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.