I participated today in the Mass for the feast of St. Francis at the Franciscan Church here in Chicago (St. Peter's). It was one of those pull-out-all-the-stops celebrations (literally, the organ was booming), with candles and trumpets and with dozens of friars in their habits looking appropriately Francis-like. The Gloria (by Fr. Robert Hutmacher, OFM, who was serving at the altar) was phenomenal. But one aspect of the liturgy unsettled me, unexpectedly. At the Gospel, there was a procession to an ambo set up a few yards down the center aisle. It was a beautiful and reverent procession that highlighted the importance of the Word of God, and looked as if it were a retrieval of an ancient tradition. But after the proclamation was begun, the retinue, including the presider, began walking back up the aisle as the presider continued reading the Gospel! After the reading, I sat down to listen to the homily, only to be summoned to my feet again: we were told to reverence the Gospel with a bow. Okay. And then the Alleluia was sung again. We had to wait for the liturgist to tell us when it was safe to be seated.
At that point, I totally forgot the Gospel I had just heard. All I was aware of was that I was suddenly feeling irritated and ill at ease, unprepared for what might next be sprung on me during the remainder of the liturgy.
I'm sure the group who coordinated the celebration had no such intention, but what they ended up doing was depriving the assembly of a small part of its rightful autonomy. The responses and postures of the liturgy are ours! They are what free us interiorly to respond to the Word of God and participate genuinely in the celebration. When we have to keep looking up to a liturgist or server for hints about what to do next, a new dependence on the clerical office has been imposed on us. At this point, I can see the friars shaking their heads in grief: "Noooooooooo!" (Call it the law of unintended consequences at work.) Maybe there's more wisdom to the rubrics than we are generally aware of!