"Christmas" School Mass

I have been very quiet lately for several reasons, one of which being that I have taken on the role of chaplain at a secondary school, specifically with responsibility for liturgy.  It is a lovely school and the pupils are generally very acquiescent indeed.  But there is still the issue of whole-school liturgies - especially whole-school Masses - when there are relatively few baptised Catholics and very few of those are regular Mass attenders.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life (Lumen Gentium No 11).  But this rather assumes that those who join together to celebrate the Mass are, on some level, consciously on a spiritual journey and have a desire to grow ever-closer to Christ.  Clearly, this is not the case with compulsory, all-school Masses.  But like any good teacher when planning a lesson, the school liturgist has to try and meet the pupils where they are and somehow make sure that there is 'something for everyone'. 

In a general discussion on liturgy and chaplaincy with the local parish priest, I described the Mass as the chateaubriand of liturgy when, in reality, many in the school are not ready for beans on toast.  So meeting all the pupils where they are and providing something for everyone is a challenge.

Another challenge is, for want of a better term, discipline during the Mass.  No matter how well disciplined a school is, if a pupil present at a Mass is not familiar with the rite, rubrics and meaning, then it will all feel very 'external', strange, bewildering; and there will be a temptation to become disengaged and distracted.

Of particular concern is when there is movement of any sort; standing and sitting, the Sign of Peace and the Communion Procession.

On the advice of the Head Teacher, the only time that they stood at our recent end-of-term/Christmas Mass was from the Our Father to the Lamb of God, and there was disturbance which needed calming down.  In fairness, they were fairly tightly crammed into the school hall and there wasn't much room for them to stand and sit, which will have contributed to the disturbance.  But I find myself wondering whether the disturbance was partly caused by the novelty of the movement - if they were more used to it would it be less of a novelty and so result in less disturbance?

It is important that, from an early age, they are taught how to stand and sit in a dignified manner rather than simply avoid the potential problem by simply having them sitting down throughout the Mass.  But also we must help them understand why we have movement in the Mass;  we stand, kneel and sit at different parts of the Mass because those very movements have significance, they communicate something about what is happening at that part of the Mass and our disposition to it.

Likewise with the Sign of Peace, which unleashed a certain excitement.  I would rather that they learned how to conduct themselves in a dignified manner and understand the meaning of what we do during the Sign of Peace, rather than omit it entirely.  

In contrast, we had great 'success' with the Communion Procession.  This was, in part, due to the efficient marshalling of the pupils by members of staff.  But also because of what we did musically.  A few years ago I worked in a school where the head of music was a harpist and she would play her harp during the Communion Procession - the kids were transfixed!  Taking a cue from that, I gathered together the school's three flautists and arranged music for four carols, each with a simple harmony, while I plectrum-plucked my guitar.  As a rule, the three flutes played the first verse of the carol, then one flute would go up an octave for the second verse and for the third verse one would play the harmony - hence there was musical progression throughout.

It was simple but quite lovely and contributed to a prayerful calm that was maintained throughout that, I hope, touched everyone present on some level - no matter at what stage on their spiritual journey they are.


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