The Eucharistic Revival and the Art of Gathering: Part 2

This is the second part of my little series on the National Eucharistic Revival and Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering. Last time, I applied Parker’s first three points or “rules” for gatherings to the Catholic Mass: know the real reason that you are gathering, close the doors to people who don’t fit the purpose, and don’t be a “chill” host. Today I’m going to apply three more of her rules to the Mass.

Rule #4: Create a temporary alternative world

Make it clear that the Mass is special, and that different “rules” apply.

The Church has an easier time with this point in that we have a specific place and time that Mass begins, setting people up to understand that they are entering a different kind of gathering from others. No one who arrives late to Mass brazenly walks up to the front row, nodding and waving to people as they pass; They know they aren’t supposed to be late (even if it is sometimes unavoidable). So from the beginning, with the sign of the cross, the congregation has entered into a space and time that are set apart.

As I mentioned in the last post, the more beautiful (and old?) our churches can be, the better for this purpose. But there are other ways in which going to Mass can be shown to be what Parker calls a “temporary alternative world.” Sometimes this just means being explicit about some of the rules that many people take for granted.

One small example (that many parishes around the U.S. have already implemented) is when the cantor or a lector reminds the congregation before Mass to turn off their cell phones. Everyone should know that their phones do not belong in Mass, but the announcement is a reminder and helps to make it explicit. It may also cause some people to re-think whether the phone is actually a good tool for reading the Missal (I’m inclined to say no, it’s not). Some parishes ask the congregation to greet one another before Mass. Other announcements are made during particular liturgical events, especially those involving children’s sacraments: parents may be requested not to take pictures, for example, or reminded that the sanctuary is a place for prayer, not chatter.

For the Eucharistic revival, parishes could consider adopting other rules that fit their congregations. What if a parish decided, for instance, “We are going to be the kind of parish where everyone sings, even if they are tone deaf”? Or “We are a friendly parish, where we notice everyone who is here, especially if they are sitting alone”? It could be interesting.

Rule #5: Never start a funeral with logistics

In this section, Parker discusses beginnings and endings. She starts with the concept of “priming”: getting people excited about the gathering. For a regular Sunday Mass, this does not normally apply, since people are (probably) going to come anyway, but it might be interesting if parishes thought about how, on a given Sunday, to help their people be excited about coming to Mass the next Sunday. Certain liturgical seasons lend themselves to this: a lector or cantor could remind people: “Next Sunday is Pentecost! Come in red to celebrate the fire of Divine Love!” for example. It might be a bit cheesy, but maybe a bit of cheese is what we need sometimes.

Another concept in this chapter is ushering: bringing someone out of the normal workaday world and into your gathering, where another sort of world is in place. For Mass, a silent sanctuary does this admirably. We have so little silence in our lives. For this reason, parish choirs, for example, could consider ensuring that they are not still rehearsing music in the sanctuary ten to fifteen minutes before Mass. There were times at my former parish when I would retreat back outside in order to center myself on God because the folk group was still practicing and discussing their music (loudly) in the sanctuary right before Mass.

“Fuse your guests” is also in this chapter, and it is an exhortation to connecting people to one another. Parishes ought to be good at this! A person who knows, for example, two different families and something they have in common can always introduce them to each other. Some priests have a gift for this, but there is no reason that the work of connecting parishioners to each other has to be done by the priest. We can all play a part in this work, seeking out common interests and introducing ourselves and others.

Rule #8 (yes, I skipped #6 and 7[1]): Accept that there is an end

The final rule that Parker sets out for meaningful gatherings is to accept that there is an end to the gathering and to plan appropriately for it. She tells us to look inward first: reflect on what has happened; then to turn outward. This is what the Catholic Mass does, at a simple level. We take time after receiving Holy Communion to be with the Lord, often in silence or at least with quieter music before the final blessing when the priest tells us to “Go in peace.” We leave the sanctuary and return, once again, into the world.

One of my favorite parts of The Art of Gathering is here in this section, when Parker writes, “Now the end is near, and all those thanks and logistics might be pent-up, and you might be tempted to stick them at the end instead. Don’t even think about it. Just as you don’t open a gathering with logistics, you should never end a gathering with logistics, and that includes thank yous.”

How many times have you been at a liturgical celebration that ended with a bunch of thank yous? Especially if a bishop is present! It’s torturous! Whenever I have attempted to get people to skip this, they have been horrified at the idea that we would let the bishop go without publicly thanking him right there at the end of Mass, before the final blessing. Meanwhile, I highly doubt that a good bishop is going to be bent out of shape for not being thanked for saying Mass. Saying Mass is why he was ordained, after all.

Let’s move forward, embracing this call to Eucharistic Revival with an open spirit and fervent hearts!

[1] I will probably go back to these when I look at other ways of engaging with the Eucharistic Revival