Liturgical Style

at SCF altar

I love writing liturgies.  I miss that part of pastoral ministry.  During my tenure at Sts. Clare & Franics I had some freedom to explore the art of ritual.  These are some of my major influences that guide my writing today.

I attended Eden Theological Seminary, an ecumenical seminary affiliated with the United Church of Christ.  Most of my professors and colleagues were Protestant and I learned to love the preached Word.  It was thrilling to experience the stellar preaching at Sts. Clare & Francis.  It constantly influenced the Mass as a whole.  The strong Liturgy of the Word begs to flow into the other liturgical rites of the Mass.  You’ll notice that I often weave images from the lectionary throughout the liturgy to give it a sense of unity and flow.

The Assembly
The assembly bring so much to the ritual – but how might they inform the way in which we celebrate? Pastors, this is where all of the pastoral care of the week, connecting to people and their stories, assists your presiding.  The joys and trials of an individual life, the spirit of a community, the pulse of a city, and the tensions of our country and our world all enter into our ritual space whether we name them or not.  I find there are times when scripted prayers need to make visible these invisible presences; other times a presider must feel the Spirit rise spontaneously in her/him and speak them in the moment; other times they are best left in our hearts and minds to allow the transforming power of the Eucharist to change us and our relationship to our world.

“…fully conscious and active participation”[i]

Inspired by the work of Vatican II and seeking to move it forward, I honor the priesthood of all believers and include them in the creation of liturgy, which is “the work of the people.” I like to take advantage of any opportunity for involvement by either individual liturgical ministers or the assembly as a whole.  A powerful way to create ritual unity within a group is to unite voices and actions.  The experience of congregational singing has always been a way to bring people together.  My prayers will often have a component of call and response or an antiphon to be repeated.  I try to make participation easy and empowering so the assembly offers more than just their presence to a celebration.

From programs to participation

I think programs or bulletins in worship serve an important purpose to orient people new to a worshiping community or to offer a guide for special occasions.  That said, I find liturgies where people read words together out loud a bit stiff.  The liturgy is a dance of voice and action.  Our culture is so glued to screens and written text; the liturgy provides a break that moves the attention from our heads to our hearts and bodies.    We don’t read scripture at a liturgy, we proclaim it to be heard.  Actions by the presider should aid the assembly in ritual movement and the words of the presider should be easily heard with a clear understanding of how we are to respond without looking down at paper.  Some simple examples:
an antiphon (“Please respond, ‘we bless and praise You.’”)
a pause before an “Amen,”
call and response (“Lord have mercy… Lord have mercy”)

The words I weave into prayer come from my experience and connect to my community, but it’s the work of the presider to adapt it for their community.  Feel free to modify anything I post.  I am indebted to countless poets and artists for their words, images or turn of phrase that worked their way into the liturgies I crafted.  If you do use my words, give a girl credit and mention this blog (© Jessica Gazzola, in your bulletin, program, or liturgical text.

[i] Sacrosanctum Concilium, Section II, December 4, 1963.

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