of mystery which liturgy offers is found in its God-consciousness and
its God-centeredness. This involves a certain beneficial tension with
the demands of hospitality, requiring a manner and an environment which
invite contemplation (seeing beyond the face of the person or the thing,
a sense of the holy, the numinous, mystery). A simple and attractive beauty
in everything that is used or done in the liturgy is the most effective
invitation to this kind of experience. One should be able to sense something
special (and nothing trivial) in everything that is seen and heard, touched
and smelled, and tasted in liturgy."
Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, no.
12, as quoted by Kathleen Hughes, Saying Amen, p. 24.
then, involves the continual practice of discerning the presence of the
mystery of God in Christ as disclosed to the members of the worshiping
community in and through the ritual actions of liturgical prayer.
An Existential Approach to Liturgy
Part II: Toward Contemplative Liturgical Participation
- Mindfulness in Worship
A. Toward a Mystagogical Approach to Sacraments:
In Saying Amen: A Mystagogy of Sacrament,* already referred to
in Part I of this study, Kathleen Hughes recommends two methods that orient
worshipers and ministers toward a deeper engagement with the mystery of
God revealed in Christ - mystagogical reflection and contemplation.
1. Mystagogical reflection:
This ancient form of reflection originated with several of the early Church
Fathers, especially Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century). The restoration
of the Catechumenate and the Rites of Initiation (1988) allowed many in
North America to discover a particularly rich way of engaging the mystery
of God revealed in and through the ritual itself.
- a. Mystagogy, technically speaking, describes
the final period of the RCIA that involves a form of deliberation, a meditation
if you will, by the new members of the community on their experiences
at the Easter Vigil. Through such a meditation the neophytes (plus their
sponsors and other members of the local community) attempt to open their
minds and hearts to the depths of the mystery of God revealed in the Christ.
- b. But Hughes proposes something beyond this
specific time called for by the RCIA. She urges mystagogical reflection
as a means to appropriate the experience of all sacramental ritual
by all members of the community in order to open the way to a more
profound encounter with the mystery, the inner meaning, that lies
at the heart of the liturgy.
She describes seven characteristics of a contemporary
practice of mystagogy. They include:
- Mystagogy, the practice
of mystagogical reflection, is meant for all the baptized, not
just the neophytes.
- Mystagogical reflection is meant to be an essential
component of the Christians on-going conversion process.
- Mystagogy makes the sacramental life of the
community its central focus.
- Every sacramental celebration of the
community is proper for mystagogy.
- The practice of mystagogia
focuses primarily upon the experience of each participant.
- The interpretation of personal experience of
the rites will tend to use poetic or metaphorical language
- Well-celebrated rites
are the most critical element for successful mystagogy.
In other words, she strongly recommends that mystagogical
reflection become a chief means of the communitys growing in the
capacities needed for worship and for living the Christian life.
Hughes defines contemplation as a facet of active participation. She defines
active participation in terms of a three-pronged attentiveness needed
in members of the liturgical assembly.
- First, liturgical attentiveness is
aware that "liturgy is Gods action." It reveals first
and foremost, the divine initiative on behalf of the world through Christ,
"drawing us together with the whole of the human race and the whole
of creation to form one body in Christ." (Saying Amen, 18)
- Second, active participation invites
attention to the action of liturgical prayer as it unfolds. One
needs to attend to what is going on in the liturgy and how one is moving
within the flow of the rite.
- Third, such mindfulness is attuned
to ones state of heart and soul. In other words, one
strives to be conscious of all those joys and sorrows of daily life
and to bring those to the prayer of the liturgy itself. Accordingly,
active participation includes more than external involvement. It signifies
a quality of interior awareness, of mindfulness, asked of each participant
- a. Contemplation is not easy: The four contemporary
obstacles to mindfulness that she lists should seem familiar to most North
- the fast pace of modern life with its glut of timesaving
- the desire for material goods,
- and the struggle of the poor simply to survive.
- - i. Five results of these contemporary obstacles
to contemplation follow:
- the loss of a capacity for conversation
- an avoidance of silence,
- a habitual exhaustion,
- a greed that breeds violence,
- a crushed spirit.
- - ii. But, at the same, time a longing for more substantial
values also exists within many:
- for beauty,
- a new love for the earth and the greater human community.
Hughes identifies this deeper longing as a desire for
God, "the desire that is the beginning and the end of paying attention."
She names this desire, contemplation. (Saying Amen, 22)
Paying attention, then, involves the continual practice
of discerning the presence of the mystery of God in Christ as disclosed
to the members of the worshiping community in and through the ritual actions
of liturgical prayer.
3. Four Phases of Contemplation: Hughes names four aspects of a contemplative
engagement of liturgy: awareness, reflection, reception, and transformation.
- Awareness refers to that quality of personal
openness to the sensory and physical aspects of liturgical prayer.
- One attends mindfully to bodily investment
in ritual gestures (bowing, sitting, kneeling, processing),
learning to move without haste.
- A person becomes present to the sights, sounds,
smells, tastes, and touches that make up the kind of ground level
activity constitutive of ritual.
- Reflection upon ones experience of bodily
engagement in the liturgy follows upon awareness at some point.
- Ones mindful presence to ritual
postures and liturgical symbols yields questions directed toward
uncovering the meaning of ones experience as a participant
(Why do I feel differently in one posture as opposed to another?).
- It also leads toward understanding the meaning
of the actions themselves (What does my response have to do with
what is happening as the liturgy itself unfolds?).
- Contemplative Reception signifies the step one
takes toward contemplation.
- Relying upon ones sensory awareness
within the ritual process and "rational" reflection upon that
awareness, reception describes the stage of entering into the prayer
of the heart.
- Here, with Mary of Nazareth, who pondered many things
in her heart (Lk. 2:19) a person gives himself or herself over
to the power of the symbols or postures, turning it over and pondering
the mystery hidden with in them.
- "Paying attention is not a preoccupation with
the elements of the liturgy but a movement from that which is
seen and heard and felt to the God who, through them, opens us
more to divine encounter, using the whole of our experience to
draw us closer if we are open, hospitable, and receptive." (Saying
- Transformation of the individual and the community
follows from awareness, reflection, and contemplative reception.
- Full, conscious, and active participation leads
people, gradually and over time, into a more profound transformation
into the mystery that the Church celebrates.
- Even though there are numerous obstacles
to liturgical engagement the numbing effect of ritual-become-habit,
a demand for "good feelings" at liturgy, the pettiness or indifference
of human nature, a deprivation of meaningful silence, and the guarding
of leisure time
- Hughes trusts that a contemplative engagement
with ritual action over time will serve as a remedy to the liturgical
and spiritual malaise of North American Christians.
B. Toward a Contemplative Liturgical Participation
by means of an Existentialist Approach:
- a. An 'Existentialist' Approach offers a specific
context for the communitys mystagogical reflection and
- - i. It first recognizes that the Word, the prayers,
the ritual symbols and ritual gestures all draw members of the liturgical
body into the "life and death matters" that mark the Christian
path. This approach puts the focus on those aspects of Mass and sacraments
that call Gods people to a continual "dying to self."
- - ii. Second, it seeks to make a place within
both mystagogical and contemplative reflection for that
facet of human living that simply and powerfully resists such an invitation.
- - iii. The wager here is this: that, by learning
to hold both the mystery of Gods action in Christ (as revealed and
celebrated at liturgy) together with the mystery of our "sometimes
acceptance / sometimes rejection"of Gods action, that a worshiping
community will discover a deeper level of conscious participation
- b. Finally, the following pages describe in
more depth the 'Existential' context of our liturgical prayer. Admittedly,
this approach focuses more on the "rejection" aspect of our
human relationship with God, self, and others.
- - i. But, it does so in order to serve the "acceptance"
aspect of this relationship by simply seeking to avoid the dangers of
Pharisaism or pretense.
Copyright © Robert F. O'Connor, S.J.,
2000. All Rights Reserved.
*Kathleen Hughes, Saying Amen: A Mystagogy of
Sacrament, (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1999),