OK, I'm willing to take the heat and anger over the title to this post because I'm frustrated having just returned from our local Sunday parish service. So here goes.
Sunday worship for Catholics consists of a liturgy service consisting of prayer, bible readings, a homily and the Eucharistic service which is the primary focus of the entire service. Catholics regard the service as a repeating of the last supper in which Christ directed his apostle to "do this in remembrance of me." The traditional Catholic belief is that the priest has Christ’s authority and power to change ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. It is a mandatory requirement that Catholics attend each Sunday under a sanction of "serious sin." For a large part of my life, the entire service, except for the Bible readings and homily were in Latin and the priest had his back to the people during the liturgy. We followed the Latin with books that gave the translation in English. Now the entire service is in the language of the country where it is being conducted and the priest faces the people from behind an altar.
However, according to the internet and media, many Catholics feel the Sunday worship service rates from "uninspiring" to "down right boring" I have my own personal experience that puts me in the camp of those who are unhappy with our present liturgy as conducted in most parishes. For example, the Sunday service at my local parish is in very sharp contrast to the service I attend in down town Seattle during the week. Our parish service is too often an endurance contest and my Seattle experience one I look forward to attending.
Here’s my experience with my local parish Sunday worship. It is generally characterized by unnecessarily long service, with poorly conducted choir singing, an often uninspiring homily (with a money pitch somewhere in it) and prayers which have no relevance to the real world of those in attendance looking for guidance. The Eucharistic portion of the service is the only part that is meaningful for me. One might argue that this is why we Catholics should and must attend the service, but that begs the issue of why one must endure torture in order to participate in this part of the service?
Perhaps this isn’t a fair representation of our usual local parish service, but I just returned from our local parish service and here’s what I experienced this Sunday. The choir didn’t have music which made you want to join in and sing. Instead, it wasn’t traditional hymns nor was it was it anything you wanted to sing. You could have only one person with a guitar and if the music selection and delivery is done right, you feel involved and moved by the music, but this wasn’t like that in anyway.
The priest was a visiting pastor. He had a strong accent of one from India whose speaking style was deliberate, difficult to understand and a monotone. He also had the strange habit of using an upward inflection when he was ending an sentence instead of a downward one. The Bible reading included a very long Gospel which took fifteen or twenty minutes to read. Instead of a short homily this priest took thirty minutes and was extremely difficult to understand given his monotone delivery with an accent. That was just as well given the mediocre homily content. This homily was an ordeal to be endured. Then we had the general prayers. The problem with these prayers is they are "canned" prayers some higher authority has written which are platitudes having zero relevance to the daily lives and problems of the people in attendance. By the time we got to the Eucharist service over an hour had gone by and I was tapping my watch to make sure it was working. I left frustrated by the experience and annoyed that I had endured it instead of inspired by having attended it.
In contrast, the noon service in down town Seattle is conducted in a small round chapel at a Protestant church which allow the Catholic services. Anywhere from twenty to fifty people attend sitting around the altar in close proximity. Different priests conduct the service, often Jesuits from Seattle University. The service is simple and inspiring. The homily is usually less then fifteen minutes and always relevant to the Bible reading or lessons for daily life. The prayers are those offered by the people in attendance. A relative who is sick or someone about to undergo surgery. They are real prayer requests and not some canned platitude. The people are friendly. The service is over in thirty minutes usually and the full focus is the Eucharistic part of the total service. I leave inspired and better for having attended.
So, why can’t our Sunday worship be more like the original Christians?
"They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and held all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day the devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple are and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."-Acts 2: 44-47, NAB