Sunday, May 9, 2010

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Growing up, we would leave Mass directly from the communion line. In fact, I had no idea that there was anything important after that, until I went to Mass in college. (And then I thought, boy, couldn't we do without this?)

It's a funny thing, the end of Mass. Sometimes from the altar it looks like a Catholic version of the flight out of Egypt. Those who do leave, and a lot of us do, do it sort of furtively, coat turned up, head scrunched down, looking straight ahead - like someone's about to bust us.

And actually, now that I think of it, I have worked at at least one parish where the pastor, coming out for announcements after communion, actually did upbraid those who were leaving, from the pulpit no less. (AWK-WARD!)

Today I ask, what are we to make of this tendency to leave early? And tomorrow, the other side: why should we stay?

On some basic level, I think people leave early because it sort of seems like the proper moment to leave. The structure of the liturgy is like architecture -- whether overtly or subtly, it creates pathways to follow.

Look at what we're asked to do at this point -- we sing, we stand, we process, we receive communion. On some level, this is what we came for. So really, why stay? What else is there?

People have other reasons for leaving the liturgy early, too. Some make sense: children at the breaking point being a prime example. There's only so much they can take.

And some of them .... well, I can talk myself into them as good as the best of them, but if I step back and look, these reasons are more along the lines of me just not wanting to stay any longer, or -- dare I say it -- wanting to get out of the parking lot before the crowds.

(Honestly, I get that, but as your friendly neighborhood priest let me just say: COME. ON.)

Grandma says, Sit your fanny back down!

And then there's another set of reasons that may or may not be conscious and amount to a sort of evaluation of the liturgy. A voting with your feet, if you will. Sometimes I think people leave early because they feel frustrated or boxed in. We've gone too long or haven't given them a meaningful experience, that is, something prayerful, something that draws them into the presence of God.

I think this is especially true as a motivation over a period of time. A long Mass, a bad Mass, you stick it out. But when you begin to experience it as a pattern in the parish, or a pattern with a particular priest, well, these sorts of commitments get more wobbly. Brunch calls.

We might not even recognize ourselves doing it, but I think sometimes, that's what's going on. Without meaning to, we've pulled the plug out of the socket. And the community responds accordingly.

Goodness gracious, there's a man behind the curtain!

A funny analogy. I once had the chance to see "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat" with Donny Osmond. Fantastic show, high high energy, lots of humor. A retelling of the story from Genesis, Joseph and his brothers. Really great show.

Here's the Prologue. (You just have to get past Donny's hair.)

(Also, you'll be better off if you click on the video once to get it started, and then again to open up in Youtube. The blog is cutting off the image a bit.)

At the top of the second act, the woman playing the narrator came out to sing a song to a bunch of children. And she started fine, but then, after a verse, she suddenly stopped and asked the orchestra to start again.

Apparently, she had forgotten the verse, poor thing. And of course, the conductor complied and on the second time through it all went very well and we gave her a very big round of applause.

But even so, the rest of the show I was never totally "in" the story anymore. That mistake had sort of broken the moment.

When we're not doing our jobs well as liturgists and presiders, or we're just having a bad day, a similar phenomenon can occur to the congregation internally. Our choices, having distracted, disrupted, or simply bored silly, break that contemplative moment or mood. And when that's the case, why not leave after communion? Based on the experience of the rest of the liturgy, there probably really isn't anything else there.

It's important not to overstate this point. The Holy Spirit does not require perfection for it to move and inspire. (Clearly! Come to my liturgies, they are Exhibit A.)

But if a parish community in general or a particular liturgy has a high rate of Receive and Run, well, that community might be sending a message....

(It turns out, there's lots of clips from Joseph on Youtube. Some great songs. Enjoy!)

Donny's big number:

Elvis as Pharaoh:


Don Dunbar said...

Thanks for the reflection, Jim. I hate leaving early but with two young kids, they've had their fill by the time of the homily much less waiting till the bitter end.

JaneMarie said...

I giggled when I read this post. I recall you catching me leave BEFORE mass started (couldn't handle that presider one more time). You also caught me returning for the next mass.

Having attended some of your liturgies...even on a bad day you're better than most. Part of it is Spirit, part of it is you willing to "let things happen".

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

Cheers, Jane Marie! Thanks, Don! I tried to respond to your comments in my post today. Appreciate them.