Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Roman Missal Translation - A Call to Catechists as well as Liturgists!

From the just-released comments preceding the Recognitio approving the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal - the new Mass translations... here is what Pope Benedict says is next: 

A new task will then present itself, one which falls outside the direct competence of Vox Clara, but which in one way or another will involve all of you – the task of preparing for the reception of the new translation by clergy and lay faithful. Many will find it hard to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly forty years of continuous use of the previous translation. The change will need to be introduced with due sensitivity, and the opportunity for catechesis that it presents will need to be firmly grasped. I pray that in this way any risk of confusion or bewilderment will be averted, and the change will serve instead as a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world.

Catechists, take notice! This is not just a task for parish liturgists and musicians. We owe them and the people of our parishes our cooperation and assistance to make this transition a positive thing in the Church. Time to lay aside our reservations and begin  to plan our catechetical initiatives. The challenge has been placed before us!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Once there was a Good Samaritan: Teaching from the Signs of the Times

Last night I had the privilege of serving as a last-minute substitute catechist at my parish for a class of about 20 young people in their first year of Confirmation preparation. The topic, from the Sadlier "One Faith, One Lord" bilingual edition, was loving and serving others (Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and Catholic Social Teaching).

I know from everything I have read lately and from a number of workshops on technology that teens these days learn better from visual media, but since I only had about an hour and a half notice and the parish is around 12 miles from my workplace, so I did not have time to prepare any of that - and, I was unsure if there was a screen available for projection anyway - so I went for life connections. The topic simply begged to be connected to the lives of the students. I downloaded a quick guide to the Corporal Works of Mercy from the Maryknoll missioners site and off I ran to take the class for my beleaguered DRE.

The opening was the reading of the parable of the "Good Samaritan." With the news media yesterday still buzzing with the story about the homeless man in New York who had come to the aid of a woman in distress, but who, when he became the victim of the attackers' violence, was simply ignored for 90 minutes by passers-by until he finally succumbed to his wounds, I knew I had a modern hook to hang the parable on. (See the story at
I mentioned the story briefly, then we read the scripture story. The discussion that followed clearly impressed the students - they were very engaged - appalled by the fate of the man for whom there had been no "Good Samaritan", who had died because he had tried to be one for someone else. 

The lesson then referred us to Matthew 25 and the story of the Last Judgment, with the separation of the sheep and the goats. I had them recall the last part of the Creed thjey recite at Mass and how we know we believe there will be a Judgment.  The "litmus test," I told them, was how we treat those who are less fortunate.

Next, we moved into a discussion of the Corporal Works of Mercy - I used the downloaded materials from Maryknoll  to provide statistics on how many people are hungry, don't have safe water, etc. in the world. The students were astounded by the numbers, and as I worked my way though these, connecting the social teaching of the Church to the current state of affairs in the world, I hope they were able to take away a sense of the connections between the content of the lesson and the reality of life in the world.

We spoke of the homeless, those who need clothing and shelter. They recalled an experience at a retreat about 10 days earlier with John Donahue-Grossman, whose "Ray, the Homeless Man" experience had taught them they should not judge people by their appearnces. Then, I told my story of encountering the homeless man (detailed in a prior post on this blog) who had been grateful for my alms, but broke my heart when he looked up to reveal a severe black eye.  My story brought them to complete silence - then a gasp when I described the climactic moment. We talked about empathy for those with difficult lives, and the homeless in Illinois, many of whom, 40 years ago, would have had a home in a mental institution, but who are on the street because the state discontinued the public residential options.

We talked about human dignity and the welcoming of strangers and discussed the recently passed immigration law in Arizona.  (When I had asked how many had heard about the news of the homeless man, no hands had gone up - however when I brought up the Arizona law, almost all the hands shot up. Obviously these students, all of Hispanic background, had heard about this at home. This hit them where they live, even though all of them were born here and some are 3rd generation Americans. I had them imagine how it would be to be suspected and perhaps stopped by police because of how they look. Of course they got the point about how unfair this is.

As we finished up (allowing for teen-aged restlessness during a 90-minute class) I felt sure I had made an impact. I had followed the lesson plan, but by connecting the material to the news of the day I had givne them an opportunity to take something with them - a memory of stories that matter.

Next time they hear the gospel narrative about the Good Samaritan at Mass, I would hope they might remember this time we spent together, and the stories that united us last night in empathy and compassion with the downtrodden.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Living the Easter Season - It's Not Business as Usual

An interesting reality is that many people do not really know how to live the 50 Days of the Easter Season - how not to drift back into "business as usual."  For Catholics, Easter is not just a day, but an entire season, lasting until Pentecost.  It is supposed to be a 50-day celebration of joy. Wilted presiders, liturgists and musicians, exhausted by the preparation for and celebration of the feast, will make a stab at it. Most likely, the music at weekend Mass will be "bigger" while art and environment people work to maintain the flower-decorated space as the lilies continue to open. However, as the lilies fade, much of our enthusiasm of the community for the Resurrection will too. 

Now is the appropriate time for large parish gatherings, social celebrations and more. Yet with the fish fries of Lent over, the reality is that the community's attention is turning to First Communion, in some cases, Confirmation, and to preparations for graduations and the other "rites of spring."  Yes, these are celebrations.  The challenge is how to connect these, which in the U.S. normally take on the cultural framework of family celebrations in the life of the individual person, to the community's ongoing celebration of Easter.

Certainly, music is one way to do that. But unless it is an obvious Easter hymn, such as "Jesus Christ is Risen Today," do the people in the pews even notice? And, if a familiy does not have anyone celebrating any of those sacraments or key moments, it may be more likely that they see this time as baseball season or the gardening season than the Easter Season.

I believe we need to instill an Easter Season spirituality in our people. Their way of dressing, acting, and their priorities should continue during the 50 Days to reflect a sense of joyful celebration. It should not be something that only happens in church.  Good catechesis on the Easter Season helps people see that Easter is a way of life.... certainly each Sunday is a "little Easter" - but the joy of the Resurrection should be a year-round thing. We should celebrate the love of God that is so great that he gave his only begotten Son to live with us, and to die for us, in everything we say and do - most especially during the Easter Season.

If, as Augustine said "We are an Easter People and Alleluia is Our Song," we need to tell our faces.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Power of a Bilingual Easter Vigil

All around the world last night, people celebrated the Easter Vigil in their own parishes, each in a unique way, bringing the different gifts, talents and ethnic identities that are integral to that community. Our celebration of the Vigil here at St. John the Baptist in Joliet lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes... but really I didn't think to look at my watch until about the 2-and-a-half hour mark. As usual, the readings, ritual and music were so engaging that it felt like time outside of time. the Vigil Mass was bi-lingual - with all texts in English and Spanish either in a mixed or both format - so naturally it takes longer to do this well. But we never worry about that. And apparently neither do the people in the Assembly, who were with us all the way.

The power of this celebration was evident from the opening Exsultet - with Father and I chanting the text in alternated Spanish and English - to the joyous final song: "Jesus Christ is Risen Today/El Senor Resucito." We were truly celebrating who we are as the Body of Christ at St. John the Baptist - a community in the throes of ethnic transition, where nearly 80% of the members now are of Hispanic descent, complete with all that it means to be in that kind of transition.  The choir for the night was a combo of  the English Choir with a good group of Spanish-speaking singers - which made a great ensemble. The music was from our growing repertoire of bi-lingual music - and even though some were at first tentative about making the leap to singing while playing percussion, many of them joined in doing that for the upbeat preparation song" "Our Paschal Sacrifice/El Cordero Pascual."

The Gospel was read in both languages, the homily  delivered first in Spanish, then English, and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises was also in both. Everyone in the room seemed engaged in the action - they joined in the songs and acclamations with enthusiasm - and  most went back to the font for the baptisms and to bless themselves with the water while the neophytes dressed. 

Last night we baptized two English-speaking adults and a baby - whose grandparents are Spanish-speaking - a sign of where we have been and where we are going - into a future where even more children born here will have a dual heritage.  A reality in which increasingly the children of the parish will grow up speaking English, but still have one foot in their Hispanic devotional and liturgical tradition.

One of my favorite moments last  night was a sure sign that it "took" - the newly baptized mother of the baby was in tears afterwards... no doubt tears of joy. Those of us baptized as adults can only imagine the power of those emotions. The smiles of everyone in the room when the newly-confirmed were asked to turn around and "face your friends" for the welcoming applause were proof that the love of Jesus Christ brings us together.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Anticipation: The Faithful Prepare the Worship Space for the Easter Vigil

It's a cloudy morning here, with rain moving in, but I find my excitement is building in spite of that, as I get ready to go to my parish church to help prepare for the great liturgy of the Easter Vigil tonight. This is the way every Catholic community gets ready for the moment when the words of the Exsultet will ring out: "This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death..." The annual 3-hour frenzy of decorating and laying out all the items needed for the liturgy is an important ritual for me and for a dedicated group of people who do this every year. This has been true in every parish I have been in. 

These are the people who know that the community's celebration demands their time and talent - members of the Art and Environment Committee, decorators, and people of all ages who just want to help. We will adorn the altar with a special white altarcloth, surround it with flowers and candles, place the Easter Candle and the people's candles in the back of church, lay out towels and the holy oils for tonight's full immersion baptisms, replace the vigil lamp for the tabernacle in anticipation of the return of the Eucharist to the worship space, and more.

Like the women in Scripture who prepare and go to Christ's tomb to anoint his body, these faithful helpers rise early and set aside their personal and family needs, knowing the needs of the community's ritual are greater than their own. The "regulars" would never consider not being there every year to help. It is a call they hear in their hearts - and their response is not an option, it is a necessity.

There is a special atmosphere in the church, too, as this preparation takes place - business-like, but mildly celebratory - lots of mutual good will, with everyone's good ideas welcome. There will be leadership from some, and cooperation from all. It is somewhat like what people do when they are preparing for a party - everything is made ready for the guests - and for the guest of honor.

Tonight, that guest of honor will be the Risen Christ, present among his people. Honored, too, will be those who will be baptized in his name - and the community of those gathered to witness the rising of Jesus from the tomb and the making of new Christians. When we light the Easter fire and the new Easter Candle, all the work of preparation will have been worthwhile.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday: Life Affects Liturgy Affects Life

Easter Triduum - the great Three Days - has been my favorite time in the Church ever since I came into Full Communion at the Easter Vigil in 1987.  Each year I look forward, especially through the last weeks of Lent, to this great celebration. This year has been no different, although I found the excitement somewhat tempered, since I still have difficulty trusting fully in the God who nine months ago allowed the untimely death of the man I loved. What I did not expect was how deeply this would affect my experience of Triduum. 

I want to be fully immersed in the annual accompanyment of Jesus to the cross and beyond to resurrection. I want the familiarity of that annual communal walk. However, I knew I was in trouble, when at choir practice about a week ago, the refrain of Psalm 31 for Good Friday "ambushed' me emotionally... "Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit." How to surrender to God's will for the circumstances of my own life?  How to "let go and let God"? These are my big spiritual questions right now - and they stand squarely between me and a full immersion into the Good Friday experience.

It is always true that we are affected differently by a passage of Scripture each time we hear it - depending on what else is going on in our lives at the time. Apparently the same is true of ritual experience itself. Today's ritual - the reading of the Passion and the Veneration of the Cross - is one of the most powerful of the Church Year. It also calls for a surrender to the power of the Cross that asks us to abandon our own doubt and despair about the circumstances of our human life and embrace the suffering and death of Christ as a call to hope - a hope that asks us to step out of our own suffering and into His - and beyond.

This afternoon, I will do this as well as I can right now, knowing that God knows who I am right now in my journey and knows I still need more time to get to a better place. I will be placing my faith in the only thing I can trust at this point in my life - that God's compassion is infinitely greater than my own sorrow.

Pray this day for all those who mourn - who wait at the foot of the Cross for healing.