LITURGY CORNER 20
with Fr. James
Distraction at Mass, Part 3:
Distractions of Spontaneity
In one way of looking at it, “liturgy planning” sounds like an oxymoron. Since the structure of the Mass is always the same, and the readings and prayers of the seasons are prescribed, what’s to plan? But, of course, for the Sunday Masses homilies must be planned, music selected, intercessions composed, and logistics for any special rites need to be thought out and sometimes even rehearsed. So considerable time, thought, and effort may go into any given weekend liturgy. But isn’t even this all too rigid, not leaving any room for the Spirit to move? Isn’t there any room for spontaneity in Catholic Sunday worship? The General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes it sound like the answer is no:
[T]he priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass. [GIRM #24]
However, this statement occurs in the context of accommodations and adaptations that are allowed in the Missal. Not only is there structural wiggle room in the Mass, but a degree of spontaneity can naturally happen in the delivery of the homily, or what words or phrases are emphasized, and the like.
On the other hand, spontaneity is the antithesis of formal, ritual worship. For a minister to “express himself” by innovating on the spot can be a major distraction to the effect of engaging in such a communal act of formal worship as the Mass. Even in that first formational generation of Christians when the formal structure of the Mass was more fluid, St. Paul in his instructions to the charismatic Corinthians sought to control spontaneous outbursts in the Sunday assembly for the sake of order. “Indeed, the spirits of prophets are under the prophets’ control, since he is not the God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:32-33). So clearly, spontaneity as such does not have a high priority in the Mass itself.