Making Liturgy a Lively Reflection of the Community - Catholic Church of Montreal
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Making Liturgy a Lively Reflection of the Community

Hi Fi Vol. 127 (2009) Number 3

Fr. Paul Pomkoski is the parochial administrator of both St. Brendan and St. Aloysius parishes in the East End of Montreal. He has served St. Brendan's since 1987; he took on St. Alyosius last year. The Montreal priest was ordained in 1986. In this Q & A, he shares his views, experience and tips for making liturgical celebrations lively and engaging. 

Laura Ieraci: What makes good liturgy, in your experience?

Fr. Pomkoski: First, even before liturgy begins, the community has to be welcoming. People have to feel that they're walking into a happy and joyful community. Second, the lectors have to proclaim the Word of God, not just read it, so that the people see they believe. The music must always be uplifting. The homily has to be well prepared and focus on what the Lord has said and how it applies to life today. People must be challenged to live it beyond Sunday. Good liturgy calls people forth to live it every day.

L.I.: What does it mean to “live liturgy”?

Fr. P.: It means to be people who strive for peace and social justice, and to present a loving God to others. The hardest place to live Eucharist is in the home; we have a choice to be an instrument of peace or an instrument of war. Even in failure, I'll have the ability to say I'm sorry and work at it. 

I've always believed that if those who come to Eucharist behave no differently than those who do not come, then we who attend Eucharist have a problem, because it's supposed to change us. When people come to mass, are touched by the Lord and live it, people around them will say, "Where did they get that?" and they will want it. 

L.I.: How do you prepare for homilies?  

Fr. P.: I read the Scripture passages on Tuesday and I pray about them. Then, I refer to commentaries I find on the Internet. I may decide to incorporate something that happened in the news. I'll consider whether there is a phrase in one of the three readings that I can expand upon. Then I consider how it all applies to my community. 

Priests have to know their community.  They also have to challenge them. So I consider the challenge I will leave with my community for the week. Priests must try, through their homilies, to help people see the need to develop a personal, intimate relationship with the living God. 

L.I.: How do you engage people who think mass is dull? 

Fr. P.: We always have to ask people what they need to come to a deeper connection with the Lord during the liturgy. But, first and foremost, homilies have to truly speak to the people and challenge them. I've listened to some homilies in some churches where, if I didn't have faith, I wouldn't go back. We give intellectual homilies, and they're nice, but people often forget them. 

There are two different kinds of homilists: those like Jesus and those like St. Paul. St. Paul went on and on. Jesus used one example and made his point. He didn't overdo it. He was straightforward. And so homilists have to learn to leave one point, maybe two, with the people. It's being aware that after a certain amount of time, people stop listening. 

At the same time, we're not there to entertain; we're there to remember what the Lord did for us. Once we realize the purpose of being present, then it no longer is boring. And if we are grateful to a God who has given us all we have, who has helped us through all of our struggles, then we want to be there.

L.I.: How does liturgy build community?

Fr. P.: Community is built whenwe take what the Lord gives us in the Eucharist and share it with others. My role as the leader of the community is to help people have a relationship with the Lord as well as to recognize their gifts and exercise them. When people begin to do so, the community starts being built. 

The most difficult aspect of any faith community is to get the people to understand that they own it, that it is theirs. When they do, they want to get involved. I think the priest has to learn to give up control and the community has to learn to take responsibility. 

It's also admitting that, as a priest, I do not have all the answers. I've been a priest 22 years and I'm still learning. When people have certain gifts, they can lead me. It's letting them - choir members, pastoral council, catechetical leaders, etc. - make decisions. And if things don't work out, we can go back to the drawing board and find a better way.

L.I.: What are some special tips to build community? 

Fr. P.: We will acknowledge birthdays and wedding anniversaries and welcome any visitors during the liturgy. We will pray for parishioners' special intentions, if somebody is sick or if somebody just died, whatever it may be. In good weather, I'll sit out front before mass and greet everybody who comes in. Since people tend to have regular seats in church, once in a while I'll get parishioners who sit at the back to come up front and vice versa so people get to know each other a little better.

L.I. What is the role of your liturgy committee?

Fr. P.: I sit down with the committee about four times a year to assess: How are people proclaiming theWord? Is the priest in his homilies reaching the community? Is there enough silence? Is there enough prayer time? I always look for feedback to see how we can improve the liturgy. 

We also come together for Advent and Lent. We look at the theme and how we can present it to the community. We have regular workshops for lectors, ministers of communion and people who decorate the church.

L.I.: How are children included in your liturgies? 

Fr. P.:
I've always felt comfortable with children in the liturgy.We don't have a "Crying Room" here. I don't believe in those. Eucharist is a Meal. And when we take our children to a meal, we don't shove them in a different room. Children are curious and, for the most part, not disruptive. I've told parents: "Let the children be." 

We have three children's liturgies, one at each mass. It works great. The children meet in the hall a few minutes before mass. They come back to church after the Prayers of the Faithful and will sit with me around the altar for the rest of the mass.

L.I.: Where is the line between liturgy as celebration and liturgy as entertainment?

Fr. P.: Entertaining liturgy is when people talk about how good the music and other aspects were, but not once mention their encounter with Christ. Good liturgy is when people leave knowing that they have encountered Christ. That’s the difference.

Entertainment will not bring people to the Eucharist. We don't need to have bells and whistles to have good liturgy. How many fads have come and gone in our Church? What we need is to help people develop a deep, personal relationship with the Lord.  


An interview with Fr. Paul Pomkoski, by Laura Ieraci

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