Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve and Ritual - the Pickled Herring

Sitting here enjoying a quiet New Years Eve.  It occurs to me that even this is one of those holidays that connects to family traditions. My mom always served pickled herring on New Years Eve- the kind in the brine, not the cream. We never went out that night, but stayed in and watched TV or played board games and ate special snacks - cheese and crackers, sausages, chips, pickles, raw vegetables. Inevitably there was herring. The next day, there was the inevitable ham and baked sweet potatoes. Predictable, comforting rituals to mark the changing of the calendar. My sense is that something similar is true for most families.

Why is it then, that the Church, on the Octave of Christmas, the secular New Year, has, since 1968, apparently muddied the liturgical waters by giving two options? The readings are for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, but the Sacramentary prayers can be either for the Marian feast or for World Day of Peace. Not that the latter is not worth celebrating, but it deserves its own separate identity and not as a secondary option. Similarly, Mary Mother of God deserves not to be the only Solemnity with optional orations.

The original Message  from Pope Paul VI proposing the World Day of Peace (December 8, 1967) indicates that he did not wish to replace Mary, Mother of God: "Such an observance must not change the liturgical calendar, which reserves New Year's Day for veneration of the divine motherhood of Mary and the most holy Name of Jesus; indeed, those holy and loving religious remembrances must shed their light of goodness, wisdom and hope upon the prayer for, the meditation upon, and the fostering of the great and yearned-for gift of Peace, of which the world has so much need."

Although this is certainly a worthy desire on the part of the Holy Father, the result has been somewhat of a confusion of identity for the day as parishes try to combine elements of both celebrations and pastors choose one or both "themes" for the homily. I have been in parishes that did one or the other, and tried to incoporate both into the General Intercessions and music. (The mixing of Marian hymns with "The Prayer of St. Francis" and "Let There be Peace on Earth"). I have also experience the absence of one or the other of the themes. Makes it more difficult to connect with this feast. Maybe this explains, even more than post-partying hang-overs, why attendance at New Year's Eve or Day is often light?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Holy Family - The Commitment to Bringing Up a Child in the Faith

Reading between the lines today... although the Gospel writers are largely silent on the matter of Jesus' childhood, we do get important hints about how Mary and Joseph brought him up. Today's Gospel - the story of Jesus getting lost and found in the Temple at age 12 (Luke 2:41-52) - speaks volumes about the family's practice of the faith and serves as an important model for all parents.

Here is what we do hear: "Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem..."

This is a great description of a faith-filled Jewish family - they journeyed to Jerusalem annually and participated in the celebration. This arduous journey, probably on foot or on donkey-back, and the time away from home, representing a loss of income from work was no small sacrifice for the family. Passover lasts 7 days - so this, plus the time needed for travel - was a significant time commitment. Obviously, for Mary and Joseph, their faith was a priority - over inconvenience, and even over earning their livelihood. In addition, this level of commitment implies that the family normally celebrated the weekly Sabbath in the local synagogue.

Contrast this to the objections that some of today's Catholic families express about their inability to make time to take their children to weekend Mass, or to religious education commitments. How often those of us who have been parish DRE's have heard the familiar "We are too busy" or "I work on weekends" or "Johnny/Susie has soccer practice" or... (insert usual litany of excuses).  If Joseph had said he could not do Passover because he needed to work during those days, Jesus might have been a far different child - and might never have grown up to be a Rabbi. How many children today are not growing up to be priests, sisters, or faithful lay ministers/teachers because their parents do not make celebration of the liturgy or faith formation a priority in life?

If Catholic parents do not see the importance of practicing the faith as a family, they should not expect to drop their children off at the parish for catechists to make their children Catholic. Many act as if the catechetical services of the parish are a commodity they "purchase" to ensure that their child will ge the appropriate upbringing in the faith and the certificates they receive for sacraments, as "credentials" to show that their childre was "raised Catholic." With that, many seem to feel they have done their duty as parents.

How do we get parents to understand the kind of commitment it takes to be Catholics themselves, and the even greater commitment it takes to pass the faith on to the next generation? What would it take to get them to be like Hannah, in the alternate first reading for today (1 Samuel 20-22; 24-28) who said to Eli as she brought Samuel to the Temple: “Pardon, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”

What would it take indeed! The answer, of course, is better adult catechesis - and parishes that attract and welcome families, accept them for who they are, and gently model and form them in ways that lead them to an understanding of the importance of faith.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Evangelizing Liturgy - Reaching the Inactive Beyond Christmastime

Our diocese is in the middle of the Catholics Come Home initiative - a television campaign to encourage inactive Catholics to come back to the Church. Some probably responded at Christmas to this persuasive outreach. Well-made and attractive televistion commercials are designed to attract Catholics - and those interested in becoming Catholic - through a variety of methods, from creating a "warm, fuzzy" feeling about the Church as institution, to asking people to evaluate their lives to see if they want to change, to hearing the witness of those who came back. If you are not familiar with this initiative, which has been adopted in several areas of the country, please go to Catholics Come Home Website. The videos will begin streaming as you arrive.

Even if you are not in an are of the country where these commercials are running, was what happened at your parish over the Masses of Christmas of high enough quality to make the inactive, occasionally active, or the curious feel like coming back next Sunday? Most likely, yes. Parishes normally put their best foot forward on Christmas and Easter - art and environment ministers decoratedthe church with their best flair, ushers and greeters - inspired by holiday warmth - smiled even at people they did not know,  musicians highly rehearsed and best musical offerings, the best lectors were assigned to read the important scriptures of the Incarnation, the priest in many parishes will have normally had a concelebrant or two to add to the sense of pomp and circumstance. Consciencious preachers labored over their best homilies - inspired, in many cases, to reach people in a deeper way. What people encountered was probably warm, familiar and if the homilist was at his best, gently challenging.

Now the greater question - can your parish sustain this sense of hospitality, warmth, and appropriate challenge all year 'round? Is the Good News of Jesus Christ delivered in an attractive enough way to encourage people to give up sleeping late, shopping, hanging out with their family in a more casual way, or just plain taking a "free time" breather from their busy week.  Are all liturgical ministers performing their duties in a welcoming and quality manner - or is it time for a training refresher for lectors who have forgotten the importance of preparing beforehand or how to enunciate so all can hear? How about the cantor/songleaders who fail to truly invite people to sing and who normally keep their eyes buried in the music, who only looked up at Christmas because they have known the words to the familiar carols all their lives?  Do your greeters look for and engage the stranger as well as their friends every weekend?  Is your pastor habitually a good preacher, or does he usually convey a slight sense of weariness, boredom or complacency?  Is the bulletin  filled every week with news of great opportunities for people to connect with the community, share faith, and serve those in need? And after the liturgy, is it easy for people to find someone to talk to about other issues? If they call the parish office during the week will they be greated in a warm and sensitive way - and will their interactions around religious education, sacramental and other issues be inviting and not off-putting? 

To assist in evaluating and fine-tuning your parish to live up to its best, I highly recommend the resources from the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association - created by those who helped write the USCCB national plan for evangelization, "Go and Make Disciples".  The Awakening Faith resource helps welcome and evangelize inactive Catholics.  Their monthly Evangelization Exchange newsletter is filled with good ideas, and they also have many other materials, including this series of pamphlets on the Eucharistic Community. I have posted many of their faith-sharing handouts (including an evaluation instrument called the "Full and Active Participation in the Mass Checklist for Parish Leaders" on this page on our diocesan site. Their Best Practices for Parishes sub-site features a great program designed by Fr. Robert Duggan with tools to evaluate and renovate every ministry in the parish.

Whether your parish uses these or other programs, it is important not to be complacent about your community and the face it presents to the outsider. Welcoming strangers should be a priority, not an afterthought. After all, Jesus was all about outreach. So, also, should we be.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Incarnation: God's Gift of Compassion

It's Christmas Eve and as I continue to process the death of the most significant person in my life, I have a growing sense that human suffering is truly the reason God came to earth as a human person.  Jesus, fully God and fully human, experienced both the best and the worst experiences of human life. The gift to us, is that because God, through the earthly life of Jesus, has experienced what it means to suffer loss, grief, pain etc, that God understands us and has compassion for us. (Compassio - Latin root meaning  = to suffer with).

I was told this a number of years ago when I did a Life's Healing Journey retreat with Peter Campbell, MSC, but at the time I only half believed it. After all, how can Jesus, who accepted and chose his path to the Cross, whose parents did not divorce, who never lost a spouse or lover to divorce or death, who was able to raise his beloved friend Lazarus from the dead, understand the wrenching depth of the pain these experiences of betrayal and loss create in the souls of human beings for a lifetime?  Betrayal, humiliation and crucifixion are horrible things, but Jesus only suffered for less than a day - while many people suffer pretty much for the rest of their lives.

In the intervening years, as I have come to understand Paschal Mystery (the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ - the central mystery of our faith) more deeply, I have had a better intellectual understanding of how this is supposed to work. Jesus, who accepted that it was will of his Father that he suffer, showed us that acceptance of the circumstances of one's life is the road to resurrection. This, I tell people when I teach, is why we have faith - so that when life deals us those huge blows, we have a "safety net". What has been more difficult for me to negotiate is the struggle to get the heart to join the mind in that acceptance.

As I write this, I am not there yet. 6 months is not enough time to process a major loss. What frightens me most is that people who have experienced such major loss tell me you never really "get over it." Somehow you just go on. What is not yet clear to me is whether there is reason to hope that any form of "resurrection"  (recovery and joy) necessarily takes place this side of the grave - or whether the promise is simply that we will be given the strength to perseve in spite of suffering and rise again on the Last Day to shed all our tears and pain as we go to our eternal life with God.

This much I do know - Jesus Christ became a human person to share the experience of suffering so that we could be sure that God truly knows what that experience is. He modeled a path through suffering resurrection that mirrors the experiences we have of being brought to our knees by the travails of life and being raised up again.  Whatever the full truth is, I am sure now that God does have compassion in the Latinate meaning of "suffering with" - that God cries when we do and God's heart is heavy whenever ours is. And that is the greatest gift of all - that this is not an impersonal deity who watches us cooly at a distance and waits for us to figure it out. If we are truly created in the image of God, then our emotional life is something God also shares. So, when God came to earth it was not only to share the experience of human suffering, but to demonstrate, through Jesus, how great that love is. The wood of the manger is the archetype of the wood of the cross. 

In that I find comfort, as I struggle my way back to trusting the God who gives and takes away. Blessed be the Lord who loved the world so much that He sent his only begotten Son as witness to that love.  Merry Christmas, all, no matter where your life journey has taken you - in sorrow or joy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Approaching Incarnation - the O Antiphons Today

Gliding slowly through the last days of Advent....tomorrow evening,  the O Antiphons will begin - and we approach the great moment when God, having taken on the human condition at Jesus' conception, will travail into the world, born as the child of a human mother. In these antiphons, we remember the forbears, the history and meaning that inhabit salvation history, all  that has led up to the moment of the birth in Bethlehem.

(For a really good explanation of the history and meaning of the O Antiphons, check out this article at the CERC website )

So, what do they mean for us today? 

O Sapientia (O Wisdom) - our nation and indeed the whole world are crying out for wisdom in the face of war, financial meltdown, global warming, epidemics, health care debates, clashes over gay marriage, abortion, and more. Lord, help us to become single-hearted and wise in your ways, and less focused on the many opposing points of view.
O Adonai (O Lord) - in a post-modern age when all authority seems irrelevant, we need the stability of a being who always was and always will be. Lord, open our ears to hear your steady, reassuring voice amid the din of so many strident voices.
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse) - in a culture where the elderly, the past and a sense of rootedness are all threatened by a mobile society seemingly bent on eliminating all connections except those we choose, we need to reconnect with our roots. Lord, connect us, through one another, through the Church throughout all time, to you.
O Clavis David (O Key of David) - as the fellow sinners of King David, our forefather in faith, we acknowledge that only God can turn our brokenness into possibility. Lord, help us move beyond our dark places so that we might cooperate in your great plan for us.
O Oriens (O Rising Sun) - we need the hope that comes from the Risen One who endured the night of suffering and death to rise again. Lord, free us to see the seeds of new life in our darkest moments, remembering that you showed us the way by your Paschal Mystery.
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations) - the whole world seeks guidance and healing, the stability of your power to guide us. Lord, may we seek only to further your reign over the earth, when justice, peace and dignity will be shared by all.
O Emmanuel (God With Us) - you promised to be with us, even to the end of the age; we are so much greater, more loving, and more united with you than we are without you.  Lord, bring us closer to you, so that all we do may be for your glory, not ours.

Monday, December 14, 2009

3rd Sunday in Advent: Listening for God's Song

As we enter the third week of Advent, we have just heard an invitation in yesterday's first reading from Zephania to shout and sing for joy:  "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!  Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!" But did  you notice the end of that reading?  God will also sing: "The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals." God sings?

I think most of us easily envision ourselves singing praise to God - and probably do it on a regular basis in worship. Less easy is to imagine what God's song would be like.  Even Tolkein, in the elaborate mythology , The Silmarillion, which he wrote supporting The Lord of the Rings, when he envisioned the creation or the world taking place as a result of the song of the angel-like holy beings, the Ainur, did not dare to have Eru Iluvatar, his version of the supreme being, sing.

As a parish cantor and choir singer myself, the question of God's song is of great interest. Does my own song call forth a similar response from God? If so, the notion of worship as a dialog is key. The song then becomes not just us singing AT God, but singing WITH God.

What kind of song?  " one sings at festivals" - this is the clue as to the nature of God's song.  It reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son, in which the father welcomes his son home with a festival, complete with fatted calf. This is the God of celebration, whose joy in us when we come to him whole-heartedly knows no bounds. 

When do we shout and sing to God in such a way?

...when we truly worship in joy (and are not just going through the motions)
...when we celebrate the beauty of creation
...when we give thanks with all our hearts for blessings
...when we approach God in true contrition
...when we receive Eucharist and become one with Christ and each other
...when we celebrate the goodness of life
....when.... (fill in the blank)

But I don't think God's song is always necessarily one of joy. God is more complex. God is not the eternal big "happy face" guy.  Since God, through incarnation into humanity in Christ, embodies all that it means to be human. Sometimes God's song must be a dirge of grief when God grieves for us or with us, or a lullaby when we need comfort in the midst of the sorrow of life. When our song is sad, so must God's be sad. (After all, Jesus wept at the news of the death of Lazarus, so the Trinity knows the nature of human sorrow.)  Whenever our song is one of loss or loneliness or isolation, God hums in a still, small voice, waiting for each of us to get to the point when we can once again respond to God's outreaching love. My guess is that God never actually stops singing.

Zephaniah's call to rejoice is a challenge to us to find our song of joy in the midst of a dark world full of sorrows. It calls us to envision a world perfected in joy and to sing as if that world is already accomplished - because indeed it is - in God's time, the Day of the Lord already is. This is not a case of  'fake it until we make it." Instead, it is a call to see through God's eyes, that the Reign of God is already a reality, perfected in God's mind, existing in eternity, and that some day we will experience it as God does. God is already singing. We just can't hear it yet.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Waiting for the Mystery of Faith

Perusing the new translation of the Assembly parts of the Roman Missal on the USCCB website you will notice that the Memorial Acclamation will now be called "The Mystery of Faith" - and that the one we use the most (Option A - the simple and strong text "Christ has died...") is up for grabs, as we wait to see if Rome will grant the USCCB an indult to allow us to keep it as an American adaptation.The proper text has it replaced with "We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again."

Not awful, but again, the familiar musical settings which are so much a part of the American worship experience will not adapt very well to the additional text.  For an example in recent memory of what happens when companies try that, those of us who knew and treasured the original Owen Alstott chant-psalms from OCP will remember what happened when the new Lectionary translation came about a few years back and others adapted his simple settings to the new words, sometimes with rather unmusical results.

Personally, I find it hard to imagine life as a Catholic without the sonorous and powerful Mass of Creation setting of "Christ has died..." the Mass setting which has become so much a part of our experience of worship. GIA, the publisher describes it as "one of the most sung in the English-speaking world."

And so, with the quality of our worship experience now under the control of the Vatican, we wait to see if we lose or get to keep this simple, strong and direct acclamation of our belief in Paschal Mystery.

The new Missal translation: will we be able to speak it trippingly on the tongue?

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.

I just realized I have been somewhat reluctant, for a variety of reasons, to explore the upcoming changes in the people's parts of the Mass in any depth beyond a quick glance. I think I was a bit in denial and somewhat in dread of what I might find and what it is going to mean to me as a cantor and member of the Assembly. So, tonight I bit the proverbial bullet and went to the USCCB website where they have posted the new and old parts side by side for comparison:

Of course, I knew about the "and with your spirit" response to the opening greeting and the change from "We believe" to "I believe" in the Creed, and some of the other particulars that have been argued and re-argued in the news and in Catholic blogs around the web.  Honestly, besides the substitution of the 4-syllable theologically specific and Latinate "consubstantial with the Father" for "one in being with the Father" (described by some commentators as an opportuntity for using the dictionary)  the change that concerns me most is the opening of the Gloria. (I will deal with the possible loss of the current Memorial Acclamation A in a separate post.).

Here is the current version of what is most often used as the refrain to the Gloria:   "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth." Simply put, in terms of poetic meter this is mostly dactylic (2 long-short-short "feet") followed by a spondee (long-long)  and the same followed by a single beat. A such it is simple to set to triple meter (3/4 time or 6/8 time) music. Think of all the great refrain settings - and most are either in triple meter, or in 4/4 with triplets.

If I were a composer I would be tearing my hair out over the choppy new version:  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will"  - the first line is the same as before, but then it segues into an anapestic (short-short-long) 2 trochaic (long-short)and another anapestic foot. Setting this and singing it are going to require some skill on the part of composers, musicians and assembly.  Triple, then double, then triple meter all in one line. If the Assembly parts are to be simple and singable, this will be a challenge.  We have lost the poetry in the translators' zeal to recover the literal meaning. And with it, our most beloved musical settings. Composers will be hard-pressed to squeeze all that text into the current tunes.

And so, my dear Hamlet, our lines will not trip easily off our tongues.  True, in time we will no doubt get used to this and it will take on its own character. The transition, however, may be as disruptive as the performance of the play within the play in Hamlet.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The "disappearing Jesus" - an ecumenical chapel environment reality

My son, who is stationed at Goodfellow AFB in Texas, shared with me a chuckle yesterday about their chapel worship environment. Because the chapel serves as a space for both Catholics and Protestants, they have a crucifix with a corpus that slides off to the side under a covering, so as not to offend Baptists and others who prefer a plain cross. Creative solution - but somehow amusing!

Where we worship - how does it affect how we worship?

I have been following an interesting discussion on my friend Todd Flowerday's blog on worship spaces - decor, images, distraction, Catholicity, etc - second tier discussion is ongoing at - and I have to ask myself when have I found a worship space conducive to my own participation - and not.  As a convert, used to the traditional vaulted ceilings and colored stained glass of Lutheran and other Protestant churches, I have to admit that modern Catholic church architecture occasionally challenges me. I guess I am just more comfortable entering a Gothic-inspired church space that is familiar.  Then I can go about the business of worship without too much thought.

However, I am convinced it is not just the space, but the elements of lighting, art and evironment that contribute to a good (or poor) worship experience.

Last Holy Thursday, I had an interesting opportunity to compare worship spaces. I went on our diocesan young adult 7-churches-before-midnight tour with my son, and I have to admit - the spaces that spoke to me were indeed the more "modern" ones.  And, that sometimes it was the actual space that struck me, and other times it was the way environment was used to enhance (or to detract). The most memorable church, a recently renovated space, was architecturally simple,  but strikingly appropriate because it was totally dark, only lit by a path created by paper-bag lumnaria, which led you to the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was in repose. Inside the chapel, a scrolling marquee of phrases in English or Spanish (it was a Spanish parish) from the Gospel of Holy Thursday was being projected, crawling over the wall and ceiling around the eucharistic display. What a profound sense of mystery this space created. In the harsh light of day it may seem cold and empty, but appropriate lighting and creative elements enhanced the experience.

In contrast, there was a brightly lit very traditional Gothic space, which was cluttered with a tasteless homemade grotto in which it was difficult to discern the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  I spent most of my time there trying to find it. Not an appropriate space to enhance the Holy Thursday experience.

Another church, a predominantly African American parish in a lower-economic area, had purple Lenten decor elements out in place of the normal white-enhanced ones - but  in that church the chief adornment of the space was the hospitable spirit of the people, who greeted us with a "mini-revival" instead of the expected Adoration experience. OK, so it didn't feel like Holy Thursday - but you know, I still remember how it felt. They were being themselves - simple, devout and enthusiastic.

In yet another church, the sanctuary was stunningly beautiful - but someone had attempted to cover up the traditional wall-statue images of Mary on one side, and Joseph and Child on the other, by painting them medium grey - to go with the two-tone medium and dark grey used on walls and ceiling (with traditional gold accents). The apparent intent was to harmonize the appearance of traditional Gothic elements with the fabulous Art Deco black marble and gold altar, ambo and tabernacle which are truly stunningly beautiful. Certainly the sanctuary was a delight to the eye, but the distressing attempt to marry the two styles through the paint job on the rest of the church was truly distracting.

So, what? This little tour helped me understand that some spaces lend themselves harmoniously to the worship experience, for whatever reason, while others call so much attention to the space that worship becomes all but impossible. Maybe if I worshiped regularly in one of the distracting spaces, I would become innured to the distraction?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When a liturgical season is prepared.....

It was interesting on Sunday to see the fruits of the past several meetings our parish liturgy planning committee all come together in the celebration.  It was a bit like eating a meal and recognizing the ingredients that you brought home from the grocery store.

First there were the invocations to the Penitential Rite we had written to connect with the focus on seeking the antidote to the darkness of the selfish, rude world in the light of Christ. Also reflecting this were the songs, the homily, and the General Intercessions. As the people went forth, singing a new hymn, "Stand Firm", all that we, the preparers of the celebrated season, could hope was that they carried the focus with them as they exited into the ordinary world.

I wonder how many of the people present at the Masses in my parish this weekend realized how much effort had been expended by other lay people to help them celebrate this season well. Most would probably be surpirsed to know about the hours we spent pouring over the readings, the struggle of some of our less-experienced members to write those invocations, the discussions, and all the work planning the season and putting it all together.

I also know that this does not happen in every parish. Sometimes, the ministers of the Mass just show up - and follow the Rite and its rubrics "on the fly" - and assume that things will work out. Although most of the time nothing egregious happens when there is no advance planning, it does the people a disservice and dishonors the Eucharist, when minimal or no preparation is afforded the celebration in advance.  The richness of a community's celebration of the liturgical season is certainly enhanced by work that brings together the seasonal themes and the current reality of that community's life in the world.

At every Mass, we celebrate the mighty deeds our God has done in the past, certainly, but we also celebrate God's living action in the presence through the lives of the members. It is, in Advent, a case of recognizing the second of the three ways in which Christ comes to us. (The first coming - as a baby in Bethlehem, the second - in the hearts of those who believe in him, and the third - when he will come as King of Glory). It is all too easy to focus on the baby and the King. Not as simple, is the understanding of what this has to do with us today, now.

It is this, the catechetical component of the liturgy that connects the celebration to current lived reality. Careful preparation and drawing out of connections and "themes" help faith and life come together in ways that actually can make sense. When that is not done, the community experiences just another season, where the naturally occuring elements in the Mass resonate with memories of past years, and people are not called to grow in faith, except possibly by the homilies. Then the preacher bears the full burden of making the connections. When preparation is done well, the people are challenged, called to attend to how this season can effect change in their lives by the cooperative harmony of many parts of the celebration.

And so, in our parish, where we take this work of preparing the seasons seriously, another Advent has begun - and with it, a new way of looking at Advent's intrinsic movement from darkness into light, rooted in a reading of the signs of the times. It feels like work well done.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OId Year - New Year: King Jesus and the Baby Jesus

This week Catholics around the world participate in the transition from Church Year 2009 to 2010, as we move from late autumn Ordinary Time into Advent. Having just celebrated the feast of Christ the King, the One who will come again, we ready ourselves to wait for his coming as a baby at Christmas, and acknowledge not only Christ as Baby, but as King - and the relationship between those two images.

Unlike the traditional New Years image of the creaky old man representing the old year and the newborn baby the new, our old year Jesus is the enthroned, powerful ruler to whom is due all glory, honor and dominion. Because Christ dwells in eternity, he is forever at the peak of his mature strength, not vitiated by age.

As a matter of fact, Christ the Baby is not the mute, powerless infant for more than a passing moment - the short duration of the Christmas Season, because the Baby, too, lives in eternity - the already-not-yet of time.  We should not make the mistake of seeing only his helplessness and tinyness. He is only apparently powerless.  And yet kings will pay him homage and a king will fear him. In Catholic tradition we have an image of this Jesus. It is perhaps interesting that modern Catholicism has "lost" the image of the Infant of Prague - that tiny powerful Baby-King who unites the already and the not yet... probably because he became a statue too many people associate with the hallways of a Catholic School of the 1950's and 60's - strictly an image for children.

Watch the upcoming readings of Advent for hints about which avatar of Jesus is the operative image. Most of the time, it will be the King of glory. Only as we approach the celebration of his birth as human being, will he appear as the humble, swaddled Baby.  And we should never underestimate that Baby's power to love us into change and growth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day - Through the Lens of the Doctrine of "Just War"

Today the Church Year and the secular calendar more or less meet. In November, the month during which the Church especially remembers the dead, our country celebrates Veteran's Day  - the day to remember the dead who served their country in the armed forces. Certainly a worthy thing to do from the standpoint of patiotism. However, this is also a call for us, as Catholic Christians, to ponder the necessity of war. After all, Jesus did say "Blessed are the peacemakers."

As our nation continues to send young men and women over to the Middle East to "keep peace" in areas where our government perceives our military presence is needed, it might be good to ask if this is truly necessary and to revisit the notion of a "just war." In section 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
One has to wonder in the case of the continuing conflicts in the Middle East if all of these have indeed been met. Did we exhaust all other possibilities first? Is there indeed a realistic chance of success? Is not the cost of war both to the civilians in the countries affected and to those who serve in the military and their nation at least as grave an evil as what we are fighting?  I would say these answers are not fully clear. Certainly a matter for prayer and discernment.
Those who have died faithfully serving their country in the Middle East are certainly to be honored. Less clear is whether government decision-makers who sent them or continue to keep them there are likewise worthy of our praise.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bishop Trautman's call to ditch the new Mass translations - a matter of obedience?

Just saw this from America magazine: Bishop Donald Trautman is calling for a halt to the new translation approval process to save us from bad grammar and "unproclaimable texts." While I seriously doubt that a one-man charge can change the course of this particular juggernaut, you have to admire the man for trying.

Go take a look at the article here:

In contrast, Liturgy Training Publication's website, in their promotional material for their revised series of pamphlets on the Mass assures us that the new translations will only "deepen the meaning" of the Mass - they are, under the aegis of Cardinal George, putting out materials to help us accept the new reality imposed upon the American church by the Vatican.

As usual, we are a church conflicted. Which approach makes the most sense? Do we remain who we are as Americans- a fiercely independent people who do not normally take things just because someone says so - or do we, as faithful sons and daughters of the church, bite our tongues and bow our heads in acquiescence, accepting the new texts without question?  Bishop Trautman's last-ditch attempt to derail the process leads to many questions.

Is the very character of our worship indeed coming down to being a matter of obedience?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Catechesis on the Mass when kids don't go to Mass..

I am an occasional substitute catechist at my parish - and last night I found myself facing 20 or so Hispanic American teens in their second year of Confirmation preparation for a lesson on the Eucharist. I knew I was in for it, when, while setting up the opening prayer, to the Saints, I asked how many of them had been to Mass last weekend and experienced the celebration of All Saints Day - and only 2 of them had done that.

How irrelevant is it to talk to youth about Eucharist as the source of all that we are and the most important thing we do at church, when they don't go? It's hard to refer to words said at Mass when they don't hear them, or to describe actions they never see. Yes, these are kids who can't drive themselves to Mass yet - and the issue is with their parents...

I know in this case that they come from working class families who mostly struggle - some with multiple jobs or parents working two shifts... and these parents make the commitment of time and money to send them to religious education.  Obviously they want their children to have the sacraments. But, how to reach the parents? How do you catechize them in an occasional "mandatory" parent meeting? I'm not the DRE, so I don't know what she has in mind, but I am guessing she has been trying. It's a challenging cultural reality.

Last night I did my best to reach them. I hope I planted a seed or two.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grief and Remembering the Dead in November

Quite unexpectedly, I had an interesting dilemma surrounding the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls days this year. Still grieving over the death of my beloved friend four months ago, I found this annual call to pray for the dead somewhat conflicting... how could I pray for the repose of someone when I still have not fully accepted the fact of his unexpected death?

In this, as in all experiences, it is true that the journey of life and the state of our individual inner emotional landscape deeply affects how we experience the communal celebration of the liturgical year. As the year is marked by any given feast, we are never the same people we were the year before at this time. Nor will we be the same next year. We hear the Mass readings in the emotional space we are in - and we hear, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what God means for us to hear at this point on our journey.

Yes, I know this and I trust it to be true. So, all that I can do is walk through this November, still arguing with God over this loss, and know that next year I will be in a different space. The experience of this portion of the litugical year this time next year will be unique to where I am in the process of letting go of my beloved dead.

At Mass, we should never forget that the Assembly is not simply a corporate entity, but individuals, each with a unique story they bring with them. Among the gathered are many in the midst of their own struggles with faith and life issues. Anything we read, say or sing resonates with each individual according to their state of life. While we are, for that hour, One Body, we are many hearts, each listening to the Spirit in his or her own way. Each called to offer their struggles, with the bread and wine, to be transformed.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis cum Sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es. Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Evangelizing is Your Liturgy?

How evangelizing is the Mass at your parish? Since Mass is the primary contact we have with most of our adults, it is a prime opportunity to form the assembly about what it means to be Catholic and about the mission of the Church. In short, it is an opportunity to reinforce their identity as disciples of Jesus Christ.

It's sometimes easy to dismiss the frequent attitude that some people (especially the young) express - that they don't like coming to Mass because it's boring and they don't "get anything out of it." Certainly, one response is to ask what they contributed to the Mass (how much did they participate?) but that is not always the only issue. How are members of the assembly enabled to participate? How does the community assist them? How formative is your ritual experience? And what about easily available catechetical opportunities (for example, what materials do you make available for them to reflect on the lectionary readings before or after Mass?)

In preparing for the Catholics Come Home initiative in our area - high-quality commercials to draw people back to the church which will be airing in December-January, I have not only been gathering resources to help parishes serve the people who may return to the Church, but items that will assist parishes to evaluate themselves so they can be the best they can be.

One of my favorite checklists is from Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association (PNCEA) - it's called "Expressing Our Love for Christ: Full and Active Participation in the Mass Checklist for Leaders" and I have it posted on our website at This tool helps parishes look at their liturgy, from gathering to sending forth, through the lens of evangelization.

Take a look - and think about what goes on at YOUR parish every weekend. There's always room for improvement.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

CCC Paragraph 901 - Offering it Up

Had yet another opportunity to mention my favorite paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church the other day: 901, under "The participation of lay people in Christ's priestly office."

Think what a difference it might make in the Church if more people realized that if, as the priest is consecrating the gifts of bread and wine, they offer to God their life, with all its work and activities, successes and even failures and suffering (if these are "patiently born") their offering becomes a spiritual sacrifice that mingles with the bread and wine and makes it possible for their lives to be come holy actions of worship that "consecrate the world itself to God."

In other words, if we offer up our lives, with all their stuff, good and bad, that offering becomes part of the economy of grace, transformed by our faith in Christ. As we go forth into the world, Christ-like, our every action, now sanctified, is a form of praise and worship - a celebration of what it is to be human but always connected to the divine.

So, our offering up of ourselves at Mass makes both us and the world more holy. When were they going to tell us we had that kind of power?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Darkness, judgment & the end of the church year

Musing again on this dark, cold rainy October night What weather could be more fitting for these final weeks of the Church Year? There is something about this time each year between September and Christ the King. We hear readings which mirror the fading year - readings that remind us there will be an end time and judgment, a harvest of souls... Soon, in November, we will remember the souls of the departed. Here is truly where Church Year and physical season intersect to create layers of meaning.

I recently had the opportunity to record the proclamation of the Gospel of the day for this coming Monday to be a part of the morning prayer for the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association's online evangelization conference next week, Proclaiming Christ It is the parable of the man whose farming business was going so well that he decided to build more barns to contain his harvests and possessions, smugly storing up his good things. Yet, God declares him a fool and demands his life, asking him what good his things are in the face of death. And Jesus reminds us that instead of earthly treasure, we should be rich in the things that are important to God.

Interesting that for us, at this time of year in America, farms are literally in the harvest-time. Interesting too, that we have watched, over the past months of economic crisis, people being forced to come to grips with what is really important in life. Yes, there will be, for each of us, an end, a time to let go, whether we are ready or not. (I know the reality of this even more strongly now as I work through challenges of sorting through mountains of possessions left behind by someone close to me who was very tied to his many collections...)

So, what are the things that are important to God that we can claim as our "possessions"? And how do we make them our priorities in a world focused on "getting and spending?"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is Liturgical Ministry Accessible AND Acceptable in Your Community?

As I finalize plans for this year's Bishop's Mass With Persons With Disabilities, a responsibility of our office for the last 21 years, I am moved to reflect on the role of persons with disabilities in liturgical ministry in the average parish.

Have you ever experienced a blind lector reading in Braille? A deaf person signing and voicing a talk after Communion? How about receiving Eucharist from an Extraordinary Minister of Communion in a wheelchair? Does that even happen at your parish? Perhaps, if you don't see them, you think there are no people like that called to ministry in your community. Advocates for those with disabilities would challenge that. Perhaps those with disabilities just don't feel invited or accepted - and maybe the architecture of your worship space sets expectations that are off-putting. (A raised platform for the sanctuary with no ramp, for example.)

What are the barriers to persons with disabilities having a perception that they COULD participate in a ministry in your parish church - both physical and psychological? Most parishes are not like one in our diocese which was specifically built with accessibility to ministries in mind - the ambo raises and lowers to accomodate persons of differing size, and even in wheelchairs. The sanctuary is at the bottom center level, with no steps. Most of all, there is a climate of acceptance. Young people with Down Syndrome read and function as altar servers and more. This parish has truly learned the disability advocate mantra about the dignity of those with disabilities: "First, see the person, then the disability."

A recent series of webinars on liturgical accessibility from National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities highlighted the situations that prevent or make possible participation by all. Take a look at and (scroll down to bottom of page to download transcripts or view recordings.)

So, back to the questions above about "have you ever experienced...?" On Sunday, October 11 at 11 a.m. at our Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet, we will experience all of those things. Persons with disabilities of all types will take their rightful places, celebrating the Eucharist with the Bishop and the community of the Diocese of Joliet. For one hour, we will truly celebrate what the Bishops said in their 1978 Pastoral on Disabilities - "we are one flock that has one shepherd."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Planning liturgy for our life in the world

Last night our (bilingual) parish Liturgy Planning Committee met to look at an overall plan for Advent. Our conversation began with sharing how the current climate of rudeness, incivility, anger, and arrogance that has seemingly swept our nation in recent weeks paints an even-darker-than-usual-picture as we approach the end of the Church Year. (Kanye West grabbing the microphone at the awards, Michael Jordan badmouthing at his induction into the H of F, a US Representative yelling out that the President is a liar, and more.)

While our evening of brainstorming through the readings surfaced many possibilities for a response (many of them rooted in the behavioral prescriptions in the second readings - about how we are to be ready, pure and blameless when Christ comes again) we adjourned to ruminate until October in hopes of putting something "final" together by that time.

It came to me that liturgy planning for each season is not only for the current cycle of readings, for the time of the year, but also for responding to the signs of the times. In these times of egomaniacal rudeness, of raised fists at rallies and parents who are phobic that a president might "indoctrinate' their school-age children by speaking to them, with whispered warnings about racism, an economic downturn that is stressing and depressing... these are indeed the times that try our souls... the true signs that we are, and have been since the beginning of the life of the Church, in tribulation.

Advent this year comes, as always, in a dark, dangerous time. While we wait for the light of Christ to enliven us, the question is what do we do in the meantime and how do we do it in the dark?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fall Ordinary Time

In these waning days of summer, as we approach autumn, we continue to hear Gospels focusing on the teachings of Jesus. They are leading up to those final weeks of the liturgical year in November, when we will hear about last things and judgment.

When I teach people about the liturgical year, I often explain to them that Ordinary Time is when we are in storytelling mode: less about the narrative of Jesus's life and more about the ways he showed us what his mission was, and through what he did and said, about the kind of people he wants us to become. In that case, it's only fitting that the liturgical color of the season is green... symbolizing the season of growth in understanding of our discipleship in Christ.

During these next two months, the shade of green displayed in liturgical environments should perhaps deepen, "ripening" with the natural season, along with our growing understanding of what Jesus is calling us to do. When the end of the liturgical year, with its heavy imagery of harvest time comes - when we speak of the time when our souls will be "harvested" and gathered into God's presence, we will, in effect, step out of the green, growing time of our life, into the deep purple stillness of Advent, when we contemplate the Christ who was, who is, and who, at the end of time, shall be.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"All my thoughts are slow and brown..."

Over the past two months, as I continue to grieve the major loss in my life and reconfigure the contours and rituals of my own existence, I have occasionally turned to Edna St. Vincent Millay and the poetry of grief. Here is part of her poem "Sorrow" -

"People dress and go to town
I sit in my chair.
All my thoughts are slow and brown:
Standing up or sitting down
Little matters, or what gown
Or what shoes I wear."

Grieving the untimely death of a loved one can put one into the very depth of Paschal Mystery... that place deep within the tomb when no light yet creeps in. I have always said that when someone is in the middle of it, you cannot tell them of future light in a way that is meaningful to them. To be sure, there is comfort in hands to hold, in hugs, in shared tears and in good listeners. There is comfort in the liturgy of the Mass, while at the same time I am experiencing the urge to scream at God and demand to know the "why?" of this seeming betrayal.

This is especially true when the Word proclaimed begs me to argue with it. (Why when my "poor one" cried out, did God not deliver him? Or, more to the point, why did his deliverance from all his fears have to be into the arms of death?)

Worshiping God in the midst of grief has been a huge challenge - stretching me out of my self and into the public prayer. Asking me to praise and thank a God with whom I want to argue. It is a very human place to be: knowing on one level that God loves me, at the same time I am reluctant to agree to God's apparently revised plan for me and say "Thy will be done."

This all causes me to ask: how many people in our pews are in deep personal struggle? Does their presence at liturgy signify their acceptance of God's will, or does it merely represent their assent to the struggle? How does how well we celebrate as a community help them frame their struggle in terms of the presence and action of God in their lives? Is the ritual comforting to them or, like me, does it instead pour purifying but painful salt into raw wounds? Questions. No answers....

Friday, August 21, 2009

Catechizing from the Rites

Yesterday, we had a workshop with Sr. Catherine (Kate) Dooley, OP - a veteran catechist and writer whose passion is liturgical catechesis. She spoke, in part, on the importance of using the full resources of the rites when catechizing children and adults.

Specifically, she referred to the minor rituals in the back of the Rite of Penance, which she showed us how to use in prayer to help people of all ages develop a way to examine their consciences.

It occurred to me after hearing that - how many catechetical leaders and catechists are preparing people for sacraments without ever having read through the ritual books for those sacraments? I suspect this is true for the vast majority! If we don't read about the intention of the sacraments, and know about the underlying theology behind them, how can we know if we are preparing people well? How do we know what resources we are missing by not being familiar with the rite and its accompanying material?

And, more to the point, why do we trust textbook authors and publishers to do this thinking for us? Programs for First Communion and First Reconciliation, as well as Confirmation, vary widely in methodology and focus. A few do catechize at least sometimes from the rite itself, but that is the exception and not the rule. In the case of one Confirmation program that has this focus, the response I got in reviews from parish directors of religious education was largely negative, because this approach was not familiar.

Certainly something to think about. The Rites and their accompanying materials are not just for the celebrations, they are not just for the presiders, but they are also essential for those who are catechizing people in preparation for them. It behooves us to be familiar with them, and not just withthe textbooks that sometimes rely on them.

Apologies for lack of posts

I apologize for the dry period in blogging - grieving has been a somewhat debilitating process... my mind is only just beginning to grasp higher-level concepts again!

Monday, July 20, 2009

USCCB Passes All 4 Pending Items for Roman Missal Translation

Well, the good news is that the mail-in votes are now in and counted and all four items that the USCCB failed to approve at their June meeting have now passed. That is certainly an indication that the new translation will move forward... inching slowly toward a recognitio from Rome.

It's interesting to see the process, the progress and the occasional substantial minority opposition from some. See for the USCCB news release and the voting numbers.

Yes, whether we agree with this or not, it seems inevitable that we will have those new tranlations!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More on Liturgy and Grieving

It has been two weeks since the person I loved most died, and I have been the role liturgy and ritual are playing in the grieving process.

Mass the first weekend after the burial was difficult, bcause even though I am a seasoned choir singer and cantor, it's hard to praise the Lord when you do not understand why something devastating has happened in your life. Words in several songs brought me to tears. This last weekend was better - I was "drafted" when the scheduled cantor did not show up, and made it through with almost my usual degree of energy, only losing it on the final verse of the communion song, Bob Hurd's "Ubi Caritas" where the saints in heaven gather to sing praise.

Today, in comforting someone who was also a close friend of the deceased who is not Catholic, I witnessed to the power of the funeral liturgy. I told her "The reason I did not cry much during the liturgy at the funeral home and at the cemetery was because even though it was not quite all according to the book (the priest got a little mixed up a few times) it WAS liturgy - and there is comfort in the ritual for us Catholics. It grounds us and gives us a familiar place to go when life gets painful..."

Have you found the liturgy a "familiar place" to go when all else in your life is chaos? What has that meant for you at the time, and in later reflection on the experience? (OK, let's do mystagogy here!)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The New Encyclical is News, But Did You Read "Sacramentum Caritas"?

The internet is certainly alive these days with comments about Caritas in Veritate, the Pope's latest encyclical on Social Justice. Opinions certainly vary - and you can read many.

As part of my background preparation for our Diocesan Year of the Eucharist, I just finished a close reading of the Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritas and found it to be a really great document on the Eucharist. It is very clear, strong and readable. You can't miss his message. Pope Benedict certainly has set an agenda in this document - calling for focused catechesis of the faithful on the Eucharist, improvement in preaching, and a general sense of the connection between Eucharist and the rest of life. Find it on the web at

A couple of items struck me most powerfully: his statement that just because a person physically shows up at Mass, does not mean he or she necessarily has the right to receive Eucharist. Benedict calls for an examination of life, a suitable, penitent disposition - and says we should not assume it. That's news to most people. For those raised with a sense of "obligation" as one of the prime motivators for Mass attendance, most people probably assume if they show up, they get the good stuff, whether or not they participate, whether or not they prepare themselves in a meaningful way. This is not their fault - catechesis has failed to emphasize the importance of examining one's life, and the failure of most adult Catholics to celebrate the Rite of Penance points also to this insufficiency.

Benedict also points to the importance of a coherent life, where people are conformed to the Body of Christ in all they do throughout the week. The people we are on Sunday should be the people we are the rest of the week. He also seconds JP II's call for a renewed sense of the sacredness of Sunday, and he deals at least briefly with the cultural challenges to the Sabbath concept.

Certainly, both of these are important points to make with the parents of children receiving First Eucharist, or adults preparing for their first reception of the sacrament. Catechetical leaders would be well-served by a reading of this document.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ritual, even when imperfect, has power to comfort

Just celebrated the funeral of my dearest and most loved friend, and even though the grief is still raw, I have to admit - the liturgy (a Word service followed by the Rite of Commital at the cemetery) was a refuge of peace for me... that lasted pretty much the rest of the day.

The priest was an older man, rather old-fashioned, and a bit forgetful, but very sweet and sincere, and he knew the deceased from his attendance at Mass at that church for the last few years. He messed up a few times during the Word service, forgot I had already sung a psalm and did a second one, started to comment and homilize, then must have remembered he had not read the Gospel. He sprinkled in two rounds of Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for good measure... really, by liturgist's standards, this was just shy of disaster - but it was sincere in its intent, and that covered a multitude of indiscretions.

Even though burying Jim was very hard, the Rite of Committal seemed fittingly dignified, and we all left in quietude, not tears, even the non-Catholics.

What is it about ritual that has this great power to comfort? The gathering of friends, the proclamation of the Word, the prayer, and the community joining in song... all of this leads us from that place of sorrow to a timeless place where even sorrow no longer seems to matter.

I had chosen to sing the familiar "Shepherd Me, O God" as the psalm largely because it is generic, and because I knew it so well that I felt I could actually get through it despite my sorrow at losing this person. Because that song is so much a part of my past experiences of funerals, it seemed fitting and it worked. Music, too, is a big part of that powerful ritual experience. I may not be able to hum the secular love songs that were special to me and my friend without tears yet, but I still can sing to the Lord in my friend's name without quavering. Ask me again why I love being Catholic!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Easter Triduum as a Graced Experience

Check out this moving and simple multimedia presentation from Florida Catholic on the Easter Triduum:

This is certainly a moving tribute to the power of technology - the slide show says so much about who we are as Catholics and what is important to us.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What if we looked at our worship as a real dialog?

Thumbing through a stack of vintage Worship magazines I inherited and ran across a statement in an article from March 1989 by Michael Skelley on Karl Rahner's idea of worship:

"The unceasing wonder of worship is that it is a dialogical relationship with the absolute mystery; an event in which we are graciously addressed by God and in turn, gratefully respond to Him." He goes on to discuss Rahner's idea of openness to God, and that our ongoing daily relationship to God is what we bring to our worship.

So, what if we took that seriously? I think most people recognize that in the liturgy of the Mass, the assembly is sometimes in dialog with the presider. They would realize that both the assembly and the presider frequently lift our voices in prayer and song to God. But, when does God address us? And, are most members of the assembly conscious of that?

Rahner would say that God is always speaking to us in our everyday life, so in our very gathering for Mass, we are responding to that ongoing dialog. Also, in the readings - through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are hearing the Word of God, which God told us never goes forth from his mouth without effect. (See the Introduction to the Revised Lectionary for Mass, Section 9, for more on this process .) Certainly, in the Eucharistic Prayer, especially during the Words of Institution, we hear Christ addressing not only his friends gathered at that first table, but us, gathered at this celebration. And there is the unspoken Word - Christ, whom we receive and are asked to embody and become like when we receive the Eucharist.

Is there more wordless communication from God? Certainly. God speaks to us through the presence of the community, through the presence of the presider, through the familiar rhythm of human ritual that enfolds us, taking us out of our daily sense of time and for that one hour or so, transporting us to the heavenly banquet, among the Communion of Saints - in God's time.

Given all this, should our response not be whole-hearted and genuine? Should our participation in the liturgy not be with our whole heart, mind and being?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Moving the Liturgical Catechesis Supplies

Well, as I finished up packing at the end of last week and started unpacking a few boxes on Friday in the new office, I have to admit - liturgical catechesis does not travel light! Seasonal fabric swatches and objects, various crosses, candles, Bible stands, pictures and icons, tabletop statues, bowls for water, music CD's... Even when I culled them down to the really good stuff - it was still a lot.

To be sure, I have lots of books too, but the liturgical objects are what felt like a particularly precious cargo. These are the sensory manifestations of the sacred - the building blocks for prayer tables and presentations - the things which connect us visually to a sense of holy ground when we gather as God's people, to pray and to learn together.

A good collection of liturgical objects takes years to build. I have been gathering things I see for years - from stores, donations, and even rescued objects from thrift stores and garage sales (I have found some beautiful crosses and statues that way.) When these objects are combined - a Bible enthroned near a candle and a bowl of water, on a seasonal fabric, enhanced with a seasonal object or two - they evoke the liturgical season without words. They engage the senses in other ways - and teach with immediacy about ritual, appropriateness and hospitality without my ever having to speak.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Light blogging this week...

As we prepare to move our entire office within the next week or two, I am engaged in sorting files, books, etc. left to me by 4 other ministries and my predecessors in my ministry -- I find myself sitting in front of the computer at night, as I facilitate my online seminar, reading the student posts over and over again, trying to make the words sink into my exhausted brain so that I can formulate a response that makes sense.... so please forgive me if the blog is a little spotty over the next few.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Living Enculturation in the Liturgy

We had Confirmation last night at my parish, St. John the Baptist, Joliet, IL. 85 young people celebrated the sacrament. I had the privilege to serve as cantor and guitarist with a small but hardy bilingual choir, and the music director on piano and organ.

While most of the young candidates spoke primarily English, their parents may speak little English, or simply prefer to worship in Spanish, so the entire celebration was bilingual. The level of participation at this Mass was high. The music was pretty singable - some of very familiar from years of sharing these liturgies with the two cultures... and the people sang. (Even with my clumsy "Canta, por favor" -- and I still can't get used to having to not only gesture them in, but to say "Todos!" - that's even harder when playing guitar!)

The language in which we prefer to pray is important - and it says something about the culture our heart identifies with. In the case of a bilingual celebration, the identity is in the unity of the gathered community. Anyone who has attempted to say the "Our Father/Padre Nuestro" at the same time - "each in the language he or she prefers" know that it sounds for that minute or so like we have all ended up at the Tower of Babel. Yet there is a harmony in that conglomerated murmur of voices, blurred together into a wall of sound.

The Spirit was certainly present at that celebration last night, in the reverent joy of those celebrating, no matter which language they prefer to use at worship. This is in no small part due to a certain easiness and acceptance of the whole bilingual thing as a matter of course on the part of the Bishop, the concelebrants, the musicians and the director of religious education. There is simply no question of any big celebration in the community, such as Confirmation, being in one language or the other. It must be in both - all must be made to feel accepted and welcome to the Table of the Lord.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Catechesis and Liturgy: Harmony or Fragmentation?

(Thanks to Leisa Anslinger for pointing out this great article from USCCB for Catechetical Sunday 2009.)

The 2009 theme for Catechetical Sunday, “Catechesis and the Proclamation of the Word,” provides us with a wonderful opportunity to give special attention to the relationship between catechesis and liturgy in our ministry. In the National Directory for Catechesis (NDC), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) describes this relationship: “in the Church’s mission of evangelization, catechesis and Liturgy are intimately connected” (§ 33 [Washington, DC: USCCB, 2005]).
Unfortunately, however, the intimate relationship between catechesis and liturgy is not always evident in our ministry. There has been an unintended but real “disconnect” on the pastoral level between catechesis and liturgy, and between catechists and liturgists. In fact, the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC) identifies this relationship as one of the problematic areas of our ministry in recent years....

Read the rest of this article at

User-Friendly Online RCIA Resources

Hunting around for more online resources for the U Dayton VLCFF "Introduction to Liturgy" course. Here are some good ones.
If you are looking for nice explanatory articles, bulletin inserts, and more about the RCIA to use with team members or the assembly, check out the Diocese of Davenport online Liturgy Library page at
A resource I have used for a while, and find indispensible is the online texts for the basic rites of the RCIA - which you can save and edit to customize for local celebrations, on the Diocese of Fargo, ND site:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Confirmation - It's not Graduation - but...

I was part of an interesting discussion at a recent end-of-the-year luncheon with a group of seasoned directors and coordinators of religious education - about garb for Confirmation. There was the usual rolling of eyes about the skimpiness of the dresses that girls want to wear to the celebration, and the tale of a family who was willing to spend lots of time and money to have their son in sports, but balked at being asked to provide him with a white shirt and tie.

Predictably, several of those present said that's why they use red robes. Then came the challenge question from one who has not used robes - if we tell the kids Confirmation is NOT "graduation" what does it say when they wear robes? (The inference being that the other time they wear robes is graduation).

Now THERE is a question! What if we are reinforcing the connection by using robes? Most dioceses now discourage the use of a "stole" with canidates for Confirmation - either priestly or diagonal one, like the diaconate. Since modesty and dignity of clothing for a formal occasion is now a rather foreign concept to most young people, how can we make a distinction between the robes worn for Confirmation and their graduation robes? And, is red the most appropriate color? Or should it be white?

How can we choose these and other details of the celebration of the Rite of Confirmation to help young people understand that this marks a beginning - of life fully in the Catholic faith - and not an ending of faith formation?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Liturgy for Dummies - the Missing Resources

Where are the good, current textbooks on liturgy? Struggling over the past few months in a collaboration on the revision of the University of Dayton VLCFF "Introduction to Liturgy" course to find a good up-to-date book on liturgy designed for the average Catholic to use as a textbook. I am talking about the catechist or DRE, or faithful member of the assembly, who has no connection to liturgical ministry.

Much of what is out there is very much out of date. There are good theological books (mostly on the Eucharist) that are more current, a few very nice books on understanding Mass (soon to be out of date when the changes take place), and some great resources for individual liturgical ministries, but the basic general stuff about what liturgy is and about non-Eucharistic celebrations is just not available. There are some great articles, online resources and Catholic Updates, but not books.

One of the best older books, Liturgy with Style and Grace by Gabe Huck and Gerald Chinchar, is out of date, but no longer going to be revised. Mark Searles' Liturgy Made Simple is from 1981. There are others, but they, too are 10 years or so out of date. Perhaps, since we have known for a long time that the Roman Missal text will be changing, authors have been waiting. I do anticipate there will be some good books on the Mass.

However, that still leaves room for resources on general principals - on that "style and grace" - on the meaning and quality of ritual, on liturgical celebration in general. Is it the writers or the publishers who are hanging fire on this one? I wonder. Who, out there, is writing book-length, usable generalist resources on liturgy?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mandating Mass Attendance in Religious Education Programs

Oh my! Recently, we have learned of two parish programs in our diocese that are "mandating" Mass attendance for parents and children. One parish is requiring attendance on Sunday morning - with an hour and a half religious education class to follow. (The question arises whether Saturday Mass is not allowed?) The other parish is going so far as to require not only weekly Mass attendance, but weekly confession! Area parishes around at least one of these programs are reporting a huge influx of inquiries from families from that parish, as they attempt to flee to programs with more reasonable requirements.

With the trend in some few parishes to strong-arm families into attending Mass (we have seen it before with Confirmation youth being mandated to attend and to show proof of attendance) one might well ask if this is an effective tactic. Certainly, Mass attendance is part of who we are as Catholics. It is a duty to attend Mass - but it should be a joyful choice to fulfill this duty, not an obligation with negative consequences in this life rather than the next! Would it not be more effective to institute good adult formation, so that parents understand the Mass better, and are additionally provided with opportunities for personal conversion that can lead them back to a willing regular celebration of the Eucharist? Should we not evangelize about the value of the Eucharist in an inviting way, rather than punching a card at the door of the church?

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Preaching on the Ritual Actions of the Liturgy?

In the most recent issue of America, Edward Foley, O.F.M. CAP, of Catholic Theological Union, has an interesting article on re-thinking the content of the homily. Preview the article here: . He points out that the liturgical documents do not require that the homily always be from or about Scripture, but that as "The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation" (21 & 24) points out, it must be "nourished" by scripture, which is not the same as preaching from a particular text.

Foley quotes # 52 in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy": "By means of the homily, the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text..." and then points out that "sacred text" can be interpreted as not just Scripture, but any text from the ordinary of the Mass. (See also #92 from 2003 "Introduction to the Order of the Mass" which mentions preaching for other "texts and rites of the liturgy."He goes on t o suggest the importance of preaching the liturgy itself and expounds on what we lose by hearing preaching based only on Scripture.

What would change if priests and deacons preached about the Eucharistic prayer texts? Or any of the Mass texts? Would the people not become more familiar with not just the words, but with underlying tradition, theology and meanings of these texts? How might this enrich their understanding of the Mass? How might this be an effective way to catechize the folks about the text changes coming soon?

Now, the question is - are the clergy up to this challenge?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

FDLC Resources on Liturgical Catechesis/ "Our Hearts Were Burning"

If you are not familiar with the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC) Liturgical Cathechesis project site - you will find it is a rich mine of resources on many topics - from children in the liturgy, to liturgy and social justice. The site, in development since 2003, is an effort to provide links to great articles and basic documents about many areas of the liturgy.

Interestingly, the documents list on the site includes a link to "Our Hearts Were Burning" - the document on Adult Faith Formation for the United States. What does OHWB say about liturgical catechesis? It gives what is basically a scope and sequence of expected competencies, using Bloom's Taxonomy type verbs:

§ 92 § 2) Liturgical Life(See the Catechism, nos. 1066-1690; General Directory for Catechesis, nos. 84-85, 87.)
Understand, live, and bear witness to the paschal mystery, celebrated and communicated through the sacramental life of the Church.
Learn and embrace in one's life church doctrine on the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
Acquire the spirituality, skills, and habits of full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy, especially the eucharistic liturgy.
Value the dignity of the baptismal priesthood and of the ordained priesthood and their respective roles in liturgical celebration and Christian mission.
Appreciate and appropriately participate in the Church's daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, and learn to pray the psalms, "an essential and permanent element of the prayer of the Church."

How well have we helped adults in our parishes reach these levels of competency about the liturgy? I would say minimally - and as to number 4 - the Liturgy of the Hours, downright poorly. Obviously, there is much work to do. As a church, we certainly need good strategies for reaching adults with catechesis on the liturgy.

Worshiping in a Bi-lingual Community

Over the past 7 years, I have worshiped at St. John the Baptist, Joliet, IL - a community in which I am not a member of the dominant culture. With approximately 75% Hispanic parish members, St. John's has faced the challenges of cultural transition over the last 15 -20 years as we embrace (some not always happily) the immigrant population. The former St. John's German Catholic Church, in inner-city Joliet, has perhaps had more success integrating the two cultures in the liturgy than almost any other area of parish life. While we may struggle at times in parish administration to honor the presence of all, that is almost never a problem in the liturgy.

We recently celebrated the liturgies of the Easter Triduum, as has been our custom for some years, mostly as bi-lingual experiences. (Good Friday, because it is primarily text-driven, was celebrated separately.) Thursday and Saturday were a blend of alternated readings, a few repetitions, and lots of decent bi-lingual music. For the first time, we proclaimed a bi-lingual Exsultet (setting by Pedro Rubalcava). As one of the two cantors, I had the thrilling experience of helping embody the good news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the language of our two cultures.

While some people say that in a bilingual celebration half of the people lose out half the time, I have not found that to be the case. Instead, I have found my worship experience is richer and more exciting whenever we share languages and musical styles. Before I came to St. John's, I knew almost no Spanish. From the exposure to the language over the years and with one 6-week Spanish for Gringos course, I can now follow along reasonably well. (Besides, there is usually a worship aide or missalette available if really needed.) What I experience is truly the coming together of the entire Body of Christ in worship - and a celebration both of what we have in common as well as our delightful differences.

I have gained far more than I have lost by this experience of worship together with my Hispanic brothers and sisters. Even better than that, has been the experience of participating in the bilingual Liturgy Planning Committee - where everyone's ideas and input are honored, in whichever language - and the result is quite often a team effort that brings the gifts of everyone in the community together. Tonight, we meet to evaluate the Triduum. While I am sure there will be details we will deem necessary to adjust, I am also sure that both cultures will be honored and respected. Where indeed do we share the most common ground? In our liturgy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Food for thought - how will we handle the changes in the Mass?

Just catching up after being gone a few days - and found this post in Jerry Galipeau's blog thought-provoking. He is looking at it from the perspective of a musician and composer, and as a result, the suggestions include things like having people immediately sing rather than say the new texts... not sure yet about that.

I am convinced, after watching how many parishes (my own included) did not make the last round of changes in posture, that nothing will happen or it will happen poorly until the priests step up to the challenge and lead. One of the most important groups to reach with catechesis about the whys and wherefores will be the pastors. If they can explain it, model it, and expect it, the people will catch on. If, on the other hand, they feel the changes are silly or cannot explain them well, people may well pick the path of least resistance and continue with the practices they have been familiar with for years.

So, who will instruct the clergy? Clearly it is the responsibility of the local bishop. It will be interesting to see how well this plays out across the country.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Helping the Assembly Prepare for Sunday Liturgy

Often it is recommended that all members of the Assembly at Mass prepare themselves beforehand by studying and praying the readings. For that to happen, parishes need to provide or recommend resources for studying the readings. Although there are many good printed resources, such as LTP's annual At Home With the Word, or magazines like The Word Among Us, it may be time to recommend places adults can go on the web (besides the obvious USCCB Sunday reading site).

The Sunday Website of the Center for Liturgy at St. Louis University, is a ministry of the St Louis Jesuits. This site features a high quality page for each Sunday of the year, complete with links to texts of the readings, a short prayer based on the gospel, a spirituality section that includes poems, reflections and more. There is even a section for SLU student reflections. These are great resources for using with adults at parish meetings, to recommend to people to use at home, etc. Take a look!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Getting ready for the changes in the Mass...

Even though implementation of the new Mass texts is not set to happen until November, 2010, the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship has posted two versions of a Study Edition of the new text which received recognitio in June, 2008 - a regular one and one with annotations from the scriptural sources - along with new versions of the Eucharistic Prayer and some formational materials (scroll down the page to find them) This can all be found at Cardinal Arinze's letter states that the texts are posted so that preparations can begin for implementation - new musical settings, catechetical materials, etc.

Our office (Religious Education) has received numerous requests from catechetical leaders for materials to form people. There already are some good things on the USCCB page, but more local ones will certainly be coming.

What might be good to make continuously available to people in parishes now is the 10 Questions on the Revised Translation of the Ordo Missae from the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia - also available in Spanish. I'd recommend putting it in the bulletin once, if a parish has not already done so - and than having it in the back of church.

The two formation documents Changes in the Parts of the Priest in the Revised Order of the Mass and Changes in the Parts of the People in the Revised Order of the Mass would be good to give to liturgy committees to study beginning in the fall of 2009.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Forming Catholic Adults About Devotions

My experiences over the past year in facilitating the University of Dayton VLCFF course on liturgy revealed an important truth - the average Catholic often does not understand the difference between a communal recitation of a private devotion (the Rosary or Stations of the Cross, for example) and the public celebration of the liturgical rites of the Church (the Mass, sacraments, Liturgy of the Hours).

When the USCCB issued, in 2003, their document Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and Answers, it was largely ignored. The Bishops obviously had a reason to put this document out - to clarify that devotions are secondary to the liturgy. They quote the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines (December 2001), no. 50: "Since the liturgy is the center of the life of the Church, popular devotions should never be portrayed as equal to the liturgy, nor can they adequately substitute for the liturgy."

The bishops admit that we cannot always be engaged in the liturgy and there is certainly an appropriate place for piety and devotional practices outside of liturgical celebrations. They just ask for these to be put into proper perspective. They cite the example of novenas inserted into the Mass. There are indeed some parish communities that have added in devotions at some point in the Mass as kind of a customized signature in their celebration. Far from playing up the uniqueness of the community, these practices divert and diffuse the flow of the Mass. In fact, these practices may confuse and unfocus the celebration, particularly when they occur between reception of the Eucharist and the dismissal.

In a church where popular devotions and whether one participates in them has sometimes become a divisive issue (I have experienced people who believe that if you don't participate in the same devotions that they do, you are not a "real" Catholic) I am heartened that there are official guidelines. Now, how can we let people know about them?