What drives the seemingly perfunctory and sterile celebration of Sunday Mass?

In all sincerity, what drives the seemingly perfunctory and sterile celebration of Sunday Mass when outside events (schedule, etc.) do not constrain the celebration, at so many parishes?

I am deeply thankful that all the overt liturgical abuses have been wrung out of the Sunday Mass at my parish. It took years. In place we have a looks and feels to be a perfunctory and sterile celebration of Sunday Mass. In my parish we don’t even use the Nicene Creed anymore. We use the Apostles Creed every Sunday.

It’s almost as if someone took the Order of the Mass and carefully trimmed away every possible option that is allowed. Even the vestments, altar adornments, linens and sacred vessels reflect this. And this is not limited to one priest either.

Is there a legitimate view in the Church that disdains all examples of overt formality, solemnity and reverence? Is there a desire by some to mimic the ascetic when it comes to the celebration of the Mass? I’m really curious about this. Or is it just a matter of “git ur done” as quickly and easily as possible?

What makes me ask this, is a funeral Mass I attended this week at my parish. It had an almost sterile feel to it. As if we were all waiting for a train and we needed to hurry. That wasn’t the case. It was the exact opposite of the nature of the decedent and his family. It was actually a very sad Mass. Very minimalist.

I should point out what I’m describing takes place all year long. It’s not something unique to the Lenten Season.

I have not experienced this in my Church.

So, you don’t identify as Catholic yet you feel free to criticize the Masses you attend?
Interesting. :rolleyes:

Sounds like what you’ve experienced is pretty unique to your church (or the church you’ve frequenting).

What did your pastor say when you discussed your preferences with him?

OP, it sounds to me as if you are using mere external appearances to determine that the Masses being offered are “perfunctory” and “sterile”. I think you are likely leaping to a rash judgement, based on the details you are giving here. You cannot know the disposition of the priest or the attendants.

So true.

We need to enter into the Mass with much prayer and focus on what is going on.

I don’t think what you mentioned is uncommon in certain areas. Some Masses I’ve been to seem like the Priest and congregation would like to get through it as soon as possible. Others are more reverent.

Perhaps the practice of keeping Sunday Mass as short as possible has something to do with attendance at Sunday Mass being obligatory for Catholics and comes from a desire to make this “burden” as light as possible.

While I agree that the state of the liturgy in many parishes is lacking, we should also remember that the Roman Rite has the tradition of the “low” and “high” Mass. Yes, the Novus Ordo no longer technically has those categories, but the “spirit” is still there…various options can be employed or omitted to make a Mass more or less solemn.
At our cathedral there are 7 Masses on Sunday. The 11 AM Mass is the most solemn and occupies the role of the traditional “Sunday high Mass”…lots of chant, Latin, incense, choir singing polyphony, etc. The 8 PM Mass, as the last Mass of the day, is more of a “low Mass” - there may or may not be a cantor…incense is not used…the priest may chant a bit but not necessarily.

Have you read “The Lamb’s Supper” by Scott Hahn? :slight_smile:

It depends in what manner I asked – keep in mind it has been a while since I have asked. emails on this subject were simply ignored. That seems to pretty much be a uniform non-response for others that have tried this medium.

Face to face used to result in my pastor quite literally breaking out in a sweat while promising to get back to me. I never talked to him over the phone about it.

I would be very pleased if that were indeed the truth. It certainly isn’t in my archdiocese.

Speed is indeed an issue, but it’s not the top one. The sterile, perfunctory DRYNESS that dominates Masses around here is terribly sad. I’m curious about where they stem from.

I used to serve private Masses for a Franciscan priest. They were exceedingly utilitarian on purpose due to his charism but they never felt sterile or perfunctory as they do around here.

I suspect that could be part of it. There are a number of 75+ year olds in my parish that definitely equate a fast Mass to a good Mass. While the perfunctory and sterility I’m observing really aren’t the same as celebrating the Mass quickly, I suspect one (desire for a short Mass) could drive the other (perfunctory and sterility.) That’s something to ponder.

That’s interesting. On Sunday my parish also has 7 Masses. One is known to be a “family friendly” Mass which is fine. One is known to be a Spanish speaking Mass, no problem. One is known to favor college students, great. But all of them seem perfunctory and sterile celebrations. We don’t (or I would attend it) a weekly solemn celebration.

Someone asked what how my pastor responds when I ask bout this? Several of us asked if one of the Mass celebration could be made more solemn? We would help were needed: cantoring, lectoring, serving, ushering, etc. We were finally told “no.” That others would object.

I agree with you completely. “Perfunctory and sterile” describes the Masses in my diocese to a “T”. Even worse, there almost always seems to be a game with some of the priests about keeping Mass “under 60 minutes.” They act like it is such a dreary chore as opposed to the celebration of our living God.

Your words sterile and perfunctory have no real meaning to me…I do not know what you wish to indicate. I can only presume, from this post, that you are using sterile and perfunctory in apposition to elaborated and extended

The Roman Rite is supposed to be marked by “sobriety” and by “noble simplicity.” The ideal Roman prayer is quintessentially Da, Domine, quaesumus ____. Give, Lord, we beg you [fill in blank with as few words as essential to make the request]

One person’s luxe is another’s superfluity. I remember, in ancient days, when we had three cloths on the altar…each altar. Now the church/chapel ideally has one altar, not multiple altars, and the altar need have only one cloth. I’ve never seen that as an impoverishment but rather a change both practical and appreciated. The sacristans & I were the only ones who knew the two undercloths were not there…well, except God and His attending angels. The honour being paid was not shortchanged for there being fewer cloths, that could not be humanly observed, dressing the altar

As for vestments, as a retired priest, I’ve helped in various parishes…and will quite consciously pass over the vestment placed at hand to choose something simpler as I prefer a more monastic simplicity to such things

The same is true for the linens. That they’re not elaborately embroidered is of no interest to me…that they are functional – i.e. made out of a fabric that is absorbent and easily cleaned – is of maximum interest to me. I’ve dealt with linens of inferior quality that looked quite elaborate but were so made that they did not dry the sacred vessels they were meant to wipe. They were, for all their elaborateness, perfectly useless

Over the years, I’ve been in parish priest of parishes where I removed baptisms from being done at a Sunday Mass because of the number of complaints by both those having their children baptised – they found the arrangement not conducive – and complaints from parishioners who found baptisms made the Sunday Mass much too long and elaborated. I’ve removed incense, which I personally like, because of complaints arising from allergies, breathing disorders, and various other maladies from headaches to nausea attributed to incense

When I am in a monastic setting, the liturgies invariably are longer and more elaborate. But then they are monastic liturgies and they are not parish liturgies

When I have been chaplain to communities of other cultures, Masses could go easily twice as long as a standard parish Mass because of the inculturated liturgy involving more and longer pieces of music, liturgical dance, and so forth. Some, not being of the other cultures, who came to the liturgies really enjoyed them and would return while others found them much too long and involved, even leaving in the middle of them rather than staying until the end

Conversely, the shortest Masses of my priesthood are those in the era when I was a hospital chaplain. They were kept simple and to the smallest time duration possible because staff, patient, and visitors all had priorities to be about within the hospital beyond fitting Mass into their schedule…and I also was pressed by duties and rounds

As for the funeral Mass you cite, I have done many over the years. The taking or rejecting of options for funeral at which I preside rests with the one arranging the funeral. I only overrule if the request is not in keeping with liturgical norms. I’ve had funerals with no music. Funeral with an organist or other musician playing but without hymns or singing. Funerals with a cantor and singing…with or without musical accompaniment. Funerals with an added soloist. Funerals with a choir. In places where the organist is receiving a stipend per Mass played, the family must either supply an organist or arrange financially with the one we used…and so it is for the cantor, soloist or choir. For some who are arranging funerals, expense becomes an issue

In short, there are reasons for every choice that I’ve made when administering a parish. Usually involving a balancing of goods. Mostly practical

I would never run while breaking out in a sweat from a parishioner making a suggestion…I’ve turned and silently walked away, with no further acknowledgement, from parishioners who are repeating the same request for the 15th, 20th, 25th time…because they have already received their answer. Repeatedly. The answer being: NO

I’ve never been one to repeat myself over and over. Once an answer has been given to an individual and once they have been reminded they have been given an answer, assuming they are not dementia patients, I do not repeat myself. Unfortunately, there are parishioners who will continue to repeat a request as though they will gain a hearing by the sheer multiplicity of asking. That behaviour should not be encouraged or rewarded

Frankly, the words sterile and perfunctory most evoke for me memories of the pre-conciliar Masses I remember from my younger days…when Masses were offered every hour on the hour and Sunday Mass was less than 45 minutes as, principally, a dialogue between the priest and the altar server. I do not miss those days, whatsoever

You say you have seven Masses in your parish. How many priests do you have presiding at these seven Masses?


*]drives: 5d : to press or force into an activity, course, or direction
*]sterile: 2c. lacking in stimulating emotional or intellectual quality
*]perfunctory: 2. lacking in interest or enthusiasm

If the Mass is celebrated imperfectly then it may be due to moral or amoral causes.

Ancient Roman rite is simpler than the eastern Divine Liturgy:

Sacrosanctum concilium:

…Thus not only when things are read “which were written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service and more abundantly receive His grace.

Wherefore, in the revision of the liturgy, the following general norms should be observed:

  1. The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.


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