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?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What's in an experience?

Near the end of April, we had a Lead Us to the Water event in our diocese, sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, with ValLimar Jansen and Tom Kendzia. This was billed as a day... "To experience the power of using ritual as the basis for sacramental catechesis; to look at how the quality of our liturgical life shapes the work of catechesis; to explore practical ways to prepare, experience and break open the prayer life of the commmunity: to model how catechesis is rooted in the sacraments of initiation and the teachings of Christ."

The day was almost totally experiential - they led us through quality song, story and ritual to an understanding that if we step out fearlessly to present our very best - our best proclamation, dramatic and musical skills, we can turn what might be mundane celebrations and prayer experiences into powerful ones.

How many times have YOU experienced gatherings where the quality of the story and song was so high that you were lifted out of the realm of the ordinary? What difference do well-chosen music, well and enthusiastically performed, well-proclaimed story and large-scale liturgical symbols and gestures make in the assembly's ability to engage in full, conscious and active participation in the celebration? What would be needed in your parish to make this happen?

Everything has a beginning...

Where to begin? Life has a way of throwing things my way - God must think he's awfully funny about now! I just got back from the NCCL Conference in Dearborn, Michigan. Had planned to hear a variety of presentations, but somehow I found myself drawn to more of the technology sessions than I had originally scheduled. Heard several presenters talk about blogging and thought - well, maybe. This afternoon, we had a local (previously scheduled) tech and ministry workshop... and in a few minutes I had created this blog. So, I might as well use it!

While I am not unique in this, I believe that I have been led through a variety of experiences for a particular purpose - and that is, as a person who has ministered in both liturgy and catechesis, I bring a perspective that favors neither one nor the other, but rather, often has given them an opportunity to come together. In this space, I will be sharing thoughts, resources, ideas and asking for your input. Come and journey with me!