LITURGY MATTERS: Pay attention!

Pay attention! Be present! Welcome what comes! These three imperatives are the hallmarks of a wonderful series of papers on contemplative leadership. They also echo through Advent. And the point of this reflection – they are attitudes demanded by liturgy.

 I am currently engaged in one of my favourite things – helping to facilitate the liturgy unit which is part of the Christian Formation Course (CFC). The Liturgy unit focuses on the celebration of the Eucharist and engages participants in reflecting on their experience of Mass via a process of Mystagogical Reflection.   

The first step of Mystagogical Reflection invites us to recall what happened. When the participants in the CFC tried to recall what happened in the Introductory Rites, it soon became obvious that we don’t pay attention to the liturgy. They found it a real struggle. Their reflection on this was that we are so used to the liturgy that it washes over us without our noticing. Someone said we do liturgy ‘by rote’ as if we are on autopilot. This was an important realisation for all of us.

Anyone engaged in liturgical ministry, particularly the preparation of liturgy, knows this only too well. I know it from diocesan experience. Anytime we change something – something as simple as asking people to remain seated instead of standing, or, changing the response to the Universal Prayer – most people just do what they always do. We can include very clear rubrics in the People’s Booklet, we can give an instruction before the liturgy begins, but even then, people do by rote what they always do, not what a particular liturgy asks of them.

How well do you pay attention when you are celebrating liturgy? What can you recall from last Sunday’s Mass? I know I can be as lacking in attention as anyone else. I can stand for the opening hymn and before I know it, I am sitting after the Collect. Where did my mind and attention go?!

As a community of faith, we believe liturgy is essential to our life and mission, and expresses our belief. We say, liturgy, most significantly the Eucharist, makes the Church. We say liturgy is the source and summit of all the activity and power of the Church. We say that Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. We say Christ is present in the liturgy inviting our participation in the paschal – dying, rising – mystery by which we offer ourselves to God through, with and in Christ. We say the liturgy requires our full, conscious and active participation because it is the indispensable source of the true Christian spirit.

If I believe this, if we believe this, then I have to ask myself, why am I not paying attention? Why am I not fully, consciously and actively present and participating in the liturgical event which demands that I see, listen, move, smell, be silent, touch and feel emotionally? In and through all these liturgical experiences it is Christ I am encountering; it is Christ demanding my attention; Christ the grace I receive. Nothing, including missals, bulletins or leaflets, should distract my attention from Christ.    

We are into the second week of Advent, that season that confronts us with the need to pay attention, wake up and be present to Christ who comes in the most surprising ways,  inviting us to imagine what life could be like if we truly welcome him.

This Advent I pray for the grace of attention, presence and an open-hearted welcome for all that is yet to be revealed.



Photo © 2021 Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.