14 Steps to a More Self-Centered Church
A Satirical Look at Worship Space and Liturgy
“In the time since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, but certainly not because of the teaching of the council, there has been exaggerated attention on the human aspect of the sacred liturgy,” said Cardinal Raymond Burke in his address at the Thomistic Institute on May 11.
“Are not the Church herself and her worship by definition directed toward God?” he asked, noting the 50-year trend of self-centered liturgy.
In keeping with Cardinal Burke’s observation, I offer a satirical primer for those Catholic churches seeking to become more self-centered and culturally Catholic.
Since my conversion to the Catholic Church 16 years ago, I’ve had the privilege of worshiping in a variety of Catholic churches, chapels, basilicas, shrines and cathedrals all around the world. Most of them have been majestic and awe-inspiring; others, not so much. The Mass is the Mass is the Mass, but a church is not always a Church.
14. Community Center
Rather than describing your parish as a Church, adopt the practice of naming yourself simply a “community” (e.g. Holy Spirit Community). Evangelical Christians anxious to disassociate themselves from anything too closely resembling any kind of traditional Church—and bearing such names as Hosanna, The Vine, The Door, The River, Joy Center, or Tree of Life, will especially welcome this change.
13. Move the Music to the Front
Make music the focal point of Mass. Place the musicians as close to front and center as possible. Eschew the choir in place of a band. Situate a drum set right within the sanctuary, and specifically implement this step in conjunction with Step #1 for full impact. Make the music as banal and silly, and self-centered as possible. Applause—for songs meant for God—is mandatory.
12. No More Smells and Bells
Bells, clappers, Holy Water, candles, incense … It’s all rather archaic isn’t it? Throwbacks to a medieval Church, really. Incense is incredibly insensitive to those with allergies. The bells are insensitive to those who are noise intolerant. The use of so many candles is neither earth- nor bee-friendly. Holy Water places an incredible demand upon our clean water supply. Just do without.
11. Ditch the Artwork
Remove the church’s artwork. It’s expensive to begin with and costly to maintain. Rather than putting money into keeping up the church’s artwork, statuary, stained-glass windows, altars and altar-ware, simply jettison it. Give the money to the poor, and embrace a low-maintenance, all-white worship space that isn’t at all discernible from most non-Catholic worship spaces.
10. Remove the Stations of the Cross
Remove the Stations of the Cross, if possible. They, along with the crucifix, only remind the parishioners of sacrifice, suffering and death. If it’s impossible to remove the Stations, find a set done in an abstract art style so that people won’t even know what it is that they are looking at. Even better … find a wealthy donor who can provide your Community Center with a “resurrecifix,” rather than a crucifix. Remove any last semblance of the “suffering servant.” It’s just too scandalous, especially for small children.
9. Scrap the Kneelers
While you’re at it, remove the kneelers. They’re hard on the knees. They’re probably old, the vinyl is cracking, and they likely need to be replaced. We’re a “Resurrection People,” so we can stand instead of kneeling. Once they’ve been gone for a few years, no one will even recognize that they are gone or why they were used in the first place.
8. Favor the Horizontal over the Vertical
Overemphasize the horizontal relationship between parishioners rather than the vertical relationship between the individual and God. There are many ways to do this, but perhaps one of the most effective is to create worship spaces that more closely resemble theaters or warehouses than churches. Situate the pews in-the-round so that parishioners can look at one another, rather than focusing their attention on what’s taking place on the altar.
Add a large projection screen to the altar area, so you can project the song lyrics or close-up shots of the band. Invest in stage lights so parishioners can enjoy a light show with the band. Place power outlets in the pews so that parishioners can charge their cell phones, iPads, and smart phones. The technologically advanced parishes might also consider adding a voting system, so parishioners can vote for their favorite hymns, Gospel readings and favorite homilists. Think of it as “Catholic Idol.”
6. Better Bread
Rather than crisp, tasteless wafers, offer something more like bread during the Eucharist. Try something that’s spongy or maybe even sweetened a bit with honey. Contract with Panera to provide some “Harvest Wheat.” If the bread crumbles when distributed, don’t worry. You can simply use a vacuum cleaner to pick up the crumbs.
5. Turn the Mass into a Talk Show
Oprah’s the accepted new “spiritual” guru, so why not style the Mass after a talk show? Begin by leveling everything. Bring the altar down so that it’s at the same level as everything and everyone else, and transform the large marble altar down to more of a coffee table. Encourage the priest to come out into the audience … um … congregation as often as possible. He can come out and sit with the parishioners to listen to the readings. He can deliver his homily, preferably with a microphone in-hand, pacing up and down the aisle, connecting with individual parishioners.
4. Get Rid of Reconciliation
Few people make use of this Sacrament anymore. Make it virtually impossible to attend by a) having it only 15 minutes per week at the most inconvenient time available (e.g. 2 or 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon is ideal), or b) better yet, make confession available by appointment-only.
3. Social Center
Disregard the sanctity of worship space by encouraging parishioners to visit in the sanctuary before and after Mass, rather than taking their conversations out into the lobby, entrance space, or outside. As much as possible, make the church a social center rather than a place of worship. If you remove the artwork, modernize the stations, get rid of the crucifix, move the tabernacle, and use primarily off-white paint in decorating, your liturgical space will resemble a large living room. That’s what we’re aiming for. Consider replacing the pews with cushioned lounge chairs, something along the lines of a recliner or movie theater seats. Best of all, make your worship-space multi-function, so you can move out the chairs and use it for receptions, dances, etc.
2. Play with the Liturgy
Give people what they want to hear, not necessarily what they need to hear. Remove those things that are liturgically required, and add things that aren’t required (think: liturgical dance). Shake things up so that people never know what to expect.
Liberate the language, alter the altar, skip Scripture! Gender neutralize all of the Church prayers, the Creed, and Scripture readings. Male and female are merely meaningless human constructs. If there’s something too difficult in the Gospel reading, just pass it over.
1. Move the Tabernacle
Move the tabernacle and its contents from the front and center of the church off to some other space, preferably another room entirely or perhaps a small broom closet.
Follow these 14 simple steps, and in no time, you’ll have a modern, progressive, local Catholic community center—a place where people of all ages can gather for fellowship, a place where all are welcome and no one is ever made to feel uncomfortable in any way. In fact, the more you’re able to make your community center into just another local coffeehouse, the sooner you’ll be bringing in greater numbers. Follow these steps and you’ll soon have a liturgical space that has all of the feelings of a Catholic Church, but without all the extras.
Feel free to add steps of your own, below.