When the Mass is changed to try to create more relevant, more engaging liturgical experiences, the reverse happens: people stop outwardly participating.
This, at least, is what researcher John Ligas and Sacred Heart Major Seminary professor Michael McCallion discovered in several parishes in Chicago and the Northern suburbs of Detroit, when looking toward external participation in the singing of “the Our Father, the opening, closing and communal hymns, the Gloria and the responsorial Psalm, along with other parts of the liturgy.”
What they found was that “when pastors and music directors change the pattern of the liturgy in an effort to make the Mass more accessible, it tends to have the opposite effect.”
McCallion presented the research results in a paper entitled, Sociology of the Sacred in Post-Modernity: Ritual Dis–Attunement at Sunday Mass, at the annual Society for Catholic Liturgy Conference this past Fall.
The summarization of the Ligas’ and McCallion’s research boils down to the idea that Catholics are more apt to verbally participate in parts of the Mass that are more ritualized, such as the Our Father. The response to the general intercession had the highest rate of response and participation, while more “changeable” parts of the Mass, such as the hymns, psalms, or the pastor asking the congregation to greet one another, tended to have low rates of participation.
“From our initial responses, we found that ritual comes to form again,” McCallion said. “If people are not singing the same songs, people are less likely to sing. That’s our hypothesis that bore out in the data. Some hymns, some other parts of Mass that are constant, we found a greater rate of response.”
Jeremy J. Priest is the Director of the Office of Worship for the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, MI, as well as Content Editor for Adoremus. He holds an STL from the Liturgical Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL. He and his wife Genevieve have two children and live in Grand Ledge, MI.