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.

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