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Marin laity suggest ways to energize Mass

February 13, 2015
Christina Gray

Laypersons from seven of Marin County’s 17 parishes told pastors at a deanery meeting Feb. 5 that continuous education on the “nuts and bolts” of the Mass, more face time with priests and even humor could help bring the faithful to Mass and to the eucharistic table.

“Our people don’t understand the Mass as well as they should or as well as we think they do,” said Mike Morison, pastoral associate of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Mill Valley.

Unexplained changes in worship since Vatican II have created “no end of confusion for Catholics over the past 45 years,” he said.

Recognizing this, his parish created a four-week series called “The Mass Broken Open” to help parishioners understand what’s happening, why it’s happening and what it means. The goal is for parishioners to enter more deeply into the celebration of the Mass.

“It’s a catechetical way of opening up the Mass so that people understand and appreciate what is happening on the altar,” he said.

Inviting the laity to speak at the first deanery meeting of the year was the final step in a frank discussion of the Eucharist prompted last year by Father Cyril O’Sullivan, pastor of St. Cecilia in Lagunitas.

Over the course of two meetings last year, parish leaders described the disconnect between parishioners and their understanding and acceptance of the Mass and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They cited a lack of Catholic faith formation and a “tarnished, aloof church” as possible reasons.

The laity confirmed those reasons and offered several new ones.

In a survey of St. Patrick parishioners presented by liturgical coordinator Cathy Plocki, respondents anonymously suggested the best place to regularly educate both adults and children is at Mass.

“I respectfully suggest that all priests spend more time teaching us parishioners what the Eucharistic sacrament really means, and most important, what actually is taking place when the priest administers the host and we receive it. This could be delivered and reinforced with just a few words at each Mass.

“Many of us who have had the luxury of a Catholic education which incorporated teaching about the parts of the Mass have forgotten those lessons.

“... The emphasis on Bible readings at Mass is understandable, but that leaves a serious gap in the religious education of the parish.”

Anne-Marie Lee, who attends daily Mass at the Mother of God Carmelite monastery in San Rafael described going to a Catholic retreat center in India and being riveted by lay preachers teaching the most foundational Christian concepts, including the Ten Commandments.

“Who talks about those anymore?” she asked. “It was like the nuts and bolts of our faith.” She watched awestruck as people “in the thousands” lined up to go to confession.

One parishioner asked pastors to be the front-line agents of change.

Karen Carol Mori-Prange of St. Cecilia Parish in Lagunitas expressed “heartbreak” that the Eucharist seems misunderstood or casually regarded.

“The consecration of the bread and wine is what sets us apart from other religions,” she said. “It breaks my heart when I go to a wedding or funeral and see people running up to Communion like it was a social event.”

“If the priests could impress people how special it is, it might help,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful thing we have, I don’t think even half of Catholics even appreciate it.”

She said the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also not talked about enough.

Others suggested that priests could help emphasize the reverence of what happens on the altar and encourage a longer period of meditation after Communion.

Craig Carlson, of St. Mary Parish in Nicasio, on the other hand, said the Mass in general and the Eucharist in particular do not always have to be so “heavy.”

“We don’t go to Mass for comedy, but faith is full of jovial and joyful moments that can be shared,” he said.

He also noted that if possible, pastors should spend more time face-to-face with people because parish bulletins and newspaper articles do not work to move people inside the doors of a church.

“The only reason I came to Mass is because a priest came to see me,” he said.

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