Is the Sunday Missal meant to be read during Mass?

Is the Sunday Missal meant to be read during Mass?
By Christopher Yeo

DID YOU KNOW that people have three kinds of learning styles - auditory, visual and kinesthetic? Auditory people prefer listening, visual people prefer reading, and kinesthetic people prefer doing.

I would like you to try an experiment. Are you able to play the famous Alleluia chorus from Handel's messiah in your mind? If you don't know the tune, just use the gospel acclamation in your church. Try it.

Can you 'hear' the Alleluia?

Now try replaying it while reading the following words:

A-lle-luia. A-lle-luia. Alleluia, Alleluia, A-lle-lu-ia...

Did you fare better or worse you think?

Now, this is the observation I make about the Catholic Mass - throughout the eucharistic celebration, at every reading, psalm, prayer and song, we are reading it. The vast majority of the congregation have their heads buried in the missals and are reading along. (Sadly, the remainder seems not to be following at all!) Does this constrain our experiencing of the Eucharist, you think?

Having studied some scripture during my time in NUSCSS, I found some time back during mass that I could follow some of the gospel readings, especially from Luke. I then begun to experiment listening to the gospel without looking at the missal and experienced a whole dimension to the proclamation of the Word that till then I never had. I was really quite a difference between following the sunday missal and hearing and feeling God's word, flowing and working inside you.

A few times, my choir mates standing beside me saw that I was not looking at the missal during the readings and offered me their books. I remember smiling at them, lifting my hands and showing that I already have the missal in hand, even opened to the right page. I was simply choosing to listen and look rather than read along. They appeared quite shocked initially, since this practice appears to be so unusual! Today, my dear choir mates to my left and right also prefer to listen to the proclamation of the Word without looking at the missal. Try it yourself!Come early for some quiet time before mass and read the passages first, then spend the time during mass reflecting and feeling. I pray that your experience of mass may be enriched by this 'tip'.

There is still some more to this point that I would like to share:

Don't be afraid to do something new in church
Is it so strange that I don't read the missal during mass? Why be afraid to do something different? Although our mass seems to not have changed for as long as we remember, the way we celebrate mass is actually open to a lot of flexibility, and over time, change has occured even though you may not have noticed it. This is so, for example, in the music liturgy. Faith is something that is alive and constantly seeking new ways of expression and fulfilment. Since our buildings have been renovated, it is also time that we renew the way we look at and celebrate the mass. Don't be afraid to personalise your experience of the eucharist, try new things, ask questions, and grow.

Readers and psalmists rarely proclaim the word of God, but only read.
Once you start looking and listening to the readers and psalmists instead of just reading along, I am sure you will realise like I have that some readers are totally inadequate in the way they proclaim the word of God. I try to ask myself how St. Paul or the early church leaders would have proclaimed their experiences of Jesus to their audiences. If the word holds meaning to you, there is just no way to stop your body, your tone, or your expression from coming forth on the pulpit. I think the problem is that readers have spent all their lives experiencing the word with their heads buried in the missal. When they proclaim, they end up reading the word in the only way that they have experienced it, which is why the more we open up to listening and feeling, the better I think our eucharistic celebrations will become.

Priests need to engage visual and experience during homilies
Not only readers suffer from the pitfalls of focusing on the visual text. Priests do it all the time when reading the prayers. I do not think that it is too much effort to memorise certain portions of the repeated prayers so that they can be said with much more heart, rather than always reading them off the book and constraining the full expression of the prayer. When delivering homilies, priest also put themselve into a mental pigeonhole and engage only one of our senses, in this case our auditory sense. Walk around, show us examples, engage our feelings, experiences and memories. Homilies, and everything about the mass will become more engaging and alive if we just remember that there is not just one, but three styles of learning to cater to.


Christopher Yeo is a member of the Genesis Choir at the Church of St. Francis Xavier which sings at the 6pm evening mass. He believes that we can enhance our eucharistic celebrations by learningfrom our protestant brothers and sisters .


ChrisOw said...

I have for a long time considered missals more a hindrance than a help in the Mass. They must have been introduced with good intentions. however, today in our church, the missals have sapped the energy from the liturgy of the word. for some, the missals are an excuse not to read the scriptures before mass. for the lectors, it may be an excuse not to be thorough in their preparation since everyone has a missal to refer to anyway. it has become a crutch that people have grown used to having, so much so that they have forgotten what it means to stand on their own.

The liturgy of the word has its roots in the Jewish synagogue. Remember when Jesus was in the Nazareth synagogue, and he stood up to read and the attendant handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And he read from Isa 61 the prophecy of the Messaiah -- God's anointed.

We can imagine what the Nazareans were doing -- they were listening in rapt attention. And that is exactly what we are invited to do. If we truly believe that the Scriptures are alive and active (Heb 4:12) then we must be prepared to let the Word confront us, console us, and change us.

Some of you may have had the joy of hearing a poet reading his own work. there is a certain power to that recital that is missing from even the best renditions by some other reader. Now when our Lord read Isa 61, he was clear about his mission. He was the fulfilment of the promise made to the prophet. He was absolutely riveting because of this. Everyone paid attention.

Now the proclamation of the Word of God depends for its power on the experience of the one proclaiming it. If that word has fallen into rich soil, that person's proclamation will bear fruit, regardless of the person's technical ability. (i'm not saying that technical competence is unimportant, merely that it is not the MOST important aspect of preparation.)

The proclamation of the word is not entertainment, nor is it a news bulletin. it can be didactic, or exhortatory, encouragement, or reprimand, consolatory, or interrogative. It can be verse or prose, narrative or epistolary. What it actually is will depend on the text. But it can be proclaimed well only if the one who proclaims is sensitive to the requirements of the text.

Affected accents also have no place in the proclamation of the word. god does not have an accent. the church is catholic, not Anglo-american, or Euro-centric. the word speaks to all men from every tribe and tongue, people and nation (cf Rev 5:9). These affectations draw attention to the wrong person. One focuses on the reader instead of the Word who was made flesh. It is enough to enunciate clearly enough for words to be distinguished by the listener. After all, it is the word who speaks to the listener's heart. The reader is not speaking -- s/he is but a mouthpiece.

Consider a loudspeaker. It is most effective when the cone which produces the sound waves responds accurately to the electric signal being passed to it. if the cone were to be stubborn and refuse a certain movement, then the sound would be obviously marred. So it is with the lector. When s/he does only what is needed, adding or taking away nothing that was not there in the message intially, we will have real high fidelity.

Nick Teo said...

I totally agree that listening rather than reading provides a more focused comprehension of the message. And by coming early for mass and spend the few minutes prior to read the missal then listening to it being proclaimed and then let it be 'homilised' would allow us to have a more meaningful session.

However, there is another side to the story.

The presence of chinese-speaking and less-educated congregations are neglected.

Just imagine the frustration they might feel with the lack of missal. I know because my parents are so frustrated when they visit St Mary. Without the missal, they feel so irritated cos they are chinese-speaking.

And as chris yeo mentioned Jesus or Paul's preaching, I suppose that is something we might not be able to appreciate for a while to come. Perhaps it is the pronunciations of lectors/priests or the priest's oratory skills (or lackof) that doesn't seem to 'excite' the masses. Or just maybe, some sound systems need maintaining because often I find myself straining to understand what was being read.

However, what chris yeo said is true. The lack of physical movements is a sad lackoff. Perhaps they might have some SOP about that, chris ow? Afterall, I have not really seen any priests walking around as they give homilies ever since Archbishop Emeritus Yong. Much like the publicly-celebrated Pastor Kong from Cityharvest.

But then again, if our political leaders who speaks from the rostrum(?) at national day rallys can garner such interest, humour and seriousness, why can't our priests?

ChrisOw said...

At St Ignatius, homilies or sermons are delivered not behind the ambo but by the priest standing right in the centre, on the edge of the sanctuary, directly in front of the altar. The nature of the church's architecture allows this, as does the PA system which works well even with the wireless mics the priest wears.