Parish Newsletter

A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

March, 2014


An Annual Ritual

While attending Mass just before Thanksgiving, the presider invited all of the married couples to stand, hold hands and renew their marriage vows.  Watching how intent the couples were as they looked into each others’ eyes and repeated after the priest their commitment, it became apparent how deep and meaningful this once-a-year ritual was, not only to the couples but to the entire assembly witnessing this outpouring of love.  This was but one example of what Bishop Ken Untener, sixteen years ago, defined as ritual, “I look upon ritual as something that is predictable, reverent, personal, communal, evocative of the widest and deepest feelings, and always fresh.”  (“Ritual and Community: What I’ve Learned in the Parishes,” Region IV Convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (, 1998.)

Little Movement for the People

Bishop Ken Untener pointed out in this article how little chance there was for a congregation to participate in the rituals of the Mass.  “There are many movements and many gestures during the course of a Mass, but the congregation gets to move very little. . .  As one member of a congregation once told me, ‘All we get to do is stand, sit, say Amen, and go to the bathroom.’”  He went on to state, “The two biggest gestures in which all (or most) of the members of the assembly are involved at Mass come close together – the exchange of the peace, and the procession to communion.  By my calculation, from joining in the Our Father through the exchange of the peace and procession to communion, the members of the congregation normally get to join in about three-and-a-half minutes of movement.”  No wonder the one-time ritual of exchanging marriage vows struck such a chord at Mass that day; there were not that many other opportunities for ritual movement by the people.

Possibilities for Movement

One important part of the Mass where people participate in ritual movement goes unnoticed by most of the congregation. It is at the beginning as people enter church and take their seats. This could be a time filled with warmth and greeting as all are made to feel welcomed to the liturgy. In the right context, friends, acquaintances and even strangers might say hello to one another, prompted by hospitality ministers who are out on the street inviting people into worship, holding open the doors, handing out song books or worship aides, helping people to their seats, being models of kindness and care. This ritual of “gathering together” is a movement for everyone, including the presider and ministers who process down the aisle, singing with the congregation as they approach the altar. Unfortunately, this is not a common occurrence. Bishop Ken lamented, “How well do the assembly members understand the ritual that constitutes the gathering rite. I am not sure how much they understand about being led by the Word of God, as the lector carries the lectionary held aloft, or the deacon carries the Book of the Gospels. (I’m equally not sure how many people would notice, at the end of Mass, if we stopped carrying the book out, on the theory that we become the Word of God at Mass and carry it within us.)”


The Gift of Oneself

At some parishes, much movement happens during the preparation of gifts. The entire assembly gets up from their seats and bring up not only their financial contribution but gifts of food and clothing for the needy. Witnessing this, Bishop Ken remarked, “They felt part of what was going on. Perhaps they even felt that the bread and wine, placed on the altar, really symbolized the gift of themselves placed there to be transformed into Christ.”