As we approach summer and that long stretch of Ordinary Time Sundays in the liturgical calendar, we can take a fresh look at what “ordinary” worship should be like. In the liturgical calendar, “ordinary” refers to the order of the Sundays — first, second, third, etc. — not the quality of the liturgy. However, we can also think of “ordinary” as a norm. What should liturgy be like on a normal Sunday?
A normal Sunday liturgy should be extraordinary. It doesn’t have to be Easter-Vigil-level extraordinary, but every liturgy should lift us out of our ordinary lives and give us a glimpse of what the fullness of God’s reign is like. It should give us a taste of the Heavenly Banquet.A normal Sunday liturgy should be extraordinary. It should give us a taste of the Heavenly Banquet. Click To Tweet
Ironically, making every Sunday liturgy extraordinary requires of us some very basic, ordinary tasks. Just as playing the piano artistically or baking an exquisite cake or loaf of bread requires careful attention to the basics, extraordinary liturgy is built upon ordinary, basic actions. Unfortunately, many communities forget the basics.
Also like playing the piano or baking, the basics of Sunday worship can seem overwhelming. But remember, the world-class pianist didn’t get to her level quickly. She worked on improving her skills bit-by-bit, over a long period. Her daily goal is never perfection. It is to be five percent better than yesterday. The same is true of your grandmother’s baking talent. She started when she was a little girl, and she is still striving to be a little better every time she bakes a cake. So as you contemplate these basic liturgical tasks, ask yourself how you can improve just a little bit more, maybe five percent more, each Sunday.
I travel a lot, and I have probably seen more Catholic churches than the average Catholic. One thing I can always count on seeing is clutter. Vestibules, gathering spaces, sanctuaries, side altars, pews, and parish offices are filled with clutter. Your five-percent challenge is to remove one or two items of clutter every Sunday.
In most of the churches I visit, I can enter just before Mass starts, worship with the parish for an hour, and leave without anyone realizing I was there. Imagine if a stranger showed up for your big holiday dinner, sat and ate with your family, and then left without anyone ever acknowledging his presence. Sometime, just to see what world-class greeting looks like, visit an evangelical megachurch on Sunday. Count the number of times someone greets you. Also count the number of times you are invited to return. That kind of welcome is your long-term goal. Your five-percent challenge is to say hello to one stranger every Sunday. And also to recruit five-percent more greeters each month.
Some people long for the days when we would arrive for Mass and the church was pin-drop silent. We could be crammed into a full pew and not even hear our neighbor breathing. Even if we wanted to return to those days, they are long gone. And I like a little chatter and bustle before Mass begins. I think it is a sign of reverence to recognize Christ in the people around you by saying hello and exchanging hugs and catching up a bit. But what, to me, is irreverent is the kind of bustle that says we’re not ready yet. The lights are not turned on, the candles are not lit, the microphones are being set up and tested, the musicians are assembling their sheet music, the sacristan is setting out the communion ware. All of this is distracting and thoughtless. A five-percent challenge might be to move your mental start time up five minutes earlier each Sunday until you reach a 20-minute ready point. That is, at 20-minutes before the start of Mass, everything is in place and ready to go so you can focus on welcoming people as they arrive.
That’s enough for now. Try a couple of these challenges next Sunday, and then come back to this post and share in the comments below how it went. Or share your own ideas about how to turn Ordinary Time into Extraordinary Time. In future posts, I’ll share some more five-percent challenges for us to work on.