Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Implementing the New Missal Translation: Attitude is All

The patter on the internet regarding the new Roman Missal has settled down a bit after the initial dismay of some when the leaked texts appeared to be so entirely contrary to the stated principles of translation and, in many places, of good English. One commentator even referred to it as "the wretched received text." So, as we go forward, with the anticipated release of the full text in the early spring, do we implement the new Missal - with the strong possibility that much of the language is both off-putting and awkward - with resignation or with enthusiasm? 

One bishop has definitely chosen enthusiasm.  Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Center, has published a short pastoral letter, Belong More Deeply and put up this great video for youth and young adults:

Gotta give him credit - he sells it!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Diving into Advent - How Deep Can You Go?

I have known for a long time that Advent should not be something to dip one's toe into with the proverbial "cautious optimism." Instead, it invites us to take a leap of faith and dive in head-first. On the feast of Christ the King last weekend, we took a long look into the future, and today on the First Sunday of Advent, we simultaneously look back 2,000 years toward that first Christmas, and ahead to the End-Times -- while actually living in our own physical present.

The three comings of Christ in Advent (St. Bernard of Clairvaux) - in the manger as a baby, at the end of time as the King/Judge, and in our hearts here in our lifetime make it necessary for us to immerse ourselves in "God's time" - kairos - that three-fold reality that bends our human perception of time. It's fitting, really, because as we begin yet one more round of the Church Year, we need to be reminded that the Liturgical Year is the human equivalent of  "God's Time" - or as close as we can experience it in our human lifetime.

The celebrant at  Mass at my parish this weekend put it simply - Advent is an opportunity to "start again" - to try one more time to do everything in our life "better."  More than that, I see it as an opportunity to become "better" - to enter more deeply into conversion - to walk with Christ through His year... and become more like him - in HIS time, not ours.  It is an acknowledgment that our time is really His. As such, it represents an opportunity to reconnect with Jesus' teachings - what it means to be "of" the Reign of God ("Kingdom") and not of the world - what it means to treat others in such a way as to be counted among the sheep and not the goats at the Last Judgment (Matthew 25).  It is a time to prepare the way of the Lord by doing our level best to live worthily of what he asked.

The conventional method to is to live a moral life, to treat others well as we encounter them, and to live in piety and charity. The fully-immersed Christian who dives into Advent, head-first, heedless of self and caution, goes even deeper. When Jesus says "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" he does not merely imply these basics.  The "rich young man" of Luke 18 was told - yes - live the Commandments, by all means -- but then do more. Give up everything for the poor and follow Jesus. Over and over, Jesus invites us to put our hand to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62)- to do the work of justice, to deny ourselves, and to serve without counting the cost. That is the Way of Jesus - risking everything for the Gospel message. It is the "hidden" coming of Christ that St. Bernard describes that comes from doing God's Word. It is only when we do that fully that we will receive consolation, he says.

So, bottom line - Advent and the new Liturgical Year represent another chance to enter fully the scary challenge to trust God enough to drop our needs for security, control and predictability in life in favor of challenge, uncertainty and the possibility of losing our lives in order to gain them.To be ready for the Lord's return is to choose to do all we can possibly do at any given moment, taking into consideration who we are, where we are on our spiritual journey, what our gifts and talents are, and what life-situation we find ourselves in.

How deep will YOU go this year? Toe-dip again? Will you, like many of us, start out with good intentions, but slow down and return to "normal" eventually?  Admittedly, this is not an easy challenge - but it is one we have to face every year at this time of new beginning.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looking Behind, Within and Ahead With Joyful Hope

Busy time of year, as the Church Year winds down. Tonight, after serving as song-leader for one of our parish religious education Masses, I was part of our parish liturgy planning committee's final preparations for Advent and Christmas.  A discussion we had about our seasonal focus led me to some more profound thoughts about liturgical time.

The conundrum of Advent is that we wait, all the while knowing full well the promise has already been fulfilled -that we have already been set free from sin and death.  Our hope is celebrated in the memory of what was, but also in what is and will be (the three comings of Christ in Advent - in the manger, in our hearts, and at the end of time.)  Certainly this is complex. As Christians, we know "the rest of the story" and that should color Advent as a period of reflection on the meaning of "being ready" for Jesus then, now and in the future.

When we get to the Christmas season, the dynamic takes on a particular urgency: Incarnation means we, as the spiritual descendents of those who encountered the Living God in the flesh are called to be human according the example of Jesus. The celebration is not so much for the coming of the Baby Jesus, but for the descent of God, who has come to walk on earth with us, taking on flesh to experience human life, frailty and ultimately, Paschal Mystery. We celebrate, in Incarnation, the seeds of  Cross and Resurrection. In the already-not-yet of liturgical time, we encounter the Christ who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow - whom we cannot understand in human terms... and we are asked to emulate him - to be disciples willing to do what Jesus did - to die to self in order to conform to God's will - and to live the call to help build the Reign of God by compassionately caring for our less-fortunate brothers and sisters.

Now, the largest conundrum of them all: how to help people understand this in a culture drenched in secularism and consumerism, where the primary narrative of Advent/Christmas has been effectively erased from the public forum. Nativity scenes and Christmas carols have been replaced with Santa, elves, reindeer and shopping. Our traditional sacred celebration of these seasons can seem arcane to children and youth attending public schools where holiday songs have replaced sacred carols and whose wish lists consist of gifts costing hundreds of dollars. In my experience, many young people actually have not heard the full story of the birth of Jesus - or at least they have not put the pieces they have heard together.

Many adults, in their insatiable search for "the perfect" Christmas and just the right gifts, meals and other Christmas trappings, may be so focused on those details there is little room to consider any higher spiritual meaning to the season. If their family has a tradition of going to church, they do so, but often as a habit. That's why we have the "Chr-Easters"- those who only attend on Christmas and Easter - as part of their family ritual for celebrating the "holidays."

Our challenge as catechists is to keep the story of Incarnation and its meaning alive in a culture trying its level best to deny it. Certainly when those pews are more full at Christmas-time, parish leaders and clergy have an opportunity to extend hospitality and evangelize. However, I believe the greatest way we evangelize is through our own personal witness.  We need to embody the Christ we celebrate at Christmas - to become living disciples actively engaged in fulfilling the promise of the Incarnation to change the world for the better by infusing it with what God desires for us - a world of peace, justice and plenty for all people.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Roman Missal - Idealism vs Realism

As I mentioned in my last post, I just spent two days in Decatur, Illinois,at the Diocese of Springfield Adult Enrichment Conference, where the theme, "Entering the Mystery, Renewing the People" was designed in part as a launch for the preparation for implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. The two main speakers, Fr. Richard Fragomeni, and Fr. Paul Turner put a good public face, for the most part, on what has become a mystery in itself: the current status of the texts, which have still not been fully returned to the U.S. Bishops, and around which controversy continues to swirl.

Both men were largely positive, but Fr. Fragomeni was markedly so, in large session at least. He continued to use the word "opportunity" when referring to the coming of the new translation of the Mass texts. It will be, he indicated, repeatedly, an opportunity to renew people's understanding of the Mass.  He admitted that some of the English translation, as we know of it, will be clumsy, contain bad English grammar, and may pose comprehension problems for both priests and people, but said that we will get through the implementation period and people will be using the new words in a fairly short time.  He also indicated he thinks that we will no doubt do this again in 40 years, so really there is nothing to stress about. He said he has reached an attitude of willingness to let the process happen, whatever it might be.

Fr. Fragomeni stressed repeatedly, however, that if the period of implementation is merely seen as being about changing words, we will lose a tremendous opportunity to renew people's understanding of the mystery of the Mass.  He urged us to use the texts to engage people in mystagogical reflection, breaking open symbols to reveal their rich potential to engage the imagination. 

In the Monday breakout session, he urged us to read poetry to cultivate our imaginations. This, he said, would help us develop the skills to look at the new texts. Now, being a scholar of Renaissance poetry myself, I have to admit that this makes sense. Many people in our culture have lost the ability to connect symbolically with language in a way that opens up the imagination. Priests who have a poetic sensibility will be better able to proclaim the new texts - and members of the Assembly who have allowed their experience of language to open up reality will be better able to receive this proclamation.

In contrast to the expansive vision of Fr. Fragomeni, Fr. Paul Turner, an acknowledged expert on the new texts, brought the practical piece.  I attended his session on using the new Missal and learned about structural elements retained and rejected... and that we are going to have to have to recruit stronger altar servers, or as Fr. Turner suggested, put our existing ones on weight training. The new Missal is reportedly 1200 pages... and Rome is requiring that it be published as a single book, despite the size. (!!)

It was mildly distressing to hear confirmed what I had read in the blogosphere that if something (helpful) does not appear in the Latin Missal, it will not be in the English one. This includes indicators for "pointing" the chants of the priest's prayers (letting them know on which words the notes change) and other rubrical helps that we have become accustomed to in our current Sacramentary.  There will be some improvements, to be sure (parish liturgists will no longer have to labor to put the Easter Vigil texts together by hand to work around the outdated order that predates the current Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, for instance.)

Fr. Turner, in his calmer, more sanguine manner, occasionally engaged in a bit of dry humor about the reported difficulties with the text, but it was in his closing talk that he indicated the full level of his frustration. He listed 12 objections to the current text, and pretty much debunked most of them, or at least softened them, but at the end he did indicate that the level of hysteria in the blogosphere and the reports of "10,000 changes" to the received text sent to Rome is daunting.  He cited a poor process, during which ICEL members never met or communicated with Vox Clara members, and more. In the end, however, he seemed to indicate that this, too, shall pass.  This was what both speakers brought, and I guess that is the best attitude to take toward the whole thing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Mystery" - a Two-Day Immersion

Just back from the Diocese of Springfield (Illinois) Adult Enrichment Conference, where the theme was "Entering the Mystery, Renewing the People" - primarily a liturgical catechesis experience designed as anticipation for the upcoming Third Edition of the Roman Missal. The conference featured a variety of speakers, but I went mostly to hear Fr. Richard Fragomeni and Fr. Paul Turner (more on his sessions on the new Roman Missal in a later post).  What I experienced was an immersion into the concept of "mystery."

Fr.  Fragomeni, well known for his extraordinary skill in liturgical catechesis, explored the concepts of mystery and imagination from a Catholic point of view - in his two-part keynote and breakout sessions. In his typically expansive and enthusiastic style, he  defined "mystery" as "a beauty of infinite comprehensibility" - and something that we do not have to enter... because we are totally immersed in it from the moment we are conceived. He said we can never be outside of mystery, unless we consciously reject it - and that is the definition of Hell (according to St. Therese of Liseux) . Therefore, he suggested, we "celebrate" rather than enter mystery.

He explained  the proof that we and mystery are inseparable consists of our ability to express 4 elements - our humility (we realize that everything, including ourselves, is passing)  generosity (giving without counting the cost) hospitality (when host is so generous you don't feel like a guest) and bedazzlement (a perpetual state of wonder).   This, he contends, is what it is to be the Church, which in effect becomes an 8th sacrament - a celebration of God's presence in us.

Two other speakers I heard took up the challenge to explore "mystery."  Susan Grenough related it to an exploration of symbol, silence and science (fractals, partical physics...) and modeled how to use these to involve learners.  Jo Ann Paradise talked about the ultimate mystery, the Trinity, as a relational dynamic, giving examples of theological analogies and models throughout the ages. (Augustine, for example, saw fire as a model of the Trinity: the Father is the flame, the Son is the light, and the Spirit is the warmth - three attributes of one unity.)

All of this meant that the conference experience on that level, at least, was uplifting and renewing. The sessions on the underlying reason for the subject, the new Roman Missal, both participated in that hope-filled and positive sense of mystery and an equal measure of frustration (mostly unspoken, but occasionally admitted..more later on that score.)  It's good to be back to reality after two days of metaphysical exploration - and somewhat frustrating... but that's life.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Liturgical Catechesis: Saints and Sacraments

For Confirmation class tonight, I had them summarize the Sacrament of Penance from last week , and we briefly discussed Anointing of the Sick.  Since it is November and proper to discuss the Saints, I opened, with this group of Hispanic kids, by asking who had done something special over the last few days (the Days of the Dead in Mexico are Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and 2) Sure enough, two students had gone with their families to visit the graves of relatives in cemetaries. 

We talked about remembering the dead, and about the special role of Saints, how people become Saints and all the basics... with stories, questions, etc... and then I told them the story of a modern person on his way to sainthood - a young priest from Mexico, who thought the sacraments were so  important that he defied the government ban by the corrupt president on Catholic celebrations of the Mass and sacraments, and the prohibition against priests, to bring the sacraments to the people.

Blessed Miguel Pro, who was martyred for the faith in 1927, was a brave young man - and certainly a role model. We then watched this powerful short Spanish-language clip which summarizes his entire story, taken from the feature movie Padre Pro:

We then talked about what could make a person give their life for the faith - and I told several short stories of martyrs. I told them of other saints... and of St. Augustine, whose mother, St. Monica, had prayed for his conversion until he finally turned his dissipated life around. I mentioned the classic Butler's Lives of the Saints book... and on that note, I promised more next week...  One young lady was obviously intrigued. She came up after class and asked for the full reference for the book.  Hooked!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sneaky Liturgical Catechesis - A Litany of the Saints Story

I am smiling this morning... on Halloween, thinking of All Saints Day and Novembers past.  Wanted to share my all-time favorite Litany of the Saints moment with you.

A number of years ago, I was serving as Director of Religious Education and Liturgy in a modest-sized parish in a rural town about an hour away from Chicago. From the time I arrived, I had been under intense scrutiny and occasional criticism from one particular family of extremely conservative Catholics. You may know the type - the mother, father and grown children went to every anti-abortion rally in the diocese, wanted me to show the graphic (and not very age-appropriate) videos  "Window to the Womb" and "The Silent Scream" to junior high students, disrupted the communion line as they went fully down to the floor genuflecting, etc. Good, holy people, but more than a little extreme... and very judgmental of others not like them. One of my little weekly jobs, given by my pastor, was to check the vestibule before each weekend to see what literature they had left in the back of church to see if it needed to be removed because it was not charitable in tone, or not current Church teaching.

Now, mind you, I always consciously project the "center of the Church" when I teach or interact with people in my ministry - but for Pete, the father of this family especially, almost everyone else in the Church was a left-wing liberal.  I, as a woman in ministry, was on his list.

From the day I came to the parish, I went out of my way to be kind, to listen with respect and to honor as much of what Pete wanted as I possibly could. Over the first three years, the ice gradually thawed as he learned I was not going to teach heresy. With a twinkle in his eye, he occasionally used to share his favorite inside joke with me that "more people will go to heaven because of Invincible Ignorance than for any other reason."

One evening in November, as we finished up an adult faith formation session on saints as mystics, I had planned a closing prayer, using the Litany of the Saints. Not just any Litany of the Saints, but my favorite contemporary version - by Rory Cooney.   I put on the CD and asked them to just listen.

This version starts out tamely enough, with a typical solemn traditional flavor, but gradually, it becomes apparent that something else is going on, as the tune becomes somehow familiar.  People in the room, including my friend Pete, began to listen more closely, leaning forward a bit.  Suddenly, it became clear, as the cantor, choir and ensemble launch into the jazzy refrain: "When the Saints Go Marching In".  Pete broke into a wide grin, his foot began to tap.  As the ensemble kicked it up a notch, by the second refrain, people began singing along, and Pete began to laugh, as he, too sang with growing gusto. By the time they got to the third round, prettry much everyone in the room, including Pete, was stomping and clapping as well as singing. 

As he departed that night, Pete came up to me and said, slyly. "You know, Joyce, you're all right!"  I went home smiling that night... and I still smile whenever I remember the night I ambushed Pete and the others with this song. Here is the iTunes link, where you can hear a preview or purchase it. You can also sample one of the last verses and chorus at this link on the GIA site - scroll down to "Litany of the Saints, A" click the little speaker icon and give the excerpt, from near the end, a listen... and smile as you envision the saints boogeying their way around heaven.  After all - in any culture, to laugh, stomp, and sing is an expression of joy - and joy is surely the essence of the experience of heaven.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Conversation About the Last Supper and Eucharist with Hispanic Teens

Wednesday's Confirmation class (Eucharist and Mass Part II) went even better than I hoped the kids seemed honestly interested and engaged - they even asked a lot of questions. My plan was liturgical catechesis on the Mass as meal and sacrifice from Scripture.    We sat in a circle and started with the scripture story of the Last Supper from Luke.  Side by side with the Bible, I had them looking at the full text of the Mass, English on one side, Spanish on the other (since they all go to Spanish Mass).

We read the story - and we talked about the events of the Passover as background. We pulled out phrases that were similar in the Last Supper story and matched them to phrases in the Mass.  As we talked through the details of the Passion and connected it to Jesus' sacrifice, they seemed genuinely intrigued by the story.  I found that they did indeed have many of the pieces, but that most of them have never connected them.... and certainly never fully connected them to the Mass. (I think we are going to have a lot of fun when it gets to be Lent and Passiontide - I can really see this group wanting to act out the Stations.)

They learned that those plaques on the wall in church with the crosses (the Stations) are connected to the story of Jesus' last moments, that everything we do in the liturgy of the Eucharist is connected to that story - and I think they finally put some pieces together...  best discussion yet!

I am a bit sad I won't see them next week (have a work commitment and I have gotten my aide to sub for the Sacrament of Penance lesson.)  But we will be back together soon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bringing Media and Evangelization to Disconnected Teens

Just got home from another session with the Confirmandi. Brought along the computer and projector - and after we reviewed last week's lesson about being called by name at baptism and gifted by the Holy Spirit - and loved as unique individual, I showed them one of my favorite short movies:  "Validation"- to help them see that each one of them can make a difference.... and that how we treat one another is important. It's part of their mission to spread the love of God, etc.

By the end, they were all smiling... I think they got it. The discussion was brief, but there was general agreement.

I then moved to the final piece in my plan to help them understand exactly why they are preparing for Confirmation: learning that the purpose of the Sacraments of Initiation is to bring them to the table of the Eucharist for the rest of their lives.  I next showed them a very brief PowerPoint outlining some of the reasons we go to Mass:
  • To celebrate the love of God as the Body of Christ – the community singing and praying as one voice
  • To hear the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts
  • To celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus – his pouring out of his life on the Cross
  • To offer our lives as part of the sacrifice
  • To share the meal at the table of the Lord
  • To become more like Jesus by receiving Eucharist
I then asked how many go to Mass regularly, and how many have not been in a while. Fewer than hald indicated they regularly attend Mass.  I assured them that I expected this would be true - and that for some of them, it is certainly due to their parents not driving them to church.  However, I told them, each of them is an important member of the Body of Christ and that when they are not at Mass, a piece is missing from the Body.

Remembering what I had been told about Hispanics connecting more deeply with the crucified Christ, I invited them to begin to have a devotion to the Eucharist, using the words of Mother Teresa:  "When you look at a crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now."  Smiles of understanding. (Thanks for the tip, Javier!)

We talked a bit about Eucharist being really Jesus... but that was a teaser for next week. Lastly, I showed them a picture of the Communion of Saints and  of the Pope at World Youth Day - one with the banners of many nations flying - and explained that Eucharist unites us across time and space to all people, living and dead. They seemed to think that is cool.

For all these reasons I them to asked them to think about going to Mass - to consider it... and promised we would talk more next week about the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I certainly hope they will.

This year is going to be a journey - for all of us!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why is "Evanglization" a Dirty Word for Catholics?

Interesting discussion about a name change on the Facebook page for Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association (PNCEA).  Fr. Frank DeSiano and Fr. Tony Krisak et al are raising the question as to whether the term "evangelization" should even be included, because it might be a "turn-off" for Catholics. While this might have some validity, as one person who commented points out, we need to educate people that "evangelization" IS the primary mission of the Church.

So, just why would it be a "turn-off"?  A discussion I have been having with another person on the Facebook site is revealing. It revolves around an understanding that Evangelization is something we do after we have been led to a personal experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ. This person seems to think we need to teach people the Tradition and doctrine of the Church and that is the more important priority... and should be enough.  Personally, I believe it is "both-and" -- we do not need to wait until we learn everything there is to know about Tradition and doctrine before going out and inviting others to know Jesus.  Teaching people the Tradition and doctrine is very necessary, but not the first priority. When we focus in that direction, we, in effect, put the cart before the horse.

Catechesis is a moment within Evangelization (General Directory for Catechesis). It does not substitute for Evangelization. It should, for those "raised in the faith" as children, be simultaneous. For adults, ideally, Evangelization is the front door to the catechetical process - the "Inquiry" phase of the RCIA.  It is a concept at the heart of who we are - the Church that came into being when the Apostles ran into the street to tell others about Jesus Christ. The Church as institution exists to support Evangelization (Evangelii nuntiandi 14), and in turn, Evangelization exists to support a lived experience of Jesus Christ, which also takes place and is supported within the context of the Church.  It really is "both-and"... not "either-or"... and we don't need to apologize for that.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Catechesis with Hispanic Youth - Some Things ARE Different

Third class tonight, with my room full of Confirmation students. Did some ice-breaker activities to get them talking to each other and to me- talked about being called by name, and gifted by the Spirit (to tie up the discussion on Baptism and connect it to Confirmation.) Found out three of them will be confirmed in Mexico One of these looks Anglo and has an Anglo first and last name - I had thought he was the one non-Hispanic... Oh well... so now I know they all have that background. I am, in effect, the lone Anglo in the room.

I learned two items within the last 24 hours that have helped me see that my instinct that they are NOT the same as teens from a non-Hispanic background. Last night, at parish council, our new parochial vicar, who was in Hispanic ministry in another diocese, said this:  "People who perceive themselves as being powerless come as a group, not at individuals."  Hmm. So the community and family thing IS different. We Anglos are accustomed to treating each person's faith journey as separate... it is a basic of the RCIA process and the backdrop for much our our normal post-Vatican-II discussion about faith that God reaches out to each person as a unique, individual person.  Having this in mind, while I led them to reflect on their uniqueness, I also helped them to bond as a group through the ice-breakers.  I think this will take a while, but it will be a case of  "both - and" - I will have to be conscious that their faith experience is through family and community - at the same time I attempt to connect them with their individual relationship with God.

Point 2 - I had lunch with our diocesan Hispanic youth ministry person - and he described many things that I did suspect -- an increased lack of self-esteem and identity issues that come from being in a culture not their own, etc.  But one thing he told me explained my experience that they were reluctant to acknowledge any experience of the love of God. He said that the Hispanic cultural experience of God is largely focused on the crucified Christ.  That explains their love of acting out the Passion, etc.  For Anglos, the Crucifixion is a moment on the way to the death that leads to the Risen Christ. For Hispanics, it is a stopping point where a suffering, downtrodden, powerless people connects with the God who is most like them at that moment. Aha... I get it, but that complicates things.

Both these issues have to do with a sense of powerlessness, lack of self-esteem, and connects with some other things I had heard and experienced... the focus of the Soy Catequista process on building up the dignity of the catechist, the reluctance of Hispanics to step forward to serve based on an acknowledgement of baptismal call and stewardship of gifts.  It means my head is indeed in a different space than theirs.

Now, I realize that kids living in our American culture are likely to be in a middle-ground in this regard - or maybe confused by it. I hope to be able to enter their world a little this year - to help them see their unique giftedness, to see where their spirituality can enrich mine, as well as where mine can enrich theirs. I look forward to the next 7 months of conversation and sharing.  I am humbled by this opportunity, unlooked for, which seems so perfectly right.  Certainly I could say I am busy enough, but this one came looking for me, not me for it. To those things, I feel moved to say yes, to take a chance, and the reasons for the opportunity to walk with these kids this year are becoming clearer.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

So Much Catechesis Needed: 41 Percent of US Catholics Still Don't Get Real Presence

The latest Pew Research Center poll on Religious Knowledge in American results are in: 41% of American Catholics polled answered that Catholicism teaches that the bread and wine used for Communion are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus. Although 55% get it right, and there is evidence that variables such as whether or not they regularly attend church, have more education, etc seem to affect the outcome, it is still rather sad.

Just as sad is the fact that Catholics are 1.1 percent below the national overall average in overall correct answers to this survey, which consisted of questions about the most prevalent religions in America. Atheists often, frankly, scored higher. Of great concern, too, is the outcome that Hispanics score lowest overall on this test of religious literacy, showing how much work is to be done among them, as they leave predominantly Catholic homelands and come to the US, a land of religious pluralism, where many of them are proselytized by other faiths.

All of this points to a huge need for better catehesis.  When such a large percentage of people who identify themselves as Catholic cannot tell you that the consecrated bread and wine are really the Body and Blood of Jesus, we have failed to communicate one of the central truths of our faith. It is no wonder Mass attendance continues to dwindle - we have somehow failed to show people why it even matters.

I will be interested in seeing the three-night televised special on the results of this survey: "God in America", set to air on PBS on October 11-13.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Primary Kerygma and Liturgical Catechesis on Baptism

Earlier today, I had my second session with the second year Confirmation class of mostly Hispanic teens I wrote of in my last post.  We gathered and began where we had left off - with a discussion about the goodness of God. They still were reluctant to name what is good in their lives... so I took them to the next level.

Convinced they needed the larger context before we could go forward discussing the sacraments, I outlined, with drawings, the story of Salvation History, from Creation to Jesus's Resurrection.  We read the story of Creation, talked about the whats and whys of Adam and Eve's sin, of the warnings and promises of the prophets and the reason why our loving God sent his only Son to suffer the pain of a human death. I then connected baptism in Christ to being washed clean of the sin of Adam and Eve and receiving the gift of eternal life....

Next, we went over to church and gathered around the baptismal font, which in our parish, consists of a lower pool shaped like a coffin with an octagon smaller pool above with a small cascade of water into the lower pool. We talked about the shape - about "dying to old life and rising to new life" - as my son had described this font's symbolism when he was a teen (see previous post)  - and about how, with their Confirmation, which they are preparing for, they will complete the promise of what their parents intended for them at their baptism. I asked why the water was cascading and moving, then told them the story of the Woman at the Well and the "living water." We discussed why people bless themselves with water from the font when entering church, why the font is located near the door, how the water becomes holy water, and I answered more of their questions.  Most of them seemed genuinely engaged and interested. (pretty good for 8th-10th graders, really.)

What I hope I did tonight was to treat them as if they have a brain and try to show them that I care about whether they understand why church and religious education class and Confirmation are important, and to set a context - the big-picture story behind what they are doing this year. I also hoped, by showing them how much God loves human beings - enough that he sent his Son to suffer so that we might have life - that this vague, distant Being of whom they seem to have little intial personal understanding cares about them. I can't help but think that for many of them this was a first-time introduction to the love of God the Father.

Next week, with the brief intial discussion of Confirmation (next on the list of Sacraments they will learn about) I will introduce the Holy Spirit - and begin to find out more about who they are, what their gifts are, what they care about... the true ice-breaking can now begin, since (I hope) we have a common basis for understanding why they are there in class in the first place - to complete their baptism through Confirmation.  When needed, we can keep going back to the big story of Salvation History as the reason behind it all. 

Why did I do all of this? With a group of kids who have only had one prior year of catch-up catechesis, I was presented with a catechumenal style resource - the Liguori  "Journey of Faith." This resource assumes they have had the primary kerygma of the Inquiry stage and are now ready to learn the details of Sacraments and Church, I felt the need to improvise and evangelize them, especially after last week's realization that they do not really know who God is.  I sure hope this approach works!  If it doesn't there is ample room to re-calibrate, since the handouts are pretty flexible.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catechist's Challenge: Instructing the Ignorant, Counseling the Doubtful

Last week, having volunteered to help my parish DRE as a substitute, I found myself in front of a classroom of 16 young teens (all but one of Hispanic descent) who were entering their second year of Confirmation preparation. I assumed this would be a one-night stand (OK 2-3 at the most), as have my prior experiences as a sub, so I jumped right in. Handed a catchumenate-style resource which began with a discussion of what sacraments are, I began the lesson by asking how many had seen a baptism, by connecting sacramental celebrations with familiar rituals such as a birthday party - standard stuff, to be sure.

Students seemed to be understanding the material pretty well until we got to the exercise which asked them to choose something in their life that shows that God loves them and talk about how they would ritualize (celebrate) that.  When I asked if anyone could name something in their life that showed God's love for them, they blinked and stared back. Knowing that teens sometimes have a peer-pressure issue about not talking about personal things, I re-phrased the question several times to make it less threatening. Still nothing. I finally asked how many know that God loves them. Not one hand went up. Shocked at the realization that this was new territory for them, I then "backed up the truck" to have them think over and name - over the next week until the next class - what is good in their life, with the intention of using what they name as a basis for building an understanding of God's love.

When, after class, my DRE asked if I would be available the next few Wednesdays, I said yes... and then she slyly said she was kind of hoping I'd do this for the rest of the year.  Stealth recruitment at its finest, I must admit. However, I was hooked anyway, by the need to do primary kerygma with this group - the opportunity and challenge to evangelize them in a deeper way.

This is part of the challenge to today's catechists. So many of our kids come to us, their parents sending them mostly for sacrament preparation, with no lived understanding of the love of God. They often do not know who God really is... only what they may have been told. Even beyond that, my experience with kids in this culture is that most of them do not even know the basic outline of our faith story - that God created all people, we sinned, Jesus came to earth born as a human baby laid in a manger, and that after teaching us, he died and was resurrected. In past encounters with kids in our parish program, especially those in their first year of formation, I have found they not only do not know the story, they have no idea why this happened... hence, they do not know that God so loved the world... and them.

So, I am in fact hooked. I will be staying on as their catechist, because I feel a call to help them understand the love of God, the reason for Jesus, and how all of this is meant for each and every one of them. It's enough to make me want to haul out that old chestnut, the "Jesus Movie"...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Roman Missal Implementation: "Mystical Body, Mystical Voice" Workshop Review

I had the opportunity on Friday to go to the Liturgical Institute at University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, to participate in the free diocesan leaders' preview of "Mystical Body, Mystical Voice" - the training on the new Mass translation which our diocese has chosen for our own leadership. I wanted to experience it so, in my role in our diocesan office and as chair of the Catechetical Formation Committee for Year of the Eucharist, I could speak intelligently about it. I also, frankly, hoped to find positive ways to present it to parish leaders who are not accustomed to "mandatory" training events. I have to say, the overall experience was very good.

Although there was a definite academic flavor to the all-day experience, it was not oppressively so. The presenters, Father Douglas Martis and Cristopher Carstens, took the approach that if the worshiping assembly understood the words we pray, our experience of the Mass would be very much enriched. This was not so much about implementation of new texts as discovering the beauty and sacramental richness which has for centuries been present in the language of the Mass. As such, it was high-quality liturgical catechesis, delivered in-depth, with reverence, humor and a nod toward the practicalities (and admitted difficulties) of implementing the new texts.

The morning was geared toward helping people understand Word - in all its richness. Providing background in Scripture, theology and Tradition, the presenters developed an understanding that the liturgical words we speak "mean" Christ.  They also showed how participation in the Mass is participation in the Liturgy of Heaven. Sacramental words, they said, "are porters, for they carry and make present the reality they symbolize. This reality is the eternal divine dialogue [among the Persons of the Trinity] restored in Christ, and carried on today in the Mystical Body [the Assembly at Mass]"  Fr. Martis talked about the difference between "gathering" and "assembling" a people - the former being more a sense of bringing people into one place physically, the latter meaning putting the parts of the Mystical Body of Christ together.   When we, as the Mystical Body, speak liturgical words, we participate in the conversation among Father, Son and Spirit.

Although this was not mentioned in the workshop, I know of no better way to explain it than to connect it to The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, which defines this participation in the Liturgy of Heaven well in paragraph 3 -

When the Word, proceeding from the Father as the splendor of his glory, came to give us all a share in God's life, "Christ Jesus, High Priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile the hymn of praise that is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven." From then on in Christ's heart the praise of God assumes a human sound in words of adoration, expiation, and intercession, presented to the Father by the Head of the new humanity, the Mediator between God and his people, in the name of all and for the good of all.  

Coming out of a seminary background enriched by a deep understanding of Liturgy of the Hours, the presenters link this understanding of the Liturgy of Heaven to what is going on in the Mass.  This speaks to the need for a "universal" language - and to the accuracy of all vernacular translations around the globe, in all times and all ages. We need as a people not bound by time or space, to speak with one voice the same "words".

The presenters proceeded to work though an understanding of sign, symbol and sacrament. Then, they laid the context for the Third Roman Missal in the history of liturgical renewal from the beginning of the 20th Century to Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 document which laid out the principles that resulted in the new translation which we will be implementing beginning November 27, 2011.

The "Workshop Philosophy" from the Mystical Body, Mystical Voice website is a great summary of the backdrop presented in the first part of the workshop:

The Mystical Body, Mystical Voice program sees the implementation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal as a providential opportunity for heeding the call of Vatican II to enrich the liturgical participation of the faithful.

• Mystical Body, Mystical Voice is based on the liturgical principle lex orandi, lex credendi, holding that the Church says what she believes when she prays and means what she says.

• Mystical Body, Mystical Voice recalls that the Sacred Liturgy is safeguarded by the Church and its purpose is the glorification of God and the sanctification of humanity. To that end, the texts of the Mass are seen in light of the Paschal Mystery and the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

• Mystical Body, Mystical Voice reiterates that the words we say make a difference in worship and in life because language itself is sacramental. The language we use communicates what we believe.

• Mystical Body, Mystical Voice understands that the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam represents an ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

Having laid this groundwork in the morning, the presenters spent the afternoon on specifics about new wording for Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, and some tips for Catechesis.  (I see a need for these to be expanded to include some more specific tips for parish leaders.)

Bottom line: this workshop is a very good experience. Yes, it's "heavy" and may stretch people who do not have academic background. That may mean that the presenters will have to vary their approach to assist those for whom thinking about liturgy in these kinds of terms is new. Will it help with the implementation of the new Mass translation?  Yes - by providing parish leaders with a personal understanding and way to talk about the new translation - and by helping them understand that liturgical catechesis is an ongoing imporant priority in all parishes and not just an occasional thing or a one-time process to get people to pray with new words.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Roman Missal Implementation: Is it Change or is it Renewal of the Old?

(Apologies for the long silence on this blog. This is an incredibly busy time of year for those in diocesan catechetical offices, with all the parish start-up issues. It rather saps the energy.)

Back to the discussion  of  how parish leaders need to prepare for change with the upcoming implementation of the Roman Missal. In my last post, I referred to the article in With One Voice by Bishop Kicanas, who issued a call for change-agent tactics. Nobody likes change - especially in this era of rapid technological change - when most would prefer that the Church be an island of comfort and stability. I have discussed before in this space the issue of the pace of cultural change and how it affects the Church.  I posited then that there are two responses: to go forward or to hang back.

So, what is this process? Is it change, or is it renewal of the old? The implementation of the new texts is a case in which we are being called both to move forward to embrace a new future, but also to retrench and renew the liturgy as we do it. That, in effect, may make\ it twice as difficult. Some will see this simply as unwelcome change. Some will see it as recovery of something which was always there and never should have been changed in the first place - that the post-Vatican II translation was a temporary aberration.  Some will see it as one step forward, two steps back. All of these are valid feelings - but these may constitute the lines of polarization which are already developing in the Church over the issue of the Revised Roman Missal.

This is a complexity that goes beyond a simple call to change. Diocesan and parish ministers will be dealing with people all over the spectrum of opinion and acceptance.  This is not a case of all of us moving forward together as one people facing a single issue. Some people already see the new texts as a step backward. Some are overjoyed and see them as what is truly just and right and should have been all along. In the wake of the final approval by Rome, accompanied with additional changes which some have labeled as being even further from the Latin than the currently used text, some are frankly confused as to exactly how the translation principles of Liturgiam Authenticam have been applied.

In this "lull" between the approval and the implementation, it is good to take stock of the many issues and opinions we face and will continue to face as this thing moves forward. I hate to say it, but while change agency skills will definitely be important, perhaps the most important skills will remain, as they always have, the pastoral listening skills that every parish and diocesan minister needs.  We will need to listen to our people and assess the range of attitudes. Moving forward without acknowledging the confusion and diversity of opinions could make this a more difficult task.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Moving Forward with the Roman Missal: Laying the Groundwork for Change

I finally started reading my copy of With One Voice, a book of short essays from Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, last night and lo and behold, the opening essay from Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson is about change agency and what is needed to implement the new Missal. While I agree with most of what he says, I strongly feel that catechetical staff and parish faith formation boards need to be a part of the implementation, not just liturgy committees. 

Bishop Kicanas comes from Chicago, and now Tucson, both places where there is likely to be large, well-developed liturgy committees in parishes. I think he is not realizing this is often not the case. Many smaller parishes do not have well-formed functioning committees, and often may have only a part-time musician who is not trained in liturgy.  That fact aside, I strongly believe that liturgical catechesis is the responsibility of both the liturgical and catechetical personnel of the parish (and the diocese).  Implementation of the new Mass texts is an opportunity to work together to provide a better experience of the Mass, and as sacramental enrichment, is rightfully shared ground and an opportunity for collaboration. If the two areas of parish administration work together, implementation may well be perceived by the people as more of an imperative, and not just the agenda of one group in the parish. If liturgists and catechists in a parish have not worked closely together before, this, too,  will be an area of change - and growth for them.

Bishop Kicanas cites a number of experts on change-agency, but the most useful thing I took away from his essay is the contention of William Bridges, an expert on organizational transition. Bridges says there are three stages to change: letting go or losing something, a neutral period of adjustment, and a new beginning.  He says we cannot short-cut this - we need to go through all three stages.

I suggest that parish and diocesan leaders are going to have to engage in these three stages before we can help the people do that. As in the familiar Kubler-Ross stages of grief, we may indeed revisit the loss stage at various points in the process, but to become a change agent, we have first to be convinced ourselves of the need for change. We have to go through our own sense of loss, our own time of neutrality, before we can be energized to move forward to lead implementation. 

"Training the trainers" workshops have been taking place around the country for exactly this reason. Far in advance of the actual implementation, leadership needs to be helped through their own process of letting go and accepting this change, formed, so that they, in turn, can form people in parishes. In our diocese, we will gather parish leaders, beginning in the fall, to talk this through. We will gather them in December to hear Fr. Richard Fragomeni talk about the mystery of the liturgy and liturgical spirituality -- the "soul" of the liturgy that must be addressed even before we discuss changing the words we pray. 

In the spring, our parish leaders will experience the Mystical Body, Mystical Voice event from the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein.  As follow-up next August, we are planning a practical workshop on helping children, youth and adults to deepen their understanding of the Mass (speakers will include Jerry Galipeau and Bob Piercy.)  We will have to talk about the new translation at regional cluster meetings, at adult faith formation leadership gatherings, and on the liturgical side, our diocesan office will be doing the same with their constituents as they, too, have practical workshops on changing the Mass responses, music and more.

Before we can enter this period of re-assessment, renewal and growth, we have to take the time for grieving, anger, resentment, and ultimately, letting go. To become an effective change agent, leaders must first be convinced  of the validity of the change. Personally, I'm well on my way to getting there. 

In upcoming posts, I plan to deal with skills for change agency for church leaders.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Roman Missal: If Not Now, When? Moving Forward with Change

Have had a busy few days, but as the dust settles following last week's approval by the Vatican of the revised Roman Missal, I have heard a variety of reactions.  These have ranged from a sincere "Hey, I don't like change" from my young adult son, to those who have said they either don't think some of the priests will do it, or that they don't have much hope that this will be the much-vaunted catechetical moment that enriches the average Catholic's understanding and participation in the Mass. All I can say is, not if I can help it!

For those out there advocating a "Why don't we just wait?" attitude, and for those who have resigned themselves to a mediocre process of implementation for whatever reason, I challenge them to find a better moment to take a chance.  This could be a moment when we have an opportunity to affect the Church postively.  Instead of wringing our hands in dismay, or nay-saying about something beyond our ability to change, why not put the energy into affecting what we do have influence over - which is quite simply how well we personally respond to this task?

Being a change-agent is part of the normal job description of those in ecclesial ministry. Wherever the Church is called to move forward on something, diocesan and parish ministers are put in the position of helping average Catholics grow and learn to accept change, which is indeed a huge challenge.

A few years back, in my diocese, a large number of us went through the two-day training for Generations of Faith. People were then sent back to their parishes to change the paradigm of catechesis of children and youth from the drop-off model to an intergenerational model. During the training, John Roberto, then of GOF, explained that what was needed was skills for being a change-agent. What happened in many parishes with the GOF process, is that today their program incorporates some elements of intergenerational catechesis, or in some cases, catechesis is fully intergenerational. It was certainly not easy to make that change. I remember receiving phone calls in my diocesean office from disbelieving parents, inquiring whether this was OK, or protesting about the change.

What is different here is that we are not talking about an "option" but a requirement. About one-third of our parishes embraced intergenerational catechesis in some form. These are the parishes where they felt called and able to do this. All of our parishes are now being called to move to the new Mass translation. It is not an option, although without a doubt some pastors will treat it that way.

We need to embrace the opportunity to catechize about the Mass that the Missal presents by planning great strategies for catechesis and implementation.  Instead of moping about the vagiaries of  the process and the inconsistencies of translation principles,  we now need to find ways to move on and to move ahead with the task of preparing the people for this change - and of convincing them that it IS a good thing. That means we must now put aside our personal feelings about the translation and we must work hard ourselves to find what is positive here so we can communicate that positivity to others.  I have chosen to do that.  Sister Kathleen Hughes, in her address to the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in July said she was choosing not to be "crabby" about the new Missal. I believe that's the right attitude.
Personally, my next step is to dig out my Generations of Faith training binder and take a look - and to research change-agency skills so I can help our parish leaders. (More about that in future posts.)  We have been handed a mission, and an opportunity, catechetical folks. Let's not waste it.  We don't want to look back in 5 years and say that only some parishes made the change and that (as some people are predicting) we have effectively split into two worshiping traditions - Roman Missal II and Roman Missal III parishes. Even if that were to happen in spite of our best efforts, personally, I don't want to look back and say I wish I had tried harder to prevent it. I'd reather be able to say that I did the best I could to help implement the new translation.

Gonna go off and dust off my change-agent badge.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Roman Missal: First Steps in Implementation

Now it begins: the great task of implementing the final version of the revised Roman Missal. With the final approval of the text comes the responsibility of receiving it and making its use a reality in parishes around the English-speaking world.  Lots of issues are out there, to be sure, but one thing that most of the commentators on the blogosphere and in the news releases have in common is that this is an opportunity for enrichment of the average Catholic's understanding of the Mass.  If the goal is to navigate this change as painlessly as possible, we need to strategize now. It will be crucial to step out of comfortable parish "silos" and to work together as a team.

As I have already said in this space, this is not just a job for the priest, liturgists and musicians, but also for the catechists - and an opportunity for partnership. Let's not let this teachable moment pass by succumbing to a bad attitude.  We owe the ordinary people in our pews - those who have not spent months worrying, speculating and reacting to every wind of rumor - our best shot at making this thing work. It will certainly not be painless - change is never easy. There will be questions, hurt feelings and as with all things in the Church these days, resistance from those who see the hierarchy as hopelessly out of touch with the people.  There will be difficulties in comprehension of the new, more grammatically complex texts.

What should be happening right now, I suggest, is that every parish should hand their catechists and liturgical ministers a good pamphlet or workbook to begin to study (there are certainly a number of good choices out there). Catechist gatherings through the 2010-11 school year should include sessions on the missal led by someone qualified to answer their questions.  If catechists and those who serve at Mass understand the changes, they can not only teach others about them, but can serve as people "seeded" throughout the community who can participate intelligently and with some authority, in discussions with other adults in the parish. It's a simple step, but if we build up a core of people in the community with a solid understanding of what is happening and why, this will not feel like it is Father and the music director asking people to change.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And I Was Just Wondering What We Would Say...

Over at the LTP Roman Missal blog today, Tood Williamson gives a good answer to something that occurred to me the other day. (Yes, in case you are wondering, I actually do have other things to worry about besides the New Roman Missal!)

What, I wondered, after the new translation of the Mass is implemented, will we teach kids to say at Confirmation when the Bishop anoints them?

Bishop: "Be sealed with the Holy Spirit."  Confirmand: "Amen."
Bishop: "The Lord be with you."  Confirmand:  "Ummmm?!" 

By rights, the response, until the Rite of Confirmation is revised, should not be changed. However, the new formula we will be saying at Mass "And with your spirit" will, no doubt bring many a DRE to the phone to call the diocesan offices to ask.

Williamson says it is OK to be messy for a while. We may just have to do that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Has the Church Lost Its "Muchness"?

Recently I had an opportunity to see Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland for the second time - and found the experience of the film just as engaging the second time through. There is one particular scene that has been haunting me - this one:

The Mad Hatter tells Alice "You're not as much as you were before [when she came there as a child]. You've lost your muchness."  The rest of the film consists of Alice trying to prove to the characters of Underland that she IS the real Alice - the one who fell down the rabbit hole as a child and called the place "Wonderland" and had such an effect on the place that they have been waiting for her return.

Why is that line about losing one's "muchness" so compelling? Besides any personal ramifications, I think it is also true of the Church. We, in a sense have lost our "muchness."

As Mass attendance continues to decline, as the Church struggles with the internal and external effects of the sex abuse crisis around the world,  as we continue to "lose market share" (as my office director sometimes puts it) I cannot help but think the Church, like Alice, is undergoing a crisis of identity.  The much-touted recent departure of Anne Rice, while it got more media attention than it deserved, was a reminder that this is happening every day.  Not everyone who leaves does so with such fanfare, obviously, but we are hearing reports that Catholic weddings in the Boston archdiocese have plummeted, that young Hispanics are leaving the Church (wait, weren't statistical forecasts that they would soon be the majority of the Catholic Church?), and in our own diocese, the number of children in religious education continues to decline each year, even though the population of our diocese continues to climb.  The new Roman Missal comes at a time when the Church is already in crisis, with potential to have both positive and negative effects... which it seems to be having already.

Near the end of Alice in Wonderland Alice recovers her "muchness" - in acts of heroism that call her to stretch beyond what she thought she was capable of.  In one scene, she defies the Hatters assessment of her.  "Lost my muchness have I?" she demands. "We'll see about that!"  One cannot help but wonder:  will we, as the Catholic Church, take the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and find ways to do likewise?  We live in hope. Come Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Catholic Families and Mass - The Challenge Begins at Baptism

Last week I had the privilege of spending two days conducting catechist formation for the 42 new Catholic school teachers of our diocese Probably about 2/3 of them will be teaching Religion, but all of them are catechists - because they will be sharing faith with children and their families. The entire experience was enfolded in prayer, ritual and liturgical catechesis and sprinkled with practical examples and discussion, tips for methodology, curriculum issues and more. Naturally, during all of this, we talked about the importance of Mass - and of course, we discussed the problem that so few families attend Mass with their children.  There was great concern, and rightly so.

One teacher shared that her parish school "makes" parents sign a contract about Mass attendance and that there is an assignment on Monday mornings where students are asked to write about the weekend homily and the experience of Mass.  Mass as "homework" - oh my!  What a sad commentary on the state of the Church! While I have to grant that it may get families there, I am a bigger fan of strategies for attraction and invitation over coercion.

What has happened to faith formation in America that it has been more or less downgraded to a consumer commodity? Both in religious education programs and Catholic schools, we see a continuing increase in the "drop-off" mentality - parents seem to feel they are purchasing a service - the parish or school is being paid to make their kids Catholic, so the parents can feel they gave their children "a foundation in religion" - and can check that off the "good parent to-do list".

When children go home to families where faith is not practiced, where there is no family prayer or Mass attendance, there is no guarantee that anything the child experiences or learns will be effective in giving them a lifelong foundation for Catholic faith.  In fact, in April of last year, the Pew Forum "Leaving Catholicism" report showed that the single most important factor in whether or not a person stayed in or left the Catholic Church in young adulthood was whether or not they attended Mass regularly as a teen.  Obviously, the foundation for that begins in early childnood.

Complaints we typically hear are that kids are "bored" at Mass, or that Mass is not "family friendly."  This, of course is the consumer mentality speaking. Mass, or course, is not something we should go to expecting to be entertained or where the poor behavior of children's who are no longer infants should be accepted just because they are there.  It is public ritual worship, where all have the right and duty to participate, even the children.

It is clear to me that among the families who actually do attend Mass regularly, there are best-practices and not-so-good practices. Families who set an expectation of the children that they, too, will participate make a conscious effort to help their children learn how to pray the Mass - they open the missal and follow the prayers and responses with their finger. They open the hymnal and help their children to learn to sing at very early age with joy and enthusiasm. 

Contrast them to the majority of families, who fall into either the "Cheerios and toys" crowd, who never graduated from distracting their kids when they stopped being infants (doesn't matter if they sit in or outside of a "cry room") or the parents who simply worship and ignore their children, allowing them to distract others, who have a right to their feeling that their worship has been disturbed.  When these kids become teens, it is no wonder they actively resist coming to Mass, often making the experience of getting them there so unpleasant that parents cave in.

These, however, are the ones who are actually present at Mass as families with young children.  If the young adult parents are not attending Mass themselves because they were disengaged as teens, the scenario simply perpetrates itself in the next generation.

What to do?  I think we need to get to the new parents.... right at and immediately after baptism of their children.  If we ignore them and trust them to show up when they wish their children to "get their sacraments" we enable them to have a consumer attitude - to come in to find out how much money and time it will cost to get the certificates.  Our entire model - the predominance of private baptisms separated from Mass, handing the parents a certificate and waiting for them to come back - is disengaged from the intention of Baptism as the gateway sacrament into the community of faith's Eucharistic practice.

Yes, there are strategies out there where the parish sends out occasional letters to the families on the anniversary of baptism, etc. but this is not enough. We need to reach out, invite, and mentor young families to keep them connected.  If every child were baptized at Mass, held up in front of the community of faith and embraced and welcomed every week, if young famlies were encouraged to connect with other young families, they would be less likely to disappear.  If parishes had early-childhood Mass-participation coaching  - mentor families showing parents how to help their children become a part of the community's worship.... well, you can see there are many possibilities. This might actually be a call for Family Ministry people to come out of their silos to work with religious educators, Catholic school principals and liturgy committees. That would be revolutionary!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Consequences of the Failure to Form People about Social Justice

Anyone else out there getting sick and tired of all the hate-speak?  After months of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the wake of the passage of the recent law in Arizona and the flap over the request of some Muslims to build a house of prayer and meditation near Ground Zero, I find myself increasingly disgusted not only with many of my fellow Americans, but with some of my fellow Catholics. (This is not to mention the name-calling and racism shown by some of my Catholic friends who support the agenda of the so-called "Tea Party".)

Some of these otherwise-good people are among the loudest to attack those who are not like themselves and therefore make them uncomfortable - the poor and oppressed immigrants who have, braving many dangers in their desperation, come here for nothing more than a better life - the peace-loving Muslims who worship the very same God the Father we do and just want to create a place for people to come together in prayer and memory of an injustice perpetrated by extremists who do not fairly represent their faith.  These are the same folks who complained loudly about national health insurance being provided at affordable cost for the poor, who make prejudiced and venomous personal remarks about our elected president (who, by the way is just as white as he is black) and who want to make English the official language of their states and counties.

Under the guise of flag-waving Americanism, these folks - people who call themselves "Christians" - betray their own inability to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, who encouraged us to "love your enemy" and whose first followers made a special effort to take care of the indigent, the widowed and the orphaned. (Witess the first Sunday reading after Easter from Acts 1, when the first Christians lived in such harmony that no one wanted for anything.)  This Christian faith is based on the Old Testament history of Jesus' Jewish forbears - a migrant people, the Israelites - who came into a land not their own, speaking a new language and worshiping a strange God. 

Jesus is very clear about how he wants us to behave toward those who are unfortunate or strangers - in other words, "not like us."  Matthew 25:34-40  has Jesus telling us that our final judgment will be based, among other things, on how well we treat those who are different - how we welcome the stranger - this is the basis for the Corporal Works of Mercy:

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Catholics who embrace the vocal, radical bigotry of the political right against immigrants, those with whom they disagree politically, and those of the Muslim faith are rejecting, in effect, the teachings of the Church and of Christ himself.  They are also rejecting the cardinal virtue of Charity in favor of angry, accusatory hatred of those who are different.

What we have here, folks, is a major failure of catechesis. We have failed to help a large number of Catholics understand that many of the teachings of Jesus are "counter-cultural" - they call us to fight for the poor, the oppressed, the stranger and the unfortunate - not to fear them, judge them and call them names.  In the spirit of Christian love, I am tonight praying for those who are blind and uncharitable toward immigrants, strangers, those of other faiths, and those of other political persuasions - that they find it in their hearts to love their enemies. I love these folks anyhow, even though they sometimes make me very angry!  I actually would be very sad to see them among the goats and not the sheep.  :-)

Friday, August 6, 2010

New Roman Missal Implementation: What About the Children and Youth?

If you have not found it yet, Fr. Paul Turner has a good, simple reference page for issues and resources about the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.  He includes links to papers, articles, books, videos and more about general issues and implementation. Some good stuff there, including an item that reinforces my concern that we need to be planning something to assist children and youth with the transition.

The second paper in his set of links ("Parish Practice, the Shock of the New") is rather interesting - his reflections on some focus sessions with adults and youth in which he introduced some of the proposed new Mass texts.  The interesting news is that the teens reacted far more negatively than did most of the adults. This is evidence that my long-standing concerns about the need for materials to assist children and youth to understand the changes is well-founded. 

Some liturgical experts with whom I have raised the issue of "what about the children?" have simply responded with "Oh, they will adjust." Faith Formation textbook publishers I have spoken to have assured me they will issue revised versions of their textbooks containing the new texts where the current ones appear. For those of use immersed in the age-appropriate catechesis of children and youth, these are not good enough answers. Something more is needed.

I am currently working at getting together a ground-level implementation workshop for our diocesan leaders for about a year from now which would deal more specifically with how to navigate this transition period with people of all ages.  One presenter has indicated he will be working on a set of four lesson plans at three age levels on the new texts.  This is exactly what we need.  Catechists and Catholic school teachers need age-appropriate resources to help them explain to kids a little about the "why?", but mostly about the "what?"... and the "what does it mean?" 

Children and youth who dutifully have learned their Mass responses and who have regularly attended Mass deserve better from us than merely, "Oh, you'll get used to it."  Like most adults, they will need help understanding the more formal Latinate and theological language, and the simple things, like the response to the Ecce Agnus Dei: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof."  (I already have had one adult ask me if that is the roof of the mouth!) 

Thanks to Father Turner for publishing the results of his teen focus sessions.  All I can say is, "I told you so!"

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Liturgy Without Style and Grace: Apparently the New Translation Won't Play Well in Milwaukee

Over at Catholic Culture, this post this morning, quoting several priests from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on the Revised Roman Missal.  One priest described the translation's use of the English language as awkward:  "This reads like clunk-clunk-clunk-bang-boom.”  Apparently I'm not the only one bothered by the more than occasional lack of metrical grace in the language.

Ritual prayer should indeed be poetic as well as understandable by the entire praying community. However, as in all things unpleasant, even those of us who have higher standards for what is good English will gradually get used to it. As it has often been said, this is simply a matter of obedience. The value is fidelity to the Latin and not necessarily the comprehension of the faithful - but the essential meaning of the Mass will not change. With time and adequate catechesis (and I stress the importance of the latter) even this occasionally awkward antiquated-language version of the Mass will eventually become acceptable to most Catholics. Personally, I am simply grateful that even though it often uses long, archaic words and sentence structure more common to classical Latin than English, it does not revert to "Thee" and "Thou" to refer to God.

The related longer article from the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel is probably not particularly helpful to the faithful of the archdiocese. By publishing a negative reaction from the clergy, the press is adding fuel to the already considerable fire of outrage. Take a look and see what you think.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Singing the New Translation - Make New Friends, but Maybe Save the Old for Later

Last night, my parish music and liturgy director and I attended a session put on by GIA Music on their new Mass settings.  What I experienced  made me think differently about what this transition to the new translation might be like for the people in the pews when we begin to implement the changes.

As at most typical music sing-through sessions, those present (about 200 musicians) were asked to sight-read through  a variety of pieces - in this case, all were Mass parts. As we wait for the finalization of the new Mass texts, composers had been hard at work preparing new settings based on the provisional text promulgated for catechesis and to allow musicians to begin their work on new settings.

First, we sang through settings newly composed especially for the new translations. There were some decent possibilities, and a few "absolutely nots" among these, which was to be expected. In the case of our particular music ministry needs in a bilingual community, there seemed to be not enough bilingual possibilties combining the new English translation with the existing Spanish texts. Some settings seemed remarkably similar to one another; most were in triple meter and at least a few repeated the word "people" in order to balance out the musical line. Other settings had a moreunique character.

It was, however, when we turned to the re-worked existing Mass settings that things got strange. Some parts of these seemed a bit awkward, but at least one moment was totally disorienting and disconcerting... and it came at the point when I least expected it: during the newly re-worked Gloria in the Mass of Creation.

Now, in my original parish, we learned MOC around 1990 - and for the better part of the next 9 years I was in the parish, it was almost the only Mass setting we ever used. It was used in diocesan celebrations consistently, and when I moved on to the next parish, it was used often, though not exclusively. I may say I know the melody, soprano and alto parts to all the sections by heart, as well as the guitar chords. Pretty much you'd say it is "in my bones," I know it so very well.  So, last night, I thought as we turned to the page with the sturdy old warhorse setting. "OK, this one will be a piece of cake." Not!

While Marty Haugen's reworked refrain to the new text was not too different or difficult, as we turned to verse 1, the ensemble around the room suddenly fell apart, and chaos briefly became the order of the day. What I had not anticpated (nor, apparently had anyone else) was that this familiar setting, so much a partof Catholic life, would be nearly impossible - at a point where there was a great difference from the original. It was as if my brain was in some kind of "rut" that I could not shake myself out of to sight-read the relatively simple, but vastly different, passage. The experience shook me a bit, as it was powerful.  For a moment, the ground shifted under my feet.

During the earlier readings of the new or unfamiliar Mass settings, I, being a pretty fair sight-reader, had been holding my own... and frankly, the new, unfamiliar text was not particularly troublesome. When I reached verse 1 of the Haugen Gloria, however, the difference was painful.  For a split-second, my reaction to the new text was intensely negative. From the sound of what happened around the room, when pretty much every other musician seemed a bit flummoxed by the change, it was nearly universal.

So, when this gets to be "for real" and we have to change our Mass settings, I am wondering if at least at first, parishes ought to learn new Mass settings instead of trying to begin with the old ones in revised format. Maybe that would go easier with the people.  If a whole roomful of trained musicians stumbled, how can we not expect non-musicians, the ordinary people in the pews, to do even worse?  As a cantor, I know what happens when the people seem to feel a song is beyond them. They shut up and stop singing. Probably one of the worst things we can do in the early days of implementation of the new translation, is to create a moment of instant, perceivable negativity. If this happens, we will never get a second chance to make a good first impression!