion, led not only to a vague service (which is what the priest consistently called it instead of Eucharist or Mass) but also allowed a number of abuses to take place. I assisted the priest in giving Communion and I am certain that a number of non-Catholics received the Body of Christ from my hands. Maybe I am responsible for that or the priest is, I don’t know, but during the celebration of Mass I tend to defer to the priest: any disagreements and questions may be raised afterwards. So I gave Communion to those who presented themselves.

The liturgy of the Mass, with all its rules and rituals, is the product of a development of centuries. It has been codified numerous times, most recently following the Second Vatican Council. That codification has a reason: it unifies the celebration of the sacraments in the entire Church and so also its members. Being people of head and heart, the rituals, gestures, visuals et cetera, serves to provide us with a more exalted worship; Mass is not like sitting down with friends and have a chin wag: it is the communion with God, which deserves, even needs its own language. In the language and gestures of the liturgy we are exalted also, and so we are enabled to meet God, despite all our human failings. If the liturgy is brought down to us, we bring God down to us (an impossibility): the opposite of what He asks from us. Liturgy is also a teaching tool: the language, gestures and rituals show us who God is, that we are able to come into His presence despite the fact that He is so far out of our reach.

DIY liturgy is a dangerous business, but paradoxically an understandable one as well. Yesterday wedding Mass was an enormously joyous occasion for everyone involved, and I don’t begrudge anyone that. But the Mass barely transcended the level of a social gathering, but the couple did consciously choose to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony. The (subconscious) need to remove God as much as possible from the picture amazes me. In words we still acknowledge Him, but that is where we draw the line. It is as if we have become people of the head only: our heart and soul is not in it.

My Easter Triduum, and then some

If you’re active in the Church, in whatever capacity, the coming days are the busiest of the year. I don’t expect to catch much sleep, especially around Good Friday. There have been cases where I had a full workday, an all-night vigil and another full workday, totalling over 36 hours without sleep. A minor sacrifice. 

Here is my schedule: 

Maundy Thursday
19:00: Mass. The last Mass before Easter, commemorating the Last Supper. It also includes the Washing of the Feet. The Blessed Sacrament is relocated to the Altar of Repose, as Jesus goes to Gethsemane and ultimately His death and resurrection.
20:30: Start of the vigil. With a friend I’ve organised this all-night vigil for the third time. We watch and pray with Christ in Gethsemane. The cathedral will be open until midnight, although anyone is welcome at any time. 

Good Friday
07:00: End of the vigil with Lauds.
15:00: Stations of the Cross. In fourteen stages we relive the journey of Christ to the Cross, from His conviction by Pontius Pilate to His burial. It’s always an emotional experience.
19:00: Serving at the Service of the Passion of the Lord at St. Francis. Not a Mass, since the Lord is not there anymore. We venerate the Cross, tool of our salvation, during this service. 

The Easter Vigil starts in darkness. The Paschal candle, carried here by my parish priest, Fr. Rolf Wagenaar, signifies the light of Christ, and slowly illuminates the entire cathedral.

Holy Saturday
20:30: Serving at Easter Vigil at St. Francis. The early vigil where several catechumens will be baptised and/or confirmed. Always special to be a part of that.
23:00: Easter Vigil at the cathedral. A long Mass, the high point of not just our liturgical year, but our entire existence: Christ is risen! The rituals and music are always fantastic. 

Easter Sunday
11:00: High Mass, offered by Bishop de Korte. Easter continues unabated and we still celebrate.
18:00: Mass for students. Which will be interesting because of a distinct lack of volunteers… But we’ll manage. 

Easter Monday
11:00: Serving at High Mass.

Looking back in gratitude

I spent my Palm Sunday weekend with the youth platform of my diocese, Groningen-Leeuwarden. For 25 years now, Palm Sunday is also World Youth Day, so the youth platform hosts a weekend of fun and games, but also catechesis, for young people between 16 and 30.

Notes left on a flipover, after youth worker Hao Tran spoke about the nature of God's love for His people

It was not only a chance to be away from the relentless media assault on the Church, but also an opportunity to meet people I hadn’t seen in too long. I was sorry that it only last one and a half days, to be honest.

Local hermit Brother Hugo visited
On Sunday afternoon, there was the opportunity to go canoeing

On Sunday afternoon, Bishop de Korte visited to celebrate Mass together with Fathers Arjen and Victor. I had the honour of serving at that Mass, and almost nothing went wrong… 😉

Before Mass, we processed to the church, carrying buxus branches in lieu of palm fronds.   

The church in Wehe Den Hoorn, the small village where we stayed, is small but rather nice. Aspects of the sanctuary, though , are mirrored to what I used to: the credence table is at the other side, which totally turns one’s orientation to the altar around.

The interior of the St. Boniface church
An impromptu welcome sign for Bishop de Korte

The weekend reminded me that the Church and the faith are so much bigger than what the media presents it as. It truly transcends it.

I am thankful for these past two days. Let’s remember the things to be thankful for in this Holy Week. It grounds us in and elevates us to Easter, less than a week away.