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.