The Catholic Committee of Appalachia has been committed to raising a prophetic voice in the region since 1970. Our prophetic witness grows directly from our participation in the Eucharist, the remembrance and celebration of the life of Jesus Christ who is present among communities who gather in his name (Matt 18:20). For this reason, our liturgy—that is, the “work of the people” of communal prayer and worship—must reflect that mission. Like Isaiah before him (Isa 1:13-17), Jesus’s primary concern was not with the elegant formality of temple worship, but rather with compassion for and inclusion of those who were marginalized and oppressed within his own context. Indeed, the meal that Jesus calls us to remember him in and by is an act of radical communion, not only across the barriers of social division but also with Earth itself in the sharing of the “fruit of the earth and work of human hands.”
Though it is the universal prayer of the Church, the Mass is always rooted in particular times and places, each with their own particular struggles, needs, and hopes. In our region, where “the story of these mountains as ‘resource’ [has taken] over the story of the mountains as ‘home’” and “we [have] become homeless in our own place” (The Telling Takes Us Home, p. 3), liturgy in Appalachia should do more than provide comfort. It must identify our region’s challenges and their causes, disrupt idolatries of our age (TTUH, p. 30), and then reflect upon the spiritual traditions that nourish hopeful action and renewed relationships with Earth and one another. In a context of injustice, whether in church or society, liturgy falls short of this ideal and the Mass can become a source of pain rather than hope for those who are committed to following Jesus. Nevertheless, as stated in our recent pastoral letter, we desire and commit to become a church of the poor, a church of partnership, and a church that is planetary in its vision yet deeply placed in living out the prophetic call of the Appalachian pastorals (p. 57). This is our hope for the renewal of church and culture, in each parish and diocese in Appalachia.
We believe that “we must become the church we wish to see in the world, beginning now, here in Appalachia” (p. 57), so we offer the following practical liturgical guidelines which reflect the spirituality of CCA membership as it has grown and developed over the past 45 years. Recognizing that CCA is a living and dynamic movement of the Spirit, we do not intend to dictate liturgical practices for all time, but offer these thoughts as guidance in the ongoing and creative work of the people of God in Appalachia, in the worship of our liturgy and of our action for justice.
• Decisions about liturgies at the annual gathering are generally made by the annual gathering committee for that given year. Strong preference should be made for having a closing Mass on the Sunday of the annual gathering weekend. However, in the event that it is not possible to plan a Mass that follows the guidelines set out in this vision document, it is acceptable to plan another kind of liturgy—e.g., a Word service, a lament prayer service, an Agape meal—in its place. It may, given the theme or other circumstances, be appropriate for an annual gathering to purposefully “fast” from Mass in a given year, e.g. if the gathering theme focuses on the struggle of women in the church. Moreover, CCA members should commit to more deeply radical expressions of liturgy throughout life, in a variety of forms of prayer, fellowship, and public witness.
• Consideration of the choice of presider is important to CCA. The presider should generally be a priest who is a member of CCA. If this is not possible, the liturgical style of the chosen presider should reflect the spirituality of CCA. It is important to avoid the feeling of a “rent-a-priest.” If no suitable presider is available, it may be preferable to have an alternative liturgy.
• Simplicity and/or informality are other important liturgical preferences. These could affect anything from the décor, type of Eucharistic vessels used, vestments, how “streamlined” the Mass is, etc.
• Arrangement of space is an important consideration. An intimate, inclusive arrangement that invites the full participation of equals is preferable. If Mass is held in a traditionally arranged chapel, or a location which is too large to feel “intimate,” space could be used in creative ways to encourage the inclusion and participation of all (e.g., movement among the people during the homily, inviting the people to the altar for the consecration).
• Music has traditionally been simple, using piano or guitar.
• The annual gathering theme for the year should be integrated into the liturgy. In other words, the liturgy should not be an “add on” to the annual gathering with a feeling of detachment. As much as possible, the homily and presider’s orienting comments throughout the liturgy should touch on the theme, and the liturgy should emphasize our mission in the world as we leave the gathering.
• CCA is committed to the rights of women and sacramental equality in the church. Therefore, the liturgy should include an openness to increased roles of women in presiding and preaching— including but not limited to proclamation of the gospel or giving the homily.
• CCA is also committed to the empowerment of the laity. Liturgy can emphasize this by breaking down barriers between priest and people. This could include a shared homily or the people being welcomed to say some of the celebrant’s parts of the Mass (“Through him, with him, in him…,” or the words of consecration). Prayers of the Faithful should be largely spontaneous and open to the concerns of the gathered community.
• Equality and unity of the gathered assembly can be expressed in the distribution of communion as the paten and chalice are passed from person to person. Additionally, because CCA values ecumenical relationships that reject exclusion and attitudes of superiority, it is appropriate to practice open communion for all participants.
• CCA has generally shown an openness to textual adaptation and other forms of liturgical experimentation. Inclusive language, for example, is a must. Other textual changes could be introduced for various purposes (e.g., “On the night before he was executed…”) and could range from mild to fairly radical.
Approved by the Board of Directors May 2016