LITURGY MATTERS: Pay attention!

The fundamental starting point for human life and faith – all religions and faiths – is the imperative to pay attention.

In spirituality and faith, we tend to talk about the imperative to ‘be attentive.’ We find this call echoing through scripture and our living tradition.

Human beings are all created in the image of God and filled with the breath of divine life. (Gen 1: 27)

Be attentive!

‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46: 10)

Be attentive!

… happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many longed to see and never saw it;
to hear what you hear and never heard it. (
Mt 13: 16. [It’s worth checking v 15!])

Be attentive!

How often do we hear Jesus’ frustration with the disciples because they fail to understand?

Be attentive!

‘The people of God believes that it is led by the Spirit of the Lord who fills the whole world. Impelled by that faith.
They try to discern the true signs of the God’s presence and purpose in the events, the needs and the desires which it shares with the rest of humanity today.’
(Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. a.11)

Be attentive!

The imperative to be attentive often finds expression in the call to listen and to see.

The Rule of St Benedict begins with ‘To listen with the ear of the heart’!

Be attentive!

Health and wellbeing are grounded in the imperative to pay attention to our body and mind. To the reality of how we really are.

Be attentive!

The great theologian Bernard Lonergan’s theological method – a journey of conversation – involves five steps. The first step is to be attentive.
If you follow his methodology through, to be intelligent, to make good judgements, to discern wisely, to be in love,
all the other steps flow from and build on attentiveness.

Be attentive! 

What has this got to do with liturgy you may well be asking by now? The answer is ‘Everything’!

Over this year members of the Diocesan Liturgy Council have been facilitating a lot of formation, mainly for specific groups. Some formation has focused on liturgical ministry, some more generally on the liturgical life of the Church.

For nearly all formation we use a process of Mystagogical Reflection (MR). The first step in all MR – whether the focus of reflection is scripture, liturgy, an experience of ministry or art – is to ask, ‘What happened?’ or ‘What did the passage say?’

The interesting revelation for us has been that, by and large, we the faithful are not paying attention, to what happens in the liturgy, or to the detail of the Word proclaimed.

The faith of the church as expressed in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL) (a 14) and developed through all the subsequent documents and rites since states:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations
which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as
"a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people" (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else;
for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit …

If the liturgy is ‘the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit …’ and we are not paying attention, then ‘Houston, we have a problem’.

Simple questions posed in formation – such as the following – usually meet with blank stares.

  • Who was in the entrance procession? In what order? Who carried what?
  • What did the ministers do when they reached the sanctuary?
  • Which Greeting did the presider use? Where was he standing? What gestures were involved? What did we do?
  • What was the Gospel about? What symbols marked it out as different to the other readings?
  • What did you pray for in the Universal Prayer?
  • What Eucharistic Prayer was used?

The level of inattentiveness that we have encountered in formation fascinates me, and I can be as inattentive as the next person. What is going on? Why is our celebration of the liturgy not grabbing and demanding our attention? This question is the focus of one of the workshops at next week’s National Liturgy Conference.   

Thankfully when we engage in Mystagogical Reflection as part of formation, most participants report a change in their attentiveness to the liturgy, and particularly the Word proclaimed. I think we are beginning a small revolution that provides us with hope.

Why is our riveted attention so important? If we’re not paying attention to what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell in liturgy and life, then we are not going to encounter the living God who is present with us in and through signs perceptible to our senses. (CSL a 7) We are, after all, a sacramental church and a sacramental people. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church a 1)    

The world needs us to be attentive. Liturgy is not an end in itself. We celebrate the liturgy in order that we will be changed, and the church will be made new by Christ for mission. So, if we are not practicing and achieving attentiveness to the presence of the living God in the liturgy, how are we going to be attentive to the presence of the living God that fills the whole world? How are we going to help others open their eyes and hearts to the presence of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit already with them before we encounter them?

We need to be attentive.

If you’re having trouble being attentive I recommend hanging out with a toddler. I learn many lessons in life and faith when a little hand goes into mine and I am invited to pay attention to a worm, or a flower, or a mud puddle or even a monster truck! Things I would otherwise not notice!

Let’s be more attentive! Too much is at stake when we are not.

Diocesan Liturgy Council Update

To keep abreast of the work of the Diocesan Liturgy Council you can review the Report published on the website after each meeting. The September report well be available soon. 


Image: Photo by Juan Encalada on Unsplash

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Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.