Monday, December 12, 2011

A "Tourista" Sits in on Guadalupano Celebration

Well, this year I did it. I got up  in the middle of the night to get ready to go to church for La Danza and Las MaƱanitas - the pre-dawn Mexican cultural celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have wanted to to this for a while, and as the vice chair of our Pastoral Council, I kind of felt I should do this.  Maybe I missed them, but the only other "Anglo" I saw in the room besides myself was my pastor, who speaks fluent Spanish. I, on the other hand, speak only a little, understand maybe half of what I hear, and felt a bit like the proverbial tourista. 

As I came into the back of church, I recognized Oscar, a talented musician who directs and plays with the 1:00 p.m. Sunday Spanish choir - dressed in full regalia - complete with feather headdress.  He smiled and mugged for my camera.  Later,  he took his place beside the altar and began to beat the drum that summoned about 30 colorfully dressed dancers, mostly women and teens, to the front. For the next 25 minutes they stamped, swayed, spun and shook maracas, in honor of the Virgin, as Oscar drummed out various rhythms. Their performance was beautiful, strange and a bit primitive.  Certainly like nothing I have ever seen in church before. The colorful costumes seemed a bit skimpy for a December day in the Midwest, but soon the dancers were mopping their brows  from their exertion, despite the chilly room.

Once they had finished, Rosalinda, a parish reader and fellow member of Pastoral Council, stepped up to the microphone and read a long text about the story of Juan Diego and the Virgen.  Then, a seven-man mariachi band  came up and began to play and sing. I know enough Spanish to know that many of these were, in effect, love songs to the Virgin, singing of her as the "queen of hope" and identifying themselves as Guadalupano, people of Guadalupe - her children.  The people joined in most of these,singing by heart and from the heart. Of course, having no music and not knowing them, mostly all I could do was listen and add in the refrain occasionally, when I could pick it out.  I could sense their great love, even if I could not fully understand the texts.

Throughout the hour and a half of the pre-Mass celebration, some women, from the back of the church shouted out phrases that seemed to have set responses, almost as if they were cheerleading.  I have to admit, this morning was a strangely fascinating if rather foreign experience. I felt a strange sensation of being an outsider, yet not a total stranger. It's my parish, but it's their parish too. Despite the language and culture gap, we all belong, in our own way, to the community of St. John the Baptist. The Virgen is my mother in faith too, even if by adoption. Maybe someday, I will feel more at home with the whole thing. Until then, I will keep stretching my comfort level to join them when I can. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rejoicing in a World That Has Forgotten Joy

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  (1 Thes: 16-17)
 On this, the Third Sunday of Advent, the apostle Paul issues us a challenge to be joyful and prayerful - in all circumstances. That, frankly, can be difficult as the holidays approach - especially for those who grieve.

Many of you know that two and a half years ago, I lost the most significant person in my life. I am, however, not the only one. Many people have experienced deep and painful loss and face the coming of Christmas with some degree of depression.  A time of year that is traditionally focused on family, love, and being with people we care about, can only tap into memories and regrets about the person or persons who are no longer with us. For people of faith who grieve, this time of year can be particularly painful, because the relationship with God may be somewhat conflicted.  In the larger context, I believe we live in a world where many people are not only unhappy, they have forgotten, or perhaps seldom, if ever, experienced true joy.

There is a real difference between happiness and joy. One is temporal and temporary, the other runs deeper. A person can, I have found, be unhappy about the circumstances of life, but still have an underlying sense of joy that stems from something deeper.  For me, that is from knowing that even if I find it hard to trust God after my experience of great loss, I know instinctively that God has never truly abandoned me and is simply waiting for me to sort it all out.

For people of a secular bent who have little or no sense of the presence of God, superficial, temporary happiness based in possessions (which can be lost) and people (who may either fail us or die)  may be all there is. Those who do not have an experience of the love of God, if they lose someone or something significant, have only themselves and their relationships with others to rely on.  All of those things are fallible. As Teresa of Avila said: "God alone is enough."

The readings today call us to pray anyway - to pull ourselves out of ourselves and look ahead to the coming of one who is greater than we are and to have faith that in the end, everything will indeed be alright. Only that kind of faith can bring true joy. In the meantime, we are called to hope. Here are two songs, appropriate for this Sunday that for me express this  perfectly:

Monday, November 28, 2011

What We Learned This Weekend: Mass and Conditioned Response

This weekend, I was at two Masses - one as the cantor, one as a choir member - and experienced the roll-out of the new translation twice.  In both cases, the experience was a bit mixed - some hits, some misses.

At the Saturday night Mass, when our pastor used the longer form of the greeting: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all" - I had a brain-freeze.  I had been practicing for months to  respond to "The Lord be with you" and that's what was on the Mass card. Miss number one.  The second time, it was better - I was ready.

What I quickly discovered is that when I hear "The Lord be with you" - if the card was not in my hand and I had just finished a cantor function, such a singing the Alleluia, I was still on "autopilot" and responded dutifully - "And also with you." (makes sheepish face)  About half of the Assembly apparently had the same issue. The responses were mixed.

It was better at the second Mass - and the choir led many of the responses, but again, as we were shuffling music to prepare for the eucharistic acclamations, we lapsed into the old response.

So, what did I learn on New Roman Missal weekend? I, and most other people are a bit like Pavlov's dog.  Apparently, even when you know better, it will take a while to readjust and correct our response. Meanwhile, I feel just a bit drooly!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Missal: Advent - Time to Put on Your Running Shoes!

This weekend, as parishes around the U.S. begin to use the new Roman Missal, we will discover very early that there are differences - beyond the people's responses.  The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent is a real eye-opener:
Grant your faithful, we pray, Almighty God,
The resolve to run forth to meet your Christ\
with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom
Through our Lord....
Hmm - running forth with righteous deeds... this is a far cry from the previous translation's admonition to prepare our hearts "so that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming."  Gone is the passive sense that we, like the wise and foolish virgins of the parable, are simply waiting for the Bridegroom to show up to start the celebration.  Missing is that whole "preparing the way" thing. Instead, we have a visual image - we are gearing up to run toward Christ as if we are long-lost lovers. Kind of like this:

This is a big change. One that will have me, at least, re-evaluating my image of Advent as a quiet time of preparation. Time to get those righteous deeds ready and put on my running shoes!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Prepare! Prepare!

Advent will once again be upon us tomorrow night. Another church year draws to a full close - and with it the admonition to ready ourselves for the coming of the Lord.  Our God, who once came among us clothed in human flesh, calls us to remember, to embrace Him fully in the here and now, and to ready ourselves for the End Times, as if they would come today (which they could, if it were God's will).

This song, for me, captures perfectly what Advent is all about.

 May your time of preparation for His coming be truly fruitful and blessed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let's Start a Movement: Occupy Thanksgiving - Be Thankful for What You HAVE

Earlier tonight, it occurred to me that with the news this year that Target and other stores will be open Thanksgiving night (and some even earlier in the day) that a line has finally been crossed. It's time for those of us who respect tradition and family values to stand up and refuse to be sucked into the consumer maelstrom that has been taking over our country with increasing insistence.

It's high time that large consumer outlets looking to make a profit stopped telling us what to do and when. It's time that the Christmas industry stopped co-opting Halloween and Thanksgiving. It only happens because we let it. This year, don't encourage them. Start a backlash. Stay home. Shop after your holiday celebration. We should first be thankful for what we HAVE... only then is it appropriate to go out and get more stuff. (Maybe!)

This guy beat me to it: Occupy Thanksgiving. Love the graphic.

We should first be thankful for what we HAVE... only then is it appropriate to go out and get more stuff.

But then, maybe first we should try to Occupy Advent.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Principles, Attitudes and Strategies for Liturgy with Children

Tonight I will be speaking to a group of parish catechists about liturgy with children. Here is the handout I have put together for them. (Note that the reason I have been asked to speak to them is partly because there have been some issues regarding the regular addition to religious education Masses of performances by the children, designed to showcase them and to motivate applause.)

1. Children have a natural sense of the sacred and a wonderful capacity for connecting with symbol and ritual. Good liturgy with children means giving them an opportunity to participate in the roles of the Liturgy and experience its power – NOT in adding “extras to the Liturgy to make it “child-friendly,” not in artificially turning it into a teaching moment.

2. The liturgy has roles. Children need to participate to the greatest extent possible in the liturgy. Therefore, they need an opportunity to take on the liturgical roles. (Directory for Masses with Children, 22) Liturgy is work. Children are naturally helpful, so they will eagerly take on the work of those roles if they are properly trained. Don’t just ask them to read. Teach them how to proclaim. Don’t just ask them to bring up the gifts. Show them how to do that with reverence and grace.

3. Liturgy is NOT entertainment. Nothing in the liturgy should showcase any person or persons in such a way as to generate applause. The Mass is a prayer to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. It is never about us. And the assembly is not the audience expecting to be entertained.

4. The same gifts and talents are NOT given to everyone. This is not the Little League, where “no child shall be disappointed.” Children should be given liturgical roles for which they show some aptitude, not because it is “their turn.” Some children can sing: they belong in a children’s choir. Some can walk with grace and dignity – they should be in processions or should carry banners. Some can read clearly – they should be readers.

5. The people in the pews (the Assembly) have a specific “job description”. They are not the “audience” watching a performance. Teach children their proper role in joining in the Mass responses, spoken and sung. Teach them to listen – actively – to the Word of God. Teach them to offer their lives to God along with the gifts of bread and wine. Teach them to truly prepare themselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Teach them to pray in thankfulness after receiving the Eucharist and to know what it is they are being sent out into the world to do as the Mass ends.

6. Children are tactile, sensory and able to grasp the significance of symbols. When appropriate, use the liturgical symbols: water, bread, wine, oil, fire lavishly and well. Help kids experience them, become familiar with them and delight in them. 

7. Have them practice the songs that will be sung before the day of the Mass. Catechists can be given a tape or CD with the Mass songs.

So, what CAN children do at liturgy? They can take the proper liturgical roles. (Ask your parish music and liturgy director or parish members who train liturgical ministers to assist)

1. Make a banner (These can even be made from heavy paper and mounted on a pole)
2. Decorate the altar or the liturgical space for the season with artwork or assist in placing fabric, flowers or other objects
3. Be part of a committee to choose the songs that will be sung (working with the musician or parish liturgist)
4. Be part of a committee to help write the General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful)
5. Decide to which charity the proceeds of a monetary or food collection will go.

1. Be informed members of the Assembly, participating in the sung and spoken responses of the Mass, even if they serve in other ministries.
2. Be a minister of hospitality: greeter or usher, seating parents and/or handing out programs
3. Be an altar server (preferably they are students who do this on weekends because of the many details they need to know.)
4. Be part of the opening procession, carrying a banner
5. Be a song –leader or member of a choir
6. Be a reader
7. Be the psalmist (sung or spoken)
8. Bring up the gifts of bread and wine (the only things besides a monetary collection that should go up in that procession)
9. Be a communion usher, indicating when a row should get up to join the line
10. Collect books or song-sheets from Mass participants as they leave - and thank them for being there

Today’s Liturgy withChildren (article collection for liturgical catechesis) 
TheLiturgical Catechist website  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting More Out of the Mass - Part 5: Praying the Responsorial Psalm

In the fifth part of this series, I would like to expand comments I shared recently at our parish Roman Missal sessions. This is another piece about the particular points of "internal participation" by the Assembly. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

During the Liturgy of the Word, there are two particular places for musical participation by the people.  The first of these is the Responsorial Psalm. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: "After the First Reading follows the Responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and which has great liturgical and pastoral importance, since it fosters meditation on the Word of God." (61)

The key word there is "meditation" - which clearly implies an engaged inner engagement with the text during the Psalm. This is not passive listening, or simple enjoyment of a song and joining in a refrain.

The cantor here takes on a specialized role:  "It is the psalmist’s place to sing the Psalm or other biblical canticle to be found between the readings. To carry out this function correctly, it is necessary for the psalmist to be accomplished in the art of singing Psalms and have a facility in public speaking and elocution." (G.I.R.M. 102)  Notice the role implies the ability to proclaim Scripture well - this goes beyond merely being a good singer, because the Psalm is more than a mere song. Ideally, the cantor will not just sing the Psalm, but pray it as well - sincerely interacting with the text, connecting spiritually to the words and how they have impacted his/her own life in the past, and impact it in the present moment. 

As a cantor/psalmist myself for almost 24 years, I have often been encouraged to make the Psalter my prayer book - to have a living relationship to the words I sing and proclaim and to make the Responsorial Psalm a moment of genuine prayer. There is no substitute for that. The authenticity of the cantor's prayer life should be transparent during the Psalm.  Therefore, the act of singing is secondary to the expression of the meaning of the text, which should come from the depths of the heart, without being so overly dramatic as to be distracting to the Assembly. 

Much of this expression can be accomplished through eye contact with the Assembly, the sincerity of the facial expression and the dynamics (level of loudness/softness) as the Psalm is proclaimed. Ideally, the cantor should sing a joyful psalm of praise with conviction and joy, or a psalm of contrition with a genuine sense of his/her own sinfulness and unworthiness.  It does not matter if the musical form is chant or through-composed. The inner engagement of the singer should be transparent.  The Psalm is not merely an expressionless chant. It is not merely a pretty song. It is never a performance.  Instead, it is a moment when the proclamation of the Scriptural text is incarnated - brought to life through the authenticity of the cantor.

Certainly, it helps if the cantor has the musical ability needed to make the singing of the psalm "beautiful," but knowing the music and being able to sing well is secondary to the ability to proclaim the text. The ability to make the music simply a vehicle for the prayer is what every cantor should strive for in his/her ministry.  When this is done well, the Psalm becomes a genuine dialog of prayer between the people and the cantor.  During the Responsorial Psalm, the cantor/psalmist is - like the priest in the rest of the Mass - the leader of prayer. While the cantor is the collective voice of the people as individual private human beings, each living their relationship with God along with all the emotions and situations described in the psalms, the priest is in his role leader of the voice of the Mystical Body of Christ, the gathered Assembly, raising the public prayer of the Church to the Father.

What is the role of the people during the Psalm? To listen and actively meditate on the words of the verses and to make both the verses they hear and antiphon they sing their own personal prayer - to "own" the Psalm as the voice of something in their own human experience.

Next: the Gospel Acclamation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Getting More Out of the Mass - Part 4: Being Hearers of the Word

In the fourth part of this series, I would like to expand comments I shared recently at our parish Roman Missal sessions. This is another piece about the particular points of "internal participation" by the Assembly.  (Part 1Part 2, Part 3)

As we settle into the pews after the Introductory Rites for the Liturgy of the Word, the internal participation of Assembly members should shift from a posture of united prayer through Christ  to the Father to one of  receptivity and openness. Now, we listen.  The Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass says this about the Word of God in the Participation of the Faithful:
When God communicates his word, he expects a response, one, that is, of listening and adoring "in Spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23). The Holy Spirit makes that response effective, so that what is heard in the celebration of the Liturgy may be carried out in a way of life: "Be doers of the word and not hearers only" (Jas 1:22).  The liturgical celebration and the participation of the faithful receive outward expression in actions, gestures, and words. These derive their full meaning not simply from their origin in human experience but from the word of God and the economy of salvation, to which they refer. Accordingly, the participation of the faithful in the Liturgy increases to the degree that, as they listen to the word of God proclaimed in the Liturgy, they strive harder to commit themselves to the Word of God incarnate in Christ. Thus, they endeavor to conform their way of life to what they celebrate in the Liturgy, and then in turn to bring to the celebration of the Liturgy all that they do in life.  (6)
This, then, is not passive listening, but an actively engaged listening that requires the hearer to open him or herself up to the Word in a way that would allow them to become "conformed" - i.e. possibly/probably changed.  

The important role of the Holy Spirit in the proclaimed Word is further described here:
The working of the Holy Spirit is needed if the word of God is to make what we hear outwardly have its effect inwardly. Because of the Holy Spirit's inspiration and support, the word of God becomes the foundation of the liturgical celebration and the rule and support of all our life.
The working of the Holy Spirit precedes, accompanies, and brings to completion the whole celebration of the Liturgy. But the Spirit also brings home to each person individually everything that in the proclamation of the word of God is spoken for the good of the whole gathering of the faithful. In strengthening the unity of all, the Holy Spirit at the same time fosters a diversity of gifts and furthers their multiform operation. (9)
"...brings home to each person individually..."  - that means the Word is, with the help of the Spirit, actively seeking YOU.  Next time you go to Mass, remember that during the proclamation of the Word, God's Word is alive and active - and a bit like a heat-seeking missile - targeted to the most vulnerable parts of your life - the ones most in need of conforming to what we celebrate at Mass. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Getting More of the Mass Part 3: Joining in the Prayer of the Church

In the third part of this series, I would like to expand comments I shared recently at our parish Roman Missal sessions. This is another piece about the particular points of "internal participation" by the Assembly.  (Part 1, Part 2)

After the singing of the Glory to God, the altar server brings the Missal to the presider and, after he opens it, he says "Let us pray."  Ideally, he leaves a moment of silence here, although in practice, we all have been at Masses where there is no more than a split second.  Here is why silence is so necessary: this invitation to pray is not so much about the words he will speak in the Collect (formerly the Opening Prayer), as it is about what each person present is being asked to do at this point.

The new General Instruction of the Roman Missal says this:
Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression. (54)
This, again, is a point on which we have not really catechized people well. Their internal participation piece  here is the adding of their own intentions for prayer for that day.   Again, since most people have had little catechesis on the Mass since childhood, I am not sure many were taught that this is a point in the Mass where they have a role of their own and that this is not just about the prayer Father is about to say.

The practice by many priests of leaving little or no silence here says to me that either they were not properly formed about the purpose of the silence, or they have little regard for the participation of the people. (One of the small delights for me of celebrating Mass with my new local Bishop, R. Daniel Conlon, has been that he leaves significant and noticeable silences at all of the points in the Mass where the rubrics direct the priest to do so.)

So, what is the catechetical implication for this?  Adults and children need to know they have the right to come to Mass bringing their own intentions for the celebration to lay before God at the altar.  Besides the published intention of the Mass that day, this prayer of the people, offered through Christ to the Father, carries their own individual needs and intentions for the needs of their families and friends to the very throne of God.  So, part of the preparation of every person coming to a Mass should be a moment to consider what they need to offer up to God that day in prayer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Study Shows American Catholics Vary on Understanding the Real Presence

The recent survey of American Catholics published in NCR is quite revealing not only about attitudes about the faith, but also about how well catechesis has succeeded or failed.  When it comes to belief that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ, results are unsurprising, if somewhat disheartening for those of us in the work of catechesis.  The reasons for attending Mass are also revealing.  Three out of four said they go because they "enjoy the liturgy."

The report on knowledge and beliefs about the Eucharist is here.  

This is definitely a call for liturgical catechesis of adults!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Getting More Out of the Mass - Part 2: Sign of the Cross

In the second  part of this series, I would like to expand comments I shared recently at our parish Roman Missal sessions. This is another piece about the particular points of "internal participation" by the Assembly. (Part 1)

In speaking of the Sign of the Cross, I want to share a favorite quotation from the great liturgical scholar Romano Guardini (1885-1968):
When we cross ourselves, let it be with a real sign of the cross. Instead of a small cramped gesture that gives no notion of its meaning, let us make a large unhurried sign, from forehead to breast, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously feeling how it includes the whole of us, our thoughts, our attitudes, our body and soul, every part of us at once, how it consecrates and sanctifies us. It does so because it is the Sign of the universe and the sign of our redemption. On the cross Christ redeemed mankind. By the cross he sanctifies man to the last shred and fibre of his being. We make the sign of the cross before we pray to collect and compose ourselves and to fix our minds and hearts and wills upon God. We make it when we finish praying in order that we may hold fast the gift we have received from God. In temptations we sign ourselves to be strengthened; in dangers, to be protected. The cross is signed upon us in blessings in order that the fullness of God's life may flow into the soul and fructify and sanctify us wholly. Think of these things when you make the sign of the cross. It is the holiest of all signs. Make a large cross, taking time, thinking what you do. Let it take in your whole being,--body, soul, mind, will, thoughts, feelings, your doing and not-doing,-- and by signing it with the cross strengthen and consecrate the whole in the strength of Christ, in the name of the triune God.
(Sacred Signs,p. 14)
As we begin Mass, if we keep the importance of this ritual action in mind, we will begin our communal prayer in the best possible way - involving our entire selves.

Next: the Collect

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Getting More Out of the Mass - Part 1: Joining in the One Voice of the Body of Christ

(This is the first in a projected series of posts based on the talk I gave on the new Roman Missal at my parish this week, describing the changes in the words of the Mass, but along the way, helping people understand their role at Mass as the Assembly. I want to expand some points and share - in hopes that some would use these to enrich catechesis on the Mass. )

It has often been said we get more out of the Mass if we put more into it.  But what should the average person in the pew "put in"? We teach children and young people - and adults entering the church -  external participation: that they should sing, say the words, and do the postures (stand, sit and kneel). But do we teach them what should be going on inside? Internal participation is what should be going on in our minds and hearts as we do these physical things and during the spaces and silences in the Mass which are specifically there so that we can add our part of the prayer. Why do we go to Mass? Not merely to sing and say the words. Not merely to do the same postures and gestures that others are doing. These are external signs of an internal disposition.

Every Catholic pretty much knows they should enter the worship space, genuflect to the tabernacle, and kneel for prayer to prepare themselves for Mass. But from what I see as a cantor, facing the Assembly, many are not quite so clear on their role in the song during the Entrance Rite.  We are not merely there to listen to the music and watch the procession of the presider and ministers.  However, from the number of people who do not even open the songbook, even in a community where many do sing, it is clear no one has ever told them why it is important to do so.

Why should everyone join in the song-- even if we hate our voice and think we cannot sing?  (A common excuse, by the way.)  What is the purpose of that song? Quite simply to help us to "park our egos" at the door. By joining our voices to the song, no matter if it is repeating the chanted entrance antiphon or a congregational through-composed song, we become part of the one voice  - the one sound of the assembled Body of Christ. For the hour we are at Mass, we take on our proper role as members of that Mystical Body. We claim our identity not as individuals, but as members.  This is true full and active participation. It signifies our assent to taking on the role of members of the Assembly - the People of God at worship, doing our "work" in the liturgy: lifting our prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, with the leadership of the ordained priest in his proper role.

This internal disposition as part of a corporate identity is why, later, at the Creed, we say "I believe..." - it is a statement of belief - that we say in our oneness,  not just as individuals.  It is also the same reason the Church asks that national symbols remain outside the worship space - as demonstrated by the rubric which asks that flags be removed from a casket at a funeral, and replaced with the pall, symbolic of our baptismal membership in this gathered assembly. As members of the Mystical Body, we have no individual identity as belonging to a particular nation.  This is an attitude. It is what makes Mass not "about ME".

Want to know more? Read Mystical Body, Mystical Voice, by Douglas Martis and Christopher Carstens (Liturgy Training Publications) and Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.

Next: The Sign of the Cross.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Of Hobgoblins, Cups, Chalices (and Grails)

Last week at choir practice at my parish, our choir director asked me why in the new Roman Missal the Latin word "calix" is translated as "chalice" in the Words of Institution but when we sing Memorial Acclamation B, it is "Cup".  We had, at all our parish Masses last weekend, watched the LifeTeen parent/adult video on the Roman Missal changes, in which it explains in some detail the first usage. However, on Thursday night, as the choir practiced the new acclamation, the difference struck her.  I could not give her an answer. So, I asked.... several people through the social networks.

Knowing he'd have the Latin text close at hand, I first checked with Jeffrey Pinyan.  I asked him if the Latin was the same in both places.  He assured me it is - and that he did not know why there was an inconsistency.  Next,  I checked in with Diana Macalintal of the Diocese of San Jose. She speculated that perhaps the Memorial Acclamation is quoting 1 Cor 11:26.. and referred me to another blog post by Fr. Ray Blake, that says in the original Greek, the scripture uses "poculum". This leads me to wonder - are we translating the Latin text of the Missal, or are we going back to Scripture (just saying!).

When I asked Jerry Galipeau, he admitted he did not know either, but that very question had been raised at one of his sessions the week before. He proceeded to put the question into a post on his blog the next day.  His post has just been picked up by Fritz Bauerschmidt over on the Pray Tell blog.  Both posts are generating a number of interesting comments, but no definitive answer.

Amid all the complicated answers, there are those who simply say what Fr. Richard Fragomeni answered when I spoke to him about it before he celebrated a regional Mass with some of our catechists Saturday morning: "It's probably just a mistake in translation of the Latin."

Maybe it is indeed a case of "Why ask why?".  Ralph Waldo Emerson may have said it best: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."  Then again, maybe Stephen Spielberg had it right all along (wait for it):   

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Pope: Catholics - Don't Be Lukewarm - A Catechetical Challenge

On the last day of his visit to Germany, Pope Benedict put it very bluntly:  If you are lukewarm about your Catholic faith and do not practice it in everyday life, even the agnostic, who is at least struggling with the question of whether there is a God, is closer to God than you are.

As another blogger put it so well: "Sitting in church does not make you Catholic... any more than standing in your garage makes you a car."

As I have repeatedly said in this space, we have a massive failure to show most people why Catholic faith matters.  The situation in most parishes in my area continues to deteriorate.  While about 10 years ago, if you asked kids in a religious education class how many went to Mass the previous weekend, you would get somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 who said yes, that number is dwindling to just a couple kids in each class in many parishes.

Parents continue to drop kids off so they can feel like they "raised their kids Catholic".  Too often, they not only do not attend Mass, but do not send their children to religious education during non-sacrament-preparation years.  The excuses, of course, are many - conflicts with sports, too expensive, too busy...  Worst of all, most of these families disappear from the parish after their kids have celebrated the sacraments -- as if to say. "Done that - check it off my 'good parent list'."

What the Pope says matters.  John, in the Book of Revelation, was told to tell the Angel to write:
“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Rev. 3:15-17) 
How are we, in parishes, challenging and helping Catholics to move from lukewarm to burning with the fire of the Spirit?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Some Clues from the Business World About Designing and Marketing Adult Faith Formation

This week in my diocese, we will have our fall gathering of adult faith formation leadership for discussion and sharing. One issue that is sure to come up is the perennial one: how do we get people to participate in what we offer?  Although in our June event with John Roberto of Lifelong Faith Associates, he suggested that parish leaders need to move toward ways to individualize people's experiences through technology and a well-curated website that speaks to their needs, I suspect most of our people aren't ready to begin that.

Most parish leaders will remain in our current mode: typically in the Church we come up with a presentation we think will be what people need to hear, we make bulletin and pulpit announcements, maybe posters, and we wait for people to come to us.  Afterwards, we bemoan the lack of attendance, but then start over and do the next event in pretty much the same way.  As a friend of mine used to say: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got."

The problem is, however, that we make a lot of assumptions when we offer programs.  The simple fact that a minority of Catholic adults participate in adult faith formation offerings seems to be due to our inability to convince them of the value of those programs. Lacking the technology expertise, time and motivation to move into an individualized offering, web-curation stage, the very least we can do is look at how we choose or design programs, and, after that, how we market them effectively.  One place to look for assistance with this is to experts in product design creativity, promotion and motivation.

In the book Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World,  David Verba, of Adaptive Path, suggests that
"When a person engages with your products, services and environments, a set of distinctly human qualities comes into play. A person's experience emerges from these qualities:

I don't have the answers, but I suggest it might be use for parish leaders look at their programming in light of how well they are fulfilling the motivations, expectations, perceptions people have - and in looking at how the programming meshes with these six things.  Knowing more about that can help us design offerings and publicize them in ways that honor who the target audience is.  It isn't good enough to say, in effect - "Hello, we are the Church, we know what's good for you,  please come to our event."

Joy Evangelizes

Catholic TV has just posted a series of short videos from Jesuit Fr. James Martin on the importance of joy, humor and laughter in the spiritual life. He says, in this first one:

"An essentially positive outlook shows people that you believe in God, that you believe in the power of life over death, that you believe in the Resurrection.  Joy draws other people to God."

"Why would anyone want to join a group of miserable people?" he asks.  To which I say: AMEN!  If you're Catholic and you believe God is in every moment of your everyday life, please tell your face!

Go HERE to view the video on the Catholic TV page, along with Father Martin's other related short segments on joy, humor and laughter in the spiritual life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Deliver Us, Lord, From Every Evil and Grant Us Peace in Our Day.."

Sometimes, I am really glad I am Catholic.

About 10 days ago on one of my social networks,  someone related an episode at his home, when visiting friends were horrified that he kept a loaded gun in the house and wanted to carry it whenever walking outdoors.  This had sparked a long discussion among his contacts about gun rights. I openly expressed my own discomfort with guns - and that I found it hard to understand why anyone felt they needed to carry one.  Based on that discussion, my friend opened a new one a few days later asking women to share how they keep themselves safe.  Many of the women - and the men who eventually joined in the commentary - saw a great need to be armed at all times. One man mentioned his wife walked more confidently now that she has a gun and knows how to use it. Another man shared that with the bad economy, he fears that crime will be increasing, so he is getting a gun because he wants to be ready.

I countered that I felt reasonably safe at home and going out, even at night without a gun. Even though I frequently go into a  neighborhood plagued by crime when I participate in activities at my inner-city parish, I feel reasonably safe.  My faith community has always responded to any threat with common sense and preventive strategies. We look out for one another. No one has need of a gun.  I am simply unworried. I mentioned to the others that at  every Mass we Catholics pray to be delivered from anxiety - and that I believe that God will protect me. I think they were polite, but probably could not understand my attitude any more than I could understand theirs.

One of the great gifts of being a believing Catholic is a sense of trust in God's providence. It is truly a case of lex orandi, lex credendi - what we pray is what we believe.  Near the end of the Lord's Prayer at every Mass, we pause as the priest prays the Embolism prayer.The name, which evokes images of a "bubble", comes from a Greek word meaning interpolation - currently this is:
Deliver us Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
in the new translation, which we will begin using on November 27, 2011, it is rendered:
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant us peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Then, a short time later, we are invited to "offer one another a sign of Christ's peace."

This peace, this delivery from "anxiety" or "distress" is an important part of being Christ's people. As Jesus told his disciples he would soon be leaving them, he said "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." (John 14:27)

This is one of the gifts that Catholic faith can offer to people living in a troubled world. Inner peace, delivery from anxiety.  True followers of Jesus live in the moment, trusting that God is here now, and will be here in the next moment. Common sense, yes. Living as if you are in a war-zone, beset with constant fear for personal safety, not so much.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How Can We Share the Beauty and Joy of Catholic Faith?

Today, Pope Benedict renewed his call for all Catholics to participate in the new evangelization of the world.  In the face of an increasingly secularized world, he defined "new evangelization" as the great need for "regions of ancient Christian tradition" to "rediscover the beauty of faith." That's important. "Beauty" implies an appreciation, not simply a knowledge of doctrinal correctness of faith. What Benedict is asking is that we share what it is to live as a Catholic in the fullest sense.

Miriam Webster online dictionary defines beauty as "the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit: loveliness."

Certainly, an understanding of how Catholic teaching supports this beauty is important... but it is not the first thing we should present. Rather, we need to win people's hearts by sharing the joy of being Catholic. Only then can we help them understand how Catholic teaching supports and strengthens the lifestyle of faith.

In the section of the General Directory for Catechesis that defines catechesis as an "essential moment in evangelization" (61-63) it also states that "The fact that catechesis, at least initially, assumes a missionary objective, does not dispense a particular Church from promoting an institutionalized programme of primary proclamation to execute more directly Jesus's missionary command. Catechetical renewal should be based thus on prior missionary evangelization." (62)

So, how do we go about "primary proclamation" in a way that expresses the beauty of the faith? About a week ago, I heard Fr. Robert Barron do a live 30-minute webcast, during which he defined his goal in producing the Catholicism video series and the accompanying book as to present the beauty of the faith. He also  said that we Catholics need always to "evangelize with joy".  At the time he said it, I was struck by his conviction that joy is key to our mission to share the faith.  

We must be about expressing the beauty of faith with joy - not with somber finger-pointing at the evils of the secular world.  Not by judging people who do not live the way of our faith, but by inviting them to "come and see" that Catholic faith, lived fully, in conformity with Church teaching, is a key to a joy-filled life - even during times of suffering and disappointment.  We need to invite people to a lifestyle which leads to eternal life - rather than simply presenting it as a moralistic lifestyle that seems all too often to be one of abstinence from what people naturally want. 

I'm going to come right out and say it: I am convinced that too often outsiders (including inactive Catholics) see us Catholics as people who say NO, not as people who say YES.  They see us as moralistic finger-waggers - and they probably think all we do is talk about sex, while being unable to clean up our own act.  As a result, the American public is not exposed to the fullness and beauty of what the Church does teach about sex - and everything else, because the NO about the Church is often drowning out the YES.  (That, by the way, is pretty much one of the reasons Father Barron gave for why he chose to spend several years of his life and risk thousands of dollars to create the Catholicism videos... because he wanted to present the fullness of the beauty of the Catholic Church - to counteract the bad press the Church has gotten recently because of the sex-abuse crisis.)

Where do we find the beauty of our faith? We must invite others to consider and desire the good, the true and the beautiful by exposing them to the Catholic Church as a community of living examples of full and joyous faith - and showing them that the true underpinning for this kind of life is a balanced formation based on the Six Tasks of Catechesis: 
  • Promoting knowledge of the faith
  • Liturgical education
  • Moral formation
  • Teaching to pray
  • Education for community life
  • Missionary initiation
Primary proclamation of the Gospel and concentration on all six of these tasks are needed for the fullness of "new evangelization."  If we present the whole faith as what the General Directory  calls the "symphony of faith" (136) without any one component loudly drowning out the others, we show to the world the full beauty of that "symphony."

Lastly, where do we find the joy that makes expression of this beauty fully possible?  It should shine forth hrough our liturgies, certainly, drawing people into a coherent sense that what we pray is what we believe with deep conviction.  This joy should be an evident part of our lives in the public sphere - people should look at Catholics in good times and bad and see an inward serenity in the midst of a troubled world that does not come from mere temporal happiness, and want to know why we have it, and how they can get what we have.   So, if you are Catholic and enjoying it, please tell your face!  Then, go find something you find beautiful about the faith - and share it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Liturgical Word for the Day: "Kavanah"

This morning, I caught a show on my local ABC affiliate that featured an interview with three Jewish rabbis - talking about the upcoming high holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  During the discussion, each rabbi shared a bit about his/her own preparation and interior disposition for leadership of the liturgies of these celebrations. Of course, since our tradition in the Church is rooted in Jewish liturgy, there were similarities to our own worship.  However, I was struck by a particular word one rabbi used to describe the attitude that he must have to be able to lead prayer authetically: kavanah.

One webpage about Judaism describes it this way:
The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is generally translated as "concentration" or "intent." The minimum level of kavanah is an awareness that one is speaking to G_d and an intention to fulfill the obligation to pray. If you do not have this minimal level of kavanah, then you are not praying; you are merely reading. In addition, it is preferred that you have a mind free from other thoughts, that you know and understand what you are praying about and that you think about the meaning of the prayer.
I think this delightful concept is a treasure we need to explore more deeply as Catholics. When we celebrate the Mass, whether as presider, liturgical minister, or as a member of the assembly, we should have that kind of interior intentional focus.  De musica sacra et sacra liturgia  (Instruction on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy)  written in 1958, at the time when the concept of "active participation" was first being universallly promoted, puts the concept this way:

22. By its very nature, the Mass requires that all present take part in it, each having a particular function.
a) Interior participation is the most important; this consists in paying devout attention, and in lifting up the heart to God in prayer. In this way the faithful "are intimately joined with their High Priest...and together with Him, and through Him offer (the Sacrifice), making themselves one with Him" (Mediator Dei, Nov. 20, 1947: AAS 39 [1947] 552).
b) The participation of the congregation becomes more complete, however, when, in addition to this interior disposition, exterior participation is manifested by external acts, such as bodily position (kneeling, standing, sitting), ceremonial signs, and especially responses, prayers, and singing.
53 years on, it is possible that we may have lost the original balance between interior and exterior participation.  We focus on asking people to sing, to say the prayers, etc, but I see very little evidence that  in our catechesis  of children, youth and adults that we more than sporadically make an effort to help people understand what should be going on in their mind and heart during Mass.  To be sure, most people who are willingly at Mass naturally make an effort to be involved in what is happening during the liturgy. They sing, sit, stand, process, and listen.  However, are they doing kavanah?  Are their minds free of other thoughts? Do they understand what they are praying about, and do they think about the meaning of the prayer?

When we begin using the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in the coming months, will people be engaged more deeply because they now have to think about the words? Or will they be put off by long, complex sentences and difficult words? I am convinced that the quality of interior engagement with the liturgy in the months and years to come will be due to the quality of the catechesis provided to people on the new Missal.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New Roman Missal: "People of Good Will" - What Does That Mean?

Yesterday, a friend of mine currently revising a musical setting of the Gloria using the text of the new Roman Missal sent me an advance sample. I commented to him that the two longer notes on “good will” in the refrain force the singer, in effect, to accent “good” instead of “will” as one might expect, and that was interesting. His response was that he did that intentionally to help focus people on the meaning of the phrase. 

That, however, got me thinking. What does it actually mean to be “people of good will”?  What will people in the pews in Catholic parishes, asked to sing this “new” phrase think that it means?

Miriam Webster online gives several definitions that seem to apply to some degree: 
1 a : a kindly feeling of approval and support : benevolent interest or concern…
2 a : cheerful consent b : willing effort

Urban is more realistic, perhaps: 
“A factor of humanity that is lacking in most people. Good will is the basic component of "good people," that is, those who are nonmalignant, those with clean motives, and those who possess a lack of cruelty and viciousness.

So, to be people of good will in the worldly definition means merely to have a kindly feeling of approval and support, to give a cheerful consent or make a willing effort and/or to have clean motives and a lack of cruelty and viciousness? Is this our proper response to God and to God’s sending of his Son? Seems a little bit inadequate, does it not?

The translation of the song of the angels in Luke 2:14 in the New American Bible is actually “…peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests”- instead of the Mass text translation of “et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”  from the Novus Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible  from which the Third Edition of the Roman Missal is derived.

If God’s favor rests on his people, if we are those privileged to be the objects of God’s love, I would hope we would have more than the dictionary-definition response!  Based on the teaching of Jesus and the Church, I would define the attitude that makes up Christian “good will” as follows:  joyful, open and willing reception of the Good News, evidenced in a life of loving charity and eager service to others.

What do you think? How will you help adults, youth and children understand this?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

St. Ignatius and I, or Cherchez le Jesuit

As we celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius, I have to acknowledge that he is the saint who pursues me a bit  like the hound of heaven.  For some reason, almost every major spiritual crisis in my life has somewhere in it had the influence of a Jesuit, whether in person, or through something I read.

In addition, I am extremely visual, and Ignatian meditations on Scripture tend to affect me deeply, because I really can enter the story. For that discovery, I acknowledge my debt to Fr.J. Michael Sparough, SJ, whose leadership of a meditation at a retreat at a key time in my life and subsequent personal advice helped me realize that God was trying to get my attention.  At any rate, I have often found myself in a time of discernment, during which I feel an urge to look around to see where the Jesuit influence is.

What is it about St. Ignatius? The methodology of discernment, I think, along with the working philosophy that God is to be found in all things. He is not an easy saint to follow, certainly. I have an attraction to parts of the Spiritual Exercises, but the idea of finding the time to go through the entire discipline is a little daunting. Still, the impulse is there, in the background, waiting for the right time.

In the meantime, I have to admit that the vagaries of my life journey lately have convinced me of the inevitability of turning my life over to God's will and not mine. My own attempts at achieving goals have been met with mixed success and not a little failure.   The following song pretty much says it. Take a listen, and bring to mind this great leader of the Church, St. Ignatius -- then ask how he may be speaking to you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Story of Unexpected Love

Last night, after the featured presentation of "Sherlock" on my local PBS station, I almost changed the channel.  I am glad I didn't.  They showed a short Oscar-nominated film in Dutch, with subtitles. I normally have little patience for subtitled films, since I am an avid multi-tasker, and when I have to focus on reading rather than hearing the dialog... well, you know how that is! About a minute and a half into this, however, I stopped having the urge to reach for the remote.  This film, about an aging office clerk with romantic inclinations ends up being a story of great love, in a most unexpected way.  I am thinking this might be a great conversation-starter for parish faith formation. Watch and see if you agree if "there is no greater love than..."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"The Mass in Scripture" - Expanding Catechesis for the New Roman Missal Through Lectio Divina

Stephen J. Binz's Lectio Divina Bible Study: The Mass in Scripture is a marvelous, deep study of the scriptural roots of the Mass which can prepare people to begin using the texts of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.  This resource gives adults an opportunity to grow in understanding the Mass through its biblical sources by discovering and praying over Scripture either individually, or as a group. In the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina, the assumption is that "the reader trusts that God is present and speaks to his people through the inspired word, working profoundly through our minds and hearts."

Beginning with early Christian accounts of the liturgy and its Jewish roots, Binz gives a brief outline, with questions for reflection.  He then opens with the first Lectio exercise - reflection on the Apostle Paul's teaching on the Lord's Supper, 1 Cor.11:17-19, which he calls "the Church's oldest existing teaching on the Eucharist."  Binz then guides the reader/participant through the process: Listening, Understanding, Reflecting, Praying and Acting. This is the process which will be used for the next 30 sessions.

The subsequent sections of this book consist of 6 "lessons" each, which focus on:
     Honoring God in Covenant Worship
     Introductory Rites of the Mass
     The Liturgy of the Word
     The Liturgy of the Eucharist
     The Communion Rite and Dismissal

While most resources about the Mass begin with the Sign of the Cross, Binz rightly starts with the Entrance Antiphon - and a scriptural reflection on what it means to process to the house and altar of God. Not only does he have lessons on the words we speak, but when an action has a scriptural significance, he guides the participant through that as well. An example is Lesson 12, "Praying to the Father, Through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit" - in which we are guided through the scriptural roots of the Collect prayer. Another is Lesson 24, where we focus on the scriptural tradition of sacrifice.

How can this in-depth study be used? Binz gives three options: individual study (with suggested accountability to another person), group study in a weekly format meeting to go through all 30 lessons, or group in a 6-week intensive format where  people meet once a week to share about the entire section.

What is immediately obvious from any of these options is that this study is a definite commitment. It is not for the casual Catholic, but rather for those who are willing to make an effort to explore their faith and are ready for the consequently deeper reward of greater understanding. Participation in this process can give people an opportunity to encounter the biblical roots of the Mass, to pray and reflect on those passages, and to allow that process to enrich the prayer of the Mass.

While The Mass in Scripture is a fine response to the call for a deeper catechesis on the Mass to coincide with the implementation of the new texts, it is definitely not for every group in a parish. It IS, however, perfect spiritual nourishment for Small Christian Communities and other people of mature faith who regularly and faithfully attend and fully participate in the Mass. I am of the mind that we should feed our most faithful and engaged parishioners the choicest spiritual food, if they are ready and hungry for it.  This resource definitely fills that need at this important time in the Church.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Community of Song - Family of Support

I was privileged to be part of a very special rehearsal last night. Approximately 30 veteran choir singers from 5 parishes and some young singers from a local Catholic high school convened at one of our area parishes to practice music for a funeral. As far  as pick-up choirs go, this one was excellent - with a pretty good balance among the voice parts.  The Holy Spirit called together a group of people who not only are up to the challenge, but who have the hearts to bring their best.

Our director, Todd, a talented young man who had called us together to prepare music for the funeral of his older brother, Mark, who had suffered for the past several years from a brain tumor.  Todd is an excellent director, organist and a composer and arranger of church music in his own right. Todd and Mark's mother, Janet, an alto who has sung for many years with several local choirs was also there to sing. The high school students - about 8 of them - were all young people who had experienced Todd as a teacher there - they had driven probably about 45 minutes to an hour to join us. The rest of us were local - and have sung with Todd and/or Janet over the years in several area parishes.

We all met some new music for the first time last night, but what some people did not know, the rest of us did, so all in all it was a good rehearsal. However, good as the musicianship was, the point was the gathering of a community of friends - people who feel close enough to this family in their time of grief to give up an evening and a half day tomorrow morning to be there to celebrate Mark's birth to eternal life - to pray together in song.

Anyone reading this who is an experienced choir singer will understand. Belonging to a parish choir is very close to an experience of Small Christian Community. For most of the year, choir friends pray together twice a week (at rehearsal and Mass) in word and song.  We share each other's joys and sorrows willingly over a period of years - and our commitment to each other is quite strong.

Parish musicians are a bit like each other's second family in many ways. We give up time around Christmas and Easter to be at church to sing rather than spend that time with our families.  We laugh together, we enjoy each other's good news, and we pray, cry and hug each other through the bad times.  I have been privileged to experience this in three parishes myself.  It is a special privilege to belong the the parish musicians' community, and one that fosters a spirit of great commitment in many good people.  It is an example of Christian community at its very best. The rest of the parish can certainly learn from this model of fidelity and commitment.

Last night was special. Tomorrow will be even more so, when, at the funeral, we will sacrifice our time and offer up our talent to help a family lay a beloved son and brother to rest. None of us will give a second thought to what else we could or should be doing with that time.  We know what is important.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Resources for Liturgical Catechesis in Spanish

Just updated my website, The Liturgical Catechist, with a new page of resources in Spanish (some biligual).

There are a few nice ones created especially to be bilingual, but, as is typical  of most resources in the Church, most are simply resources originally written in English translated (or with sub-titles). It is what it is. Someday, perhaps, when we have more people from the Hispanic culture who have been well-educated in liturgical theology and practice, we may see more resources created from within the mindset of their culture. Until then, these are pretty good and readily available from major Catholic publishers.  As always, if you have suggestions for additions to my resource lists of things that are specifically liturgical-catechetical, please let me know.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When the Catechist Fails to Live Up to His Role

Yesterday was tough for many Catholics, especially for regular EWTN viewers and "fans" of the now-infamous Father John Corapi, an admitted former drug addict who underwent a major conversion a number of years ago and who for the last few years has been a regular feature, explaining Catholic teachings.  If you were under a rock yesterday and missed all the commotion, there is a good summary of the facts here and a summary of what has been said around the blogosphere here.  Corapi's religious order's summary of his misbehavior  includes cohabitation with a former prostitute, drugs and sexting, as well as hiding millions of dollars in assets despite his vow of poverty.

Normally, I would not comment in this space on scandals in the Church, but since the latest involves a  television catechist and preacher, it seems appropriate to evaluate what has happened in light of that role. This news reveals a sordid secret life beneath the public persona and a stunning lack of authenticity. Corapi's situation, the scandal and dismay it has caused among the faithful are a good illustration of the damage that can result when a person acting in the role of  trusted catechist fails to live up to the role in his or her private life.

It is no surprise that Catholics are divided even in the face of this evidence, in their opinion of Corapi.  Many who defended him in the past continue to do so. Others are not so sure. I will only say that I very occasionally watched him on EWTN to see what he was about and personally found his style to be too "ranting".  I have never liked people that feel they have to shout to be heard.  In retrospect, I wonder if this was not a case of trying to convince himself of the truth of his own words.

Untypically, Corapi himself, who rather sadly resembled Anthony Weiner in his protestations of innocence and blame-laying at the beginning of this debacle, has so far been silent about these latest developments.  However, his Twitter feed this morning promises a "very special announcement" tomorrow.  Not holding my breath, although I do admit to the kind of natural curiosity one has when watching a train wreck or other disaster.

I wrote a few weeks back about the guideline that catechists have "authenticity of life."  The Guide for Catechists says, "The work of catechists involves their whole being. Before they preach the word, they must make it their own and live by it... The truth of their lives confirms their message. It would be sad if they did not 'practice what they preached'..."  And sad it is, as we are now seeing in Corapi's case. Now, of course, this guideline does not mean that a catechist has to be perfect - we are, after all, a church filled with sinners. However, when the split between the public teacher and the private man is revealed to be so great, his credibility as an instructor on Catholic doctrine (including morality) is irreparably compromised.  Many people trusted and loved this man, and thought of him as holy.  Now they have to untangle the lie of his private life from the truth of anything he taught.  That simply should not be happening.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass - Review

Want a simple book for the average Catholic to enrich knowledge of the Mass and help people deal with the changes of the Roman Missal? A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy by Edward Sri may be the answer for people who want a way to take ownership of the Mass and navigate the changes. While not without some minor deficiencies, this resource is written at the right level for many parish communities and for the background of its people.

Sri's enthusiasm and love for the liturgy of the Mass is evident throughout the book, and his explanations are simple and thorough. While this is a book that explains and tells, rather than letting adults discover the richness of the liturgy, it has its place among resources a parish should consider when planning their fall formation on the Roman Missal. It is written at a popular level and in a very positive tone. In fact, there are places where the reader senses the delight with which Sri enjoys the Mass.

Sri gives not only the scriptural roots of the Mass, but he also gives an explanation of the Liturgical Year, cycles of readings, and other essential elements of the Mass along the way. He explains why we read what we read, and the dynamics between the hearer and the proclaimed Word.  He even discusses the dynamic between personal belief and intellectual belief in the Creed and the history and meaning of intercessory prayer.  He traces the Old and New Testament roots of the Eucharistic Prayer.  He does not assume that his reader knows any of this - and for many adults, that is a good tactic and starting point. He glosses his explanations with pertinent quotations from Vatican II documents, popes, theologians and liturgists.

Sri's explanation of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is occasionally a bit reductive (as when he discusses how the bread and wine symbolize the offering of our lives "and all our little sacrifices," referencing Jeremy Driscoll's book on the Mass instead of connecting it to the more powerful call to claim the priesthood of the laity and offer our very lives along with all our joys and sorrows in paragraph 901 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).  He discusses the relation between the Sanctus and the hymn of the angels at Christ's birth, but misses the opportunity to define the "new" term "hosts" - about which some adults, unfamiliar with the language, have had questions as to whether this refers to the Communion bread... when it refers actually to armies of angels.

I also found it more than a little disconcerting that he moves immediately from the discussion of the "Lord I am not worthy" to an aside on how receiving Communion must be like how Mary felt at the Annunciation, as if the Marian connection is the only one to be made at that point. It IS a legitimate element of eucharistic spirituality, but again, not the only one. After a one-sentence explanation of the actions of the priest at the purification of the vessels and the Prayer After Communion, Sri then jumps immediately to the Concluding Rites without any instruction to the communicant about the meaning of  the Communion procession, the purpose of song at this point, the communicant's posture or what they should be doing after receiving or when the priest sits.  There is no mention of the silence after Communion or of the role of internal prayer. It just seems as though something essential is missing here in terms of catechesis. Since Sri did a nice job earlier in many of his explanations, going beyond Scripture to focus on the meanings of postures and gestures, I was actually surprised at how quickly and superficially he moved at this point and thereafter to the conclusion of the book.

Back to what he does do well, when discussing the revised texts of the Mass, Sri gives extensive and clear explanations for why the change expresses something essential about the Mass.  He also shows  how the new wording reclaims the scriptural roots of the Mass. In fact, I found it useful to keep a Bible nearby when reading, since Sri gives many Scripture references.  It is by taking the time to read the pertinent Scriptures that the reader can take things deeper.  When Sri does quote Scripture, I found it interesting, though not unpredictable, that like many more "traditional" Catholics, he uses the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition, rather than the New American Bible, which is the one we hear read at Mass.

I would point out that I have not seen the DVD or the study guides and workbooks that Ascension Press has produced for this book. In itself, I would give Sri's book three-and-a-half stars out of 5... it has limitations, certainly, as do many of the resources for the new Roman Missal. However, for the majority of people in the pew, this book will do little harm and a great deal of good. If nothing else, it will help people reclaim an enthusiastic sense of the rhythm and scope of the Mass, its roots in Scripture, as well as its beauty.