I recently had a chance to attend Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s in Greenville, SC. The parish is often mentioned in the context of the New Evangelization, and I thought I’d take a look and see what the noise was about. Several things grabbed my attention during the visit: new construction (always a hopeful sign); full pews; God-centered worship; and the parish bulletin.
Today I’d like to talk about what was in that bulletin, not because every parish ought to do things exactly as St. Mary’s does, but because it’s helpful to know what other parishes are doing that seems to be working.
The Mass In Front of Your Face
My seven-year-old daughter was along with me, and I always bring a children’s missal for her, because she likes to keep track of where we are in the Mass. I didn’t need it this week. Rather than printing a conventional weekly bulletin, St. Mary’s puts a few announcements and some basic church-directory information on the front and back covers, and encloses inside a booklet that lays out the entire Mass from start to finish. Included are all the hymns, the text and music for prayers the pew-sitters need to be able to say, and the readings, psalm, and Gospel.
Why is this important?
1. A visitor can arrive and follow the whole service from start to finish.
2. You can take them home.
What was that reading again?
Over the years, numerous priests have preached the importance of praying over and studying the Sunday readings. Putting the text right in the bulletin makes that possible. Rather than a set of hymnals, St. Mary’s has Bibles in the pews, so you can easily look up the context of each reading.
The other reason I think the take-home service aid is so important is that it lets you learn the music. How many times, as a newly-returned Catholic, did I hear a hymn at Mass, and try to memorize the title and composer so I could look it up on the internet when I got home?
Humans are Musical Creatures
Even those of us who don’t sing all that well do still have an innate orientation towards music. We sing about birthdays, battles, love, loss, the Farmer and the Dell — everything. This is why the music of the liturgy so important: It is literally the high point of our life each week. What we sing at Mass on Sundays should be the best, highest, most sacred songs in the universe. And those are worth knowing.
Tip: In my post-St. Mary’s debriefing, I ended up in a conversation with none other than Katie O’Keefe. She writes here about where to start in boning up on devotional music.
The Unchained Masses
The Mass I attended was the 11 AM “Solemn High Mass”, and it was indeed spectacular. It was also not necessarily the easiest set of Mass settings to sing, and the hymns during communion were more ephemeral than stab-the-heart resonant. I’m not sure I could endure quite so much beauty every week, and I know I’m not alone — neither do the all the parishioners at St. Mary’s. The bulletin included the music and settings for the other two not-so-solemn Masses — a little more familiar, a little easier for the average pewsitter trying to sit along.
Now to be clear: If you want a polka Mass, St. Mary’s is not your place. But I was encouraged to see that a parish as successful and worshipful as St. Mary’s offered something a little more accessible for those who aren’t ready for the full Solemn Mass Experience.
Put Your Treasure Where Your Heart Is
I don’t expect printing a full order of service each week is cheap. (And I don’t think it’s necessarily the right choice for every parish.) Compared to subscribing to disposable missalettes and printing a news-heavy bulletin, it may be possible with good efficiency in printing to pull it off without breaking the parish budget. St. Mary’s mitigates their printing costs by putting the most essential news in print, and publishing the remainder in an electronic bulletin.
But I suspect that this particular practice, of distributing the words and music of the Mass freely every weekend, flows from the inherent orientation of the parish. The liturgy at St. Mary’s is stunning in its orientation towards the worship of God. I know that sounds trite, but when you see a half dozen altar servers kneeling with heads bowed to the floor during the consecration, it’s a language of the body that speaks volumes about the center of life in the parish.
Why do we evangelize? To bring people into a relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in its fullest, here on earth, during the Mass. What we do at Mass is what we have to offer the world. And so I find it commendable that someone would see fit to put so much effort into putting the prayers and music of the liturgy into the hands of those who seek it.
Copyright © 2013, Jennifer Fitz
image courtesy St. Mary Parish, Greenville, SC