Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Liturgical Catechesis: Taking the Pulse of What the Average Catechist Understands about Liturgy

As I begin another cycle of facilitation of University of Dayton online courses, I have been dismayed that in the Sacraments course only half the students even mentioned liturgy when answering a question on their own memorable experiences of the "liturgical life of the Church." Instead, half referred to their catechetical ministry, to service experiences, or other elements of parish life. They seemed to evade the question of liturgical experience altogether and focused instead on the general life of the Church.

What was it about the word "liturgical" that made it so easy to ignore? Did they perhaps find it disconcerting?Is the term "liturgy" no longer common coinage for people who are not directly involved in parish liturgical ministry?  In the opening discussion board, a question on "liturgy as the work of the people" has revealed that initially most of them understand that to be the work of liturgical ministers - readers, musicians, altar servers, etc...and it has taken some coaxing to get them to talk about the "work" of the Assembly - the people in the pews.
And these are people who are forming children in religious education and Catholic schools and are teaching them about liturgy! The sad thing is that I am not sure this is not a pretty average sampling. Of even greater concern is the reality that very little liturgical catechesis of adults takes place in most parishes. The average parish director or coordinator is poorly equipped to deliver this kind of formation. It was not part of their own formation - and the fullest forms of liturgical catechesis are not normally a part of parish programs.

While faith formation textbooks for children or youth certainly have chapters on liturgical seasons and the meaning of the Mass, there is little available for the catechist to guide students through the unpacking of the actual experience of liturgy. Since parish catechists normally do not have the opportunity to take children or youth to Mass, this leaves them to wring their hands about families who do not take children to weekend Mass. (I have watched that discussion surface a number of times in the online courses.) Even Catholic school teachers, who do take kids to Mass, often focus on discussion of Mass etiquette and participation of children as ministers at Mass - not on the primary ministry of the Assembly in the pews - the work of all the people. Catechists, parents, and others still seem to understand that role as that of a mildly participational audience rather than part of the primary ministers of the Mass.

Liturgical catechesis at its heart is experiential, rooted in the actual celebration of a ritual or experience of a symbol  - and based in mystagogy - the consideration and discussion of what was experienced and what it means in the lives of participants. Our best diocesan workshops for parish leadership on the topic over the past few years have provided such experiences. My concern is whether the participants understand how to move from their experience at a workshop to actual practice when they go home. 

While there are a few good resources out there to assist leaders and catechists to conduct liturgical catechesis for families, my sense is that these are not being widely used. Textbook publishers need to provide such resources as part of programs - perhaps even embedded int he grade-level texts - so that good liturgical catechesis -good mystagogy - becomes normal in catechesis of children, youth - and adults - and not the occasional exception.

Failing that, this is a call to parish leaders to not let textbook publishers design their parish programs.  The text is merely a tool, part of the program. The program of catechesis in the parish needs to be created to fit the needs and culture of the parish, and when there is something lacking, should go beyond a "canned" published program. More than that - since the General Directory for Catechesis names the catechist as the primary resource for catechesis, this is clearly a call for better liturgical formation of catechists.

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