Designing Ritual (Oct. 4)


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Theological Question

How do ritual flow, art, architecture, and silence influence and “construct” the liturgy?


The goal of this session is for students to learn the key elements for designing a prayer.


The students will examine the four liturgical arts and explore how they are used to plan a full, conscious, and active liturgy.


Designing Ritual Handout.doc
God as Architect.jpg


(after the class has been completed)

Idea starters

  • Describe the ritual flow in your parish’s Sunday liturgy. What flows well? Where is the flow disrupted?
  • Write a you-who-do-through prayer.
  • Post your prayer or some thoughts about liturgical flow in the online forum.

Read (in preparation for Oct. 18)

  • Introduction to the Order of Mass, 29-30, 33-34, 53, 56, 66-98
  • Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 24, 51-53
  • General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 28-29, 55-71, 309
  • Lectionary for Mass: Introduction, 6-10, 24, 44-48, 66-68
  • Fulfilled in Your Hearing, 1-7, 41-43, 47-48, 60-62, 112-115
  • OPTIONAL: Lectionary for Mass: Introduction, 73-91 
 Posted by at 6:35 pm
  • Lee Campbell

    Hi Nick. “Oh I see, said the blind man.” So liturgy brings order into the chaos. We are not necessarily the chaos, but the ones looking for the void to be filled. And liturgy well done is better than liturgy not so well done. They both fill the void.



  • Kurt Martin

    Woops commented on the wrong one.

  • Gabe

    We had an interesting discussion in our parent group following church services on Sunday. One of the parents had restarted the Children’s Liturgy of the Word aimed at bringing the youth at our 9am family mass into a smaller group during the readings and homily. It seemed like a big success as the kids felt special and had the chance to meet one another in community. Thought this was very generous of the parent. She was prepared and thoughtful about how to begin discussions. On the Full, Conscious and Active Participation scale, our mass was between 12 and 14. Number 4, the community understanding and engagement in the praying of the Eucharistic prayer was a lower score as was Number 2, full engagement in readings and the homily. The notion that people are reading the readings in advance, except for the lectors and presiding priest, strikes me as a big ask. What does happen at our Church is a solid introduction to the reading, explained by the priest and a strong homily outlining the readings.

  • Tim Logan

    5 principles of making the word in Liturgy –
    1. Opening Prayer needs to be in the context of the day, like ordinary or memorial
    2. Readings – the Lectors need to be prepared, delivery needs to have the elements of annunciation, silent, and articulation.
    3. Homily should be in the context of the readings or relate to the events of the world happening around us, but in doing so, come back to the readings as the reflection of the assembly
    4. Prayer of the faithful also must be in context/confluent of the readings and current events.
    5. The closing Prayer and Blessing (if offered) also should address the readings should impart both healing and going forth to evangelize by example of our lives renewed by the Mass.

    My other cohorts if I missed something please fill in! :-)

  • Tim Logan

    As I reflected on what Kavanagh wrote, our discussion about what he wrote. I am reminded that Jesus often “poke” the eyes of the Pharisees. He was reminding them knowing the law and acting upon that law are two different things. His parable of the Samaritan is the most classic of these. Showing us three different “law” biding Jews who choice to cross to the other side of the road instead of tending the man beaten and robbed. Yet it was an “unclean” person who recognized the need and acted upon it. Jesus parable “poked” the eyes of the Pharisees challenging them to act upon the law and not just voice it. We can be so tempted to be a Pharisees, willing to spout the law of the Constitution of the Liturgy that we forget to see the trees in the forest. We must be willing to act and not just recite. To do rather than to say.

  • Annette Mo

    Prayers never come easy for me. I call them dry spells. I attended a workshop/retreat this weekend on “Encountering God through Prayer”. It was interesting that as I exercised meditation and contemplation, I find myself in this place of peace. All this time, I was convinced that either I was not praying correctly, or God was just not interested in me. Through this workshop, I finally accepted that I still have issues to discern and am creating my own obstacles in my prayers. I realized that even in prayer, I am running away from my fears and tears. And only when I offer all that back to God will I ever be sufficiently healed. I learned the “Examen” prayer, the examination of the consciousness, in this retreat. It was the prayer used by St. Ignatius of Loyola as part of his meditation. I thought it was interesting that ,as Nick said, most prayers (even the liturgy) are structured by “you-who-do-through”. In the Examen, I center myself in God, I visualize myself in his presence, I thank him for all my blessings for the day, then I tell him my feelings and petitions and ask for his grace that I need, then I pray the Our Father to close out my Examen. Here is one examen that I pray.

    Father almighty, here I am your child, broken and wounded. I thank you for the friends I encountered today, the love and laughter they shared with me to keep me afloat. I request that you bless me with your grace to see the happiness in the simplest of things in my life, in the people I meet, in my surroundings, and especially in arguments and chaos around me. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

  • Yolanda C Garcia

    Last Sunday, it felt indifferent to rate my church based on the full and active participation of my faith community. It was something I never looked at. I rated our liturgy at 12. But I sure did notice lots of things. One of our altar servers, did not sing one note, verbally that I could see. But as it was mentioned in class, a person can sing silently – how’s that? You should hear a voice when the ritual of singing is happening in my opinion (unless there is an unknown physical disability). Something new is happening before the readings in that our priest is giving a summary before the lector begins with the reading from the Old Testament. Sometimes his summaries are full page reports, quite lengthy and hurried. Less is more I thought. What our pastor does well is sometimes he will tell a joke that puts our community into more of the know of where his homily is heading. He is very good at relating the gospel with the readings and then relates the Word to our every day living issues or with current events. Sometimes, I feel that Fr. Tito is speaking directly to me and no one else. When I am either the lead Eucharistic Minister or offering the Blood of Christ, I actively participate in this ministry by deliberately making full eye contact with a slight smile clearly speaking the words of “Body of Christ” or “Blood of Christ”. I have noticed at times that some parishioners will not say Amen. When that happens, I feel a bit of a void.

  • Yolanda C Garcia

    Now as to the Kavanagh reading, and as I voiced in class, I thought it was a very violent opinion of what Liturgical Theology should be, but thought provoking at the same time. I admit that I don’t know a lot about Liturgical Theology so far, and I get from this reading that good liturgy should harken deep changes within us, no doubt. But suggesting that the liturgy should bring us to the “brink of chaos”, collision, and a certain violence, is just way above my comprehension. It just doesn’t compute in my mind. I would rather like to think that growing in my faith through the liturgy or any other liturgical act brings me closer to God to a point where I feel with all my senses the power of God within me, but in a more gentle way. And I also would rather like to stir up my feelings of the truths and good news of God through Jesus Christ in a more orderly fashion with some stillness at times.

  • Frank Nguyen

    Looking back into naming God from last week exercise, I think to myself, throughout the years I pray in silence, I almost always address God as Loving Father. Somehow I don’t search for any other name. It seems that I am so grateful to be adopted that it became so natural to call out to God as a little child calling out to Daddy, trusting Him in all cases at all times. Sometimes, I talk silently during my prayers, sometimes I have nothing in mind, just feel the presence of God, resting completely in His Love. The exercise helped me to search to know more about God through new names and get me love Him more.

    Concerning the participation in Liturgy in singing, though I often like to sing out, sometimes I just sing silently, letting my mind join spiritually. It seems that whenever I do that, my mind is focused more on the words and the meanings until I feel saturated with them then I start singing out loud. By then, I feel like my singing carry a spiritual sense. This happens to me both with new songs as well as the ones I am familiar with, but more often with new lyrics.

    Besides the familiarity of the songs, there are many aspects that affect the participation level. The key is important as not only will it allow most people to sing within their range, it also plays a role in the expression/feeling/mood. Then the tempo and others factors make huge difference as well. As I am involved with many choirs, the same song presented by different groups amazed me with various effects at different times. But participation level sometimes depends also on equipment. Being a sound guy in music ministry, I have to constantly tweak my audio equipment to help bring up participation level. A little more bass, a little more reverb can make the songs more lively.

  • Carmen Macias

    5 principles of making the music in Liturgy

    1. Coordination is needed between the lead choir director and the choir leaders.

    2. The cantor can practice the with the community.

    3. Knowledge of the liturgical season and or feast day.

    4. Projecting the music/song so the community can follow along.

    5. Involvement of the community.

  • Carmen Macias

    The ritual flow in my parish’s Sunday Liturgy flows well; I have attended the 7:30AM mass there is no choir, but, we have an organist who plays music for the songs of the day. Everyone joins in the singing because we all know the songs, and when the Agnus Dei is sung it is sung with such presence of the Lord.

    When the flow is broken is usually when the lectors did not practice, the altar servers are not paying attention, the community begin to get somewhat irritated.

  • Melby Sanchez

    This Sunday, I sat in the front pew of the church with my family mainly because I was serving as a lector.
    About 10 minutes before the mass, I noticed that the church is half filled. While we were waiting for the mass to start, 2 mins before the opening song, you can see people rushing in to go into the church. As I was sitting in front, we were more actively participating in the singing, united with the choir.
    As a lector, one of the rules I learned in my high school seminary formation, regarding public speaking or reading, was: Never read in public what you have not read first in private. ? My daughters told me that I did well in proclaiming the Word of God. Always good to have critics, especially family. Fr O’Corrie, from Nigeria, shared in his homily about Nigeria?’s 57th year of independence. His homily reflected this Sunday’s gospel.
    My parish celebrated ‘commisioning sunday’, this is when volunteers re-commit themselves to their service in the different ministries of the parish. It was done after the homily. After the renewal, it seemed like the priest didn’t know what to do next, then you can feel the confusion on what to do next. Quick thinking, Fr O’Corrie then did an improptu blessing.
    I went to the back of the church after my reading, and saw that there were people on their phones and talking while the mass was going on. I wondered, why are they there, and why are they not participating in the mass. Where is their ‘full, active participation?” It brought me back to my question: How can I encourge them to participate more attentively with the celebration of the mass? ? I went back in the church in a quandary.
    Inside, the flow of the mass went well I would say. I guess, being in this class, makes me realize that there is still a lot of work to be done at the parish.

  • Irene Dela Cruz

    Five principles of making the element of movement in the
    1.Just like one of the messages we have determined
    from the Portrait of God as Architect, the Liturgical body language must be
    carefully designed to unify the community, and to express respect for the
    2. It must be conducive to making the celebration a
    prayerful one, and simple enough to understand its meaning and to encourage
    full participation from the faithful.
    3. Our movements must be choreographed to match
    individual parts of the Mass and the faithful must follow the instructions of
    the leader of the assembly.
    4. The Sacred Silence must be observed when it is
    called for, and highly recommended even before the actual celebration.
    5. There are numerous Liturgical gestures all of which must be
    carried out with decorum and it must be in phase with the right music. Our Liturgical body language must show our worship of the Lord and express our unity with Him with our entire being.

  • Irene Dela Cruz

    Last Saturday was the very first time that I have assisted
    in the preparation of the Liturgical environment in our parish.
    I did not realize that it takes time to pull this together. I didn’t know that you have to balance the seating configuration between all sides. In fact, I didn’t realize that one has to
    measure the distance between aisles in arranging these seats.
    It was an aha moment for me not realizing that this Liturgical Art demands attention to detail.
    SFOA Parish is one of the more contemporary churches I have seen. It has always had that inviting ambience to it, and I always assumed that preparing it for a Mass does not
    take too much time. Well, I was wrong, and I fully appreciate the effort of all those people who
    have been putting this together for years. Shout out to Annette!

  • Lerma Simpson

    In prayer we open our hearts and minds to God. As a catechist, I constantly remind the young children and their families who are preparing for sacraments that prayer helps build and strengthen our personal relationship with God. It is a way of communicating with God. God calls to us in prayer, and we respond. Our prayer is a response to God’s constant love for us. I encourage them to pray daily together as a family, suggesting them to choose a specific time and a special quiet place to pray because prayer helps us to feel and remember God’s presence. I give them a sheet of the basic Catholic prayers to start them in their prayer process. But I love the “you-who-do-through” format as a guide to give the families in the creation of their own personal prayers. The format helps them to focus on their own family’s personal relationship with God as it pertains to their own circumstances.

    Lord and Giver of Life, we thank you for bringing your son, Jesus, to us.
    He gave us life by sacrificing his own. Through the sacraments, he invites
    each of us to be a part of your family.
    We ask that you help us grow in faith and to open our minds and hearts
    to what you call us to do in our lives.
    We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

  • Lerma Simpson

    Our group focused on the principles of space/environment in liturgy:

    1. focus on all of us being “one body in Christ” in relation to how we are situated.

    2. The tabernacle is placed in a quiet, still place of the church building to signify the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it has to be visible to all who worship there. It should have kneelers around to show that the community is welcome to pray in the presence of Christ.

    3. The baptismal font is located in a focal point to remind all of us of our baptism into our Christian faith.

    4. The altar should be centrally located and visible to all because this is our community’s “Thanksgiving table”.

    5. The altar and the baptismal font should be strategically placed to show their sacramental relationship to each other.

  • Annabel Tomacder-Ruiz

    We had our Feast Day mass celebration during our Saturday 5:00 mass time. It was a big mass celebration with different choirs singing, a liturgical dance, and a poster presentation of different social justice issues. I am part of the choir for the Feast Day mass and our choir director has tried to explain to us what will be happening during the Feast Day mass celebration and how all the different ethnic groups would play a part in it. It appeared to me
    that it would be a lot of work to get everyone involved. I really did not know what to expect; it
    turned out to be a beautiful celebration.

    Before mass began, the choir director went over the Responsorial psalm with the congregation. She also told congregation that, “they are the choir” and encouraged everyone to sing. Looking out to all the parishioners, I noticed many individuals singing.

    A worship aid was used to help with translating different languages into English. The prayers of
    the faithful were spoken in different languages: Igbo, Hindu, Vietnamese, Spanish, Tagalog and English. These allowed everyone to participate in what was being said at the moment. The worship aid also helped in the presentation of the social justice posters. Talking and explaining things were kept to a minimum. Singing the song, “Prayer of St. Francis,” while presenting the social justice posters was powerful and fitting. The whole celebration turned out to be a beautiful one.

  • Ken Louie

    I feel that our Mass flows well because most people sing, there are the appropriate pauses for silence, the priest has the first two Eucharistic ministers come to him for communion and then offers the cup which in turn offers to the other EMs after the other EMs receive communion, and there is little unnecessary liturgical movements. Mass is usually 50 minutes. I have been to another parish that is lacking in attendance and is cash strapped. The flow Mass is less smooth because the priest walks to give communion individually to all the eucharistic ministers and then brings the cup to each one. This to me seem to take a little too long while the congregation is just watching. Having second collections weekly seems to disrupts the flow for me. I understand that cash strapped parishes need money, but it is tiresome at times. Mass at this parish usually lasts over an hour. Having a regular cantor does help the flow immensely!

  • Reina Hollero

    The evaluation tool for our Parish was an eye opener for me. When I sit in the front, it sounds as if everyone is participating and singing. Hearing the choir singing and the piano playing,
    it’s as if the entire church is filled with music. However, when I decided to use this tool I chose to sit near the back. The difference was notable. Most of the sounds were coming from the
    front because the rest of the congregation was watching the priest’s procession. Our pastor is good at inviting everyone to sing. He will hold the music book as he walks towards the altar, and demonstrates to the people that he passes by grabbing the book for them and inviting them in singing. Then, our priest would read these welcoming remarks called “Who are
    You?” (It’s kind a long opening but if you want i can post it here too) I believe that it is a beautiful opening because it basically says that everyone is welcome and that we all belong to Christ. The lectors are trained and prepared. There is one lector that always catches my attention because when she does the readings, it seems like she’s reciting the passage.
    She will glance down every once in a while, but I would always think, “Did she just memorize the whole reading?” So, whenever she is assigned to read, I just stare at her and listen. Sadly, the flow is sometimes disrupted when a phone rings during the Homily, despite that the
    beginning announcement to turn off all the electronic devices before the mass. During the communion, it is supposed to be a quiet time when you go back to the pew and to pray until everyone is done. Unfortunately, some begin to leave. I could hear others talking to one another other, planning what they are going to do after mass. Why are they in a hurry? Why don’t they enjoy this time and just talk and listen to God? Why can’t we just focus on Him and ignore the distractions? Why can’t we all actively participate in singing and praying? I
    have more to ask but I think our brothers and sisters need guidance on their faith.

  • Tim Logan

    Lord God of All Creation,
    Your humble seed knows you, believes you and does your will.
    It lays on your soil, fed by your water and light.
    Sprouts, flowers and starts over again
    doing your will without question, glorifying you without words.
    Let me be like your seed, always humble, fruitful, and doing your will, proclaiming your glory.
    We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ who reigns with you in unity with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  • Tim Logan

    So the 20th anniversary celebration Mass at the Cathedral was very good. I decide to rate it according to the Nick scale. Not perfect, I deducted 1 point for not being prepared with a working microphone for the Bishop, which meant that anyone in the back didn’t hear his words. I also deducted 1 point for the music direction. It was good music, but the guide lacked enough clarity for people to know when to sing and when not to. One note of interest, was that the participation of the people was excellent, despite the added bonus of the natural echo of the Cathedral. At first I thought that the church was completely full, but a quick glance backwards revealed that it was perhaps a 1/3 to 1/2 full. I know that at least the people around me responded with a joyful heart, and it would seem that pretty much everyone else did as well.

    Reading over the comments of my classmates, I should by now be aware of their words, and not be awed, but I still am. I especially like Frank’s comment about using “Loving Father…”. It is something that I think all of us strive for, that close personal relationship with our God. Without that close relationship we will wander off. It looks like the group is getting the hang of this and I expect even more “revelations” in the future.

    Well done classmates!

  • Yolanda C Garcia

    Lord, Father of All,
    In all of your beautiful creation here on Earth
    We ask that you continue to bless and hold close all of the people who recently suffered losses in these wildfires up North and throughout our State
    and to come together in prayer and have faith that they do not walk alone, but with You during this difficult time
    We ask this in Jesus’ name.

  • Yolanda C Garcia

    I agree with Tim in his critiquing of the ILM Mass a la Nick Wagner style! It’s a real shame when we get to have the Bishop in our midst and can’t hear a word he said. His mic was not working then buzzed loudly. I heard that his homily was beautiful while giving recognition to the 20th anniversary of ILM. I was proud to have been a part of this celebration, both before, during and after. But I want a do over! It’s not everyday you get to attend Mass with Bishop McGrath!

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Annette. Thank you for your beautiful reflection on prayer. Whenever I have difficulty praying, it helps me to remember that Mother Teresa also had long dry spells when she thought her prayer was ineffective. One hopeful thing about liturgical prayer is that it never depends upon me. It is a communal effort.

  • Kurt Martin

    As I was thinking about our class last week and I still couldn’t get past one word in the Kavanagh reading – “chaos”. I understand that Kavanagh is trying to make a point but I was thinking God is not chaos. As a matter of fact, God is the opposite – He is order. Kavanagh is trying to hammer home a point that the liturgy changes us and sometimes to do that we must go to the extreme but chaos? I would argue it doesn’t have to be that extreme especially given the fact that he is writing for audience that is mostly priests, seminarians, liturgists and lei ministers. In essence, folks that understand that liturgy is important. It’s not necessarily for John Doe who sits at the back of Mass and leaves after Communion.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Yolanda. This is a great summary and very observant discription of your parish liturgy. You have pinpointed areas where participation can be improved and noted some of the strengths of the liturgy. Nice job. Thanks for sharing.

  • Nick Wagner

    You have good instincts, Yolanda. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Frank. I think most people don’t understand how much the quality of the audio equipment and levels can have an impact on participation. It’s good to hear about this from your perspective. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Carmen. This is a good observation of high and low points of participation in your parish liturgy. It is good that you are able to identify when participation lags and what the causes are. Thanks for offering your thoughts.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Melby. You really noticed a lot at your liturgy. That’s the first step in improving participation — noticing what is currently happening. Every parish has spots that need improvement. Some improvements are easy to make, and some put us in a quandary, as you mentioned. Keep up the good work.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Irene. Thanks for sharing your realization about what it takes to get your parish’s worship space ready. There are dozens and dozens of small details that go into making a liturgy work well. Your attention to the details will be a big help to your community.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Lerma. This is a terrific You-Who-Do-Through prayer. Thanks for your reflection on the value of prayer and how to teach that value of children and their families. Prayer at home is also part of our liturgical prayer because the home is a “domestic church.” The liturgy of the domestic church leads to and flows from the liturgy of the community.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Annabel. As you know, planning a big, mulitcultural liturgy like this is a lot of work. And it is especially difficult to involve everyone in a meaningful way. It sounds like your leadership did a great job. I’m glad it turned out so well for your community.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Ken. This is a terrific “compare and contrast” between liturgies to show what aids and detracts from participation. As I mentioned below, being able to identify what works and doesn’t work is the fist step in being able to help communities participate more fully in liturgy. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Reina. Your comment about sitting in back reminds me of a music director I once knew. He would always comment about how well his parish sang. So I went one Sunday, and I sat in back. Just like your experience, very few people were actually singing. Mostly the people in the front pews. Sometimes, our view of participation in the liturgy depends upon where we are sitting. Thanks for your observations.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Tim. Thanks for applying your analysis to the anniversary Mass. It sounds like overall it was a pretty participative liturgy. When liturgy is done well, you can really feel the joy. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Nick Wagner

    Hi Kurt. I agree the Kavanagh piece is difficult to completely grasp. I’ve been struggling with it for a long time. But there is something about it that keeps drawing back. Thanks for sharing the struggle.

  • Brigitte Chenevier-Donkers

    Dear Caring, Almighty and Everlasting God, You are a healer and hold all power in your hand. You invite all of us to come to you in time of sickness. I pray that you will touch all humans who are suffering. May your sweet touch give them strength, relief, hope and courage until you restored them to health. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

  • Barb Villano

    This past Sunday, my wife and I attended Mass at Holy Cross Church at the Mission if Santa Cruz, and are glad we did. The Liturgy was done very well, and in an understated way. Father greeted people as we up the aisle to prepare for the entrance.The music flowed well, and the entrance song was Come to the Feast, in with the Gospel and the first reading from Isaiah. It was sung by most of the congregation, and was accompanied very effectively by a trumpet. Our homilist was a priest from the Congo, requesting help for his diocese. He held everyone’s attention as he related a personal story as a child to the second reading from Philippians. The ministers were identified by badges for the Greeters and Ushers, and the White albs of the Eucharistic Ministers. It was simple done and reverent, and no distractions, like the jumping up and down of the Sacristan which I see at some parishes. The faith formation and parish school children were identified by grades, and their families welcomed to the Mass, a nice touch. So, everyone singing the opening song – check; engaged in the readings and homily – check; engaged in the Eucharistic Prayer and Prayer of the Faithful – check. I was spiritually fed that day.

  • Frank Nguyen

    Hi Yolanda,
    I agree that even that we all couldn’t hear the bishop, it was a beautiful liturgy. Bishop McGrath’s voice is soft and every time he celebrates Mass at St. Lawrence, we have to use a very sensitive microphone and crank up the volume. At the ILM Mass, the lavalier microphone was not close to his mouth and pointed to his left shoulder. The mic might be of unidirectional or cardiod type, which rejects noise off the axis so it could not pick up his voice. And if I’m not mistaken, he was recovering from illness. Someone tried to crank up the volume but because the position and the direction of the lavalier mic, it ended up picking up sound from the speaker and caused the feedback. I wished I could help but I was right on the front row, and I kept thinking whether I should do something about it! Anyway, I enjoyed carrying the cross!