Have you ever planned a party? We have all gone
to lots of parties, but if you have ever planned one
you know that it doesn't just happen all by itself.
A good party requires planning and preparation.
It takes work which most partygoers never see.
Mass doesn't happen all by itself, either. Every
Eucharist is prepared and planned by someone. Actually, liturgy
planning is usually a group effort by more than one person.
Throughout your adult lives, you will have many
opportunities to help plan liturgies. The word liturgy
is a general term that includes not only the Mass but
all the Church's official, public praying. In this Youth
Update, liturgy usually means Mass, but the same
principles of planning apply when preparing other prayers
Often when people are asked to help plan a liturgy
(for a retreat, graduation or similar occasion) or to be part
of the parish planning team, they hold back because they feel
they wouldn't know what to do.
This Youth Update will give you the confidence
to offer help when the occasion arises. I encourage you to
get involved in planning liturgies because the experience
will enrich all your liturgies afterwardeven those you
don't help plan.
Knowing what goes into planning a party helps
us appreciate the behind-the-scenes work that someone has
done for us each time we are invited to one. Knowing what
goes into planning makes each experience of the Eucharist
The most important thing about liturgy planning
is starting off in the right direction: What do you want to
do? What do you want to happen?
The temptation is to start with details: What
is my favorite song? Who gets to read? Who should bring up
the bread and wine? You can get so involved in these details
that you lose sight of the first principle of planning: What
is it that you want to do?
When you plan a birthday, graduation or Halloween
party, you want your guests to have a good time. Everything
that you do (food, music, games) is directed toward that goal:
that the guests have fun. You choose the details in light
of the goal.
We ask these same questions when planning a
Mass: What do we want to happen? What is the goal? Where do
you go to find out what this goal is?
If you look carefully at the words prayed at
Mass, you will find that at the heart of each Eucharist we
pray that God will send the Holy Spirit to change our bread
and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This is so that
we "who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together
in unity by the Holy Spirit" (Eucharistic Prayer II).
A similar prayer asks "that we, who are nourished
by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit,
and become one body, one spirit in Christ" (Eucharistic Prayer
III). The ultimate goal of the Eucharist is that we
become one in Christ and one with each other.
In this respect, Mass is very different from
a party. At a party, you want your guests to have a good time.
This is your goal. At the Eucharist, you want everyone present
to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that their sins are
forgiven and they are drawn closer to Christ and one another.
That's a lot to provide! It's also a lot harder
than simply helping them to have a good time. (And if you
come to Mass wanting only to have a good time, you'll walk
No Pew Potatoes
Parties aren't successful if the guests just
stand around and look at each other. For a party to be successful,
you want the guests to interact. You want them to take part
in the festivities, enjoy themselves and get to know one another.
For the guests to have fun, you have to find ways to get them
involved. You must help them move from watchers to doers.
The same principle is important when preparing
a Mass. You need to find ways to move people from watching
to doing. This is not always easy.
Americans are more watchers than doers. We watch
television, we watch ball games and we watch concerts. When
we go to church, we are already in the habit of watching rather
than doing. Part of preparing a Mass is finding ways to get
Some of the ways that you can help people become
involved are: inviting them to participate in the various
liturgical ministries (musicians, readers, Communion ministers).
People become involved when they are invited to sing, to march
in procession, to make the Sign of the Cross, to examine their
conscience, to say prayers together out loud.
But most important is the internal "doing."
At the appropriate times, each of us must form within ourselves
attitudes of petition, gratitude and offering.
Honor the Tradition
Every birthday celebration seems to require
a cake and the singing of "Happy Birthday," while the guest
of honor blows out the candles. These are the traditional
things that make a birthday party.
What are the traditional elements that make
a Mass? Not everything is up for grabs. You need to know the
tradition. The tradition is rooted in the biblical accounts
of Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper. The shape
of the Eucharist is that of a supper, a meal.
What happens when you sit down for a formal
meal with your familyfor example, at Thanksgiving? First,
the family gathers. You greet one another and hear
stories of what everyone has been doing. Then you move to
the table, where you say grace, eat and drink. Finally,
you say goodbye and return home. Mass has the same shape:
Gathering, Story-Telling, Meal Sharing and Commissioning (the
Hear the Story
The ultimate purpose of the Eucharist is to
make us one with Christ and with one another, so we must plan
for this to begin right away.
How can you help these individuals to gather
and become one? Being welcoming and hospitable, providing
greetings and introductions and providing a pleasant setting
are ways to gather the people together. Singing unites minds
and voices and helps us focus on what we are about to do together.
At a party, you often tell stories that everyone
can either remember or relate to. Exchanging shared experiences
can be a way to engage everyone.
When we gather at Mass, we tell those inspired
stories that brought us here together. We read from the Bible
about Jesus, his life and his death. We read about the faith
of those who followed him and became his Church.
At each Eucharist we hear the words, "Do this
in memory of me," which remind us that we are to do what Jesus
did, we are to live as he lived. The Scriptures tell us how
he lived and how we are to follow him.
How can you help everyone present to really
hear the Scripture passages? During the planning session,
slowly and prayerfully read the passages that will be read
at the Mass. Sometimes it is helpful to read the passage from
several different translations. If the one who is going to
read during the Mass is present at the planning session, it
might be good for that person to read the passage to the group.
Next, discuss what the passage means. It may
be useful to read an explanation of the reading or a commentary
on the passage. Once you know what the text means in itself,
then try to discover what the text means to you. When the
Scriptures are read in Church, Christ himself speaks. What
is Christ saying to you?
How can you help this message be heard by all
who gather for Mass? An important means for understanding
what Christ is saying through the Scriptures is the homily.
It is helpful if the one giving the homily can be present
for the planning session. If the homilist is not able to be
present, it is very helpful if he knows what was discussed
when the planning group reflected on the readings.
Another way to help the message of the Scripture
passage be heard is to select songs that have this same message.
Good liturgy planners always keep the Scriptures in mind when
choosing the music for the celebration.
Let Us Pray
The Scriptures are as important to a Mass as
music is to a party. The Scriptures play a key role in inspiring
the petitions for the General Intercessions.
How do you prepare these petitions? What do
you ask for? Pray for the things needed to bring us into harmony
with what we have just heard proclaimed in the readings. Good
petitions flow from the Scripture readings.
The Church recommends that our petitions fall
into four categories. First, pray for the needs of
the Church. For example, you might pray that we become what
the Scripture readings call us to become.
Second, pray for civil governments and
our political leaders. For example, you might pray that peace
and justice come to all nations.
Third, pray for people who currently
have special need of our prayer. For example, you might pray
for those who may be currently suffering from a flood, a war
or an epidemic.
Fourth, pray for the needs of those gathered
for this particular Mass.
The General Intercessions are liturgical prayer,
that is, they are the prayer of the Body of Christ. You pray
for things that Christ wants. And what does Christ want? The
answer to that question is found in the Scripture readings.
The General Intercessions have a threefold shape.
First, the priest invites us to pray. Second,
a reader announces the petition. We pray for the petition
first in our heart and then by means of a response, such as
"Lord, hear our prayer." This response may be sung or recited.
Third, after the final petition, the priest gathers
the petitions together into a prayer to which we all respond,
When writing the petitions, remember that they
are addressed to the congregation and not to God. The reader
is inviting the congregation to pray. The priest addresses
God in prayer. The reader speaks to the congregation.
Now we move to the table. At a meal we set the
table, say grace and then eat and drink. At a party, we set
the table with a festive tablecloth, lively decorations, food
At Mass, these movements are called the Preparation
of the Gifts (which begins after the General Intercessions),
the Eucharistic Prayer (which begins with the "Holy, holy,
holy") and the Communion Rite (which begins with the Our Father).
Who will help prepare the altar: cloth, candles
and chalice? Who will bring the bread and wine to the priest?
Baking the bread for the Eucharist is a good
way to get involved in the Mass. The prayer over the bread"Through
your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has
given and human hands have made"has special meaning
when the prayer refers to your hands.
The Eucharistic Prayer is the heart of the Mass.
Besides the prayers we usually hear on Sundays and on weekdays,
there are several other approved prayers. Ask the priest who
will preside at the Mass if you can help decide which of these
prayers would be most appropriate for this Mass. (To do this,
your committee will need to read these prayers in a book called
the Sacramentary, which you can borrow from your pastor.)
The Communion Rite begins with the Our Father.
In the Eucharistic Prayer, we prayed that the Holy Spirit
make us one. Now we ask for forgiveness from God and from
one another; we share a sign of peace; we eat and drink together,
which are all signs of the unity that the Eucharist promises.
Planning a party and planning a Eucharist share
another similar goal: making sure everyone is included. When
planning a party, it's important that those present be in
the same frame of mind. The partygoers should be happy and
in good spirits.
The same goes for planning a Eucharist. Those
present should also be sharing in the same mindset. Try to
find ways to help all present experience the meaning of these
actions. Processions, songs and silence can help.
Recall the story of the two disciples on the
way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). After they recognized Jesus
in the breaking of the bread, they left the supper room and
dashed back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples of their
experience of the risen Lord.
The final prayers of the Mass help us make a
similar transition. Help the congregation to "leave the supper
room" and take the Mass out into the world and their daily
lives. Prayer, announcements of coming events, blessing, dismissal
and a challenging song of commitment can help this "sending
forth." When the guests leave the party, you hope everyone
had such a good time that they spread the word to others.
The celebration itself should help tighten the bond among
those present. When they leave, those strengthened friendships
will greet the world empowered. Parishioners should depart
with that same ideal. Their faith is strengthened by the celebration.
Preparing a Mass is not easy. It is not simply
helping everyone have a good time. Liturgy planning is preparing
a celebration so that everyone can realize more deeply the
meaning of Christ's life and death.
You don't merely offer an invitation to a party.
You offer an invitation to lifelong conversion! That is what
makes liturgy planning so difficult. That is what makes liturgy
planning so rewarding!
Niki Bonomini (16), Matt Graser (16),
Jessica Robinson (17) and Rebecca Robinson (15), all members
of St. Peter Parish in New Richmond, Ohio, met after Sunday
Mass to consider how to plan liturgies. Joining them was their
youth minister, Becky Link.