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DRAMA IN EUCHARIST PROVOKES PEOPLE

Updated: October 24, 2001 05:00 PM GMT
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A priest began Mass with the usual Sign of the Cross. However, before the congregation could say "Amen," came a shout from behind the sanctuary, "Hell with it, hell with it!"

Shouting anti-Christian slogans, some youths then barged into the sanctuary carrying placards that ridiculed Christianity.

The congregation was stunned. Some rushed forward to fight. However, Father Michael Gonsalves, the celebrant, turned to the demonstrators to answer their questions. He also let the congregation, including participants of an Oct. 9-31 training on the new ways of catechizing, answer some questions.

Father Gonsalves, a staff of the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre in Bangalore, southern India, uses such interventions to "avoid monotony" and shatter the perception that current realities have little relevance in Christian worship.

According to him, people join liturgy "meaningfully" when their minds are disturbed in such a manner and jolted from a state of complacency.

After the Oct. 9 Mass, several Catholics told UCA News said it was the most meaningful Eucharistic celebration they have participated.

Father Gonsalves told UCA News that he began incorporating aspects of drama in the Eucharist 12 years ago when as a parish priest he saw liturgy being reduced to a mere "tranquilizer," not a catalyst that changes lives.

According to the 48-year-old priest, Massgoers would respond to the drama better if they face similar situations in life.

The drama usually takes place before the Liturgy of the Word or after Communion. It ends with a call for repentance following the depiction of socio-economic inequalities, poverty, corruption, communalism and other evils.

During one Mass, Father Gonsalves received a call on his cell phone and he engaged in a "conversation" as the congregation watched.

He says drama has the same relevance as hymns and dance in liturgy. Some resent his innovations as they see drama only as entertainment, he admitted.

Some elderly parishioners, who opposed him initially, began appreciating the dramas after a while, he said. "My dramas," he added, "are simple, sober and use minimum costumes," and always address "down-to-earth issues."

He said he does not "strictly follow the order of the Mass, but I don´t leave out any important aspect also."

The actors often sit among the congregation for greater impact of the program, the priest explained. After the play, the priest engages the congregation in a discussion on the theme of the dramatic intervention.

Sister Elizabeth Leo, a Massgoer, said the dramatization of Christ´s message in the worship made her "thoroughly involve in the Eucharist."

The St. Charles Borromeo nun told UCA News that the program presented a "thought provoking" enactment of real life issues around the altar.

Father Gonsalves asserts that Christian liturgy is not merely worship, but "a celebration of the unity of the people of God." He says the Mass should become inter-personal and not "a vertical relationship with God."

He said he uses drama to help people "bring to the Mass our human life with all its hopes and fears, joys and sorrows" to help them experience solidarity with one another.

According to him many, especially the youth, keep away from what has become "monotonous and ritualistic worship" that fails to reflect their life.

Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur found the Oct. 9 Mass "like a capsule that gives teaching materials for a one-week seminar."

Zelia Pereira, a schoolteacher attending the course, said the drama helped her "fully" immerse in the Mass for the first time.

She warned that unless the Church changes its "monotonous and ritualistic character," people may lose interest and faith in the Mass.

END

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