Thursday, June 21, 2012

"The Evangelizing Liturgy" - a Review

I just received a copy of The Evangelizing Liturgy - a video presentation on DVD by Fr. Frank DeSiano of Paulist Evangelization ministries. It's not bad. It has a rather different focus from most resources about the Mass, in that it tries to get at the underlying purpose and dynamic of the Mass and the relationship to evangelization.

Evangelization, Father Frank says, is "a response to the Good News." The liturgy is evangelizing, because we can see the liturgy "as a very profound experience of responding to the Good News of Jesus."  He notes the importance of Paschal Mystery and how it manifests itself  both in life and in the Sacraments, which are a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. The fullest expression of this, he says, is in the Eucharist. 

However, in the last 40 years, Fr. Frank notes, we have seen a pulling away from eucharistic expression, toward a sensation-based worship service, rather than "the liturgy".  Are we an audience or are we a congregation? he asks.

In his sincere, reassuring style,  moving around a chapel with props, Fr. Frank goes on to explain in detail how the Mass is an interactive experience that celebrates conversion, calls us to re-commitment and sends us forth to be disciples.  He then names  and explains 5 ways we respond to the Word of God at Mass:

  1. The Creed ("I believe" is a response)
  2. The Offertory  (We give ourselves in love and response)
  3. The Eucharistic Prayer (We respond in acclamations and give ourselves with Jesus)
  4. Holy Communion (We give ourselves to Christ and identify with him)
  5. The Dismissal (We accept the mission,  sent forth, commissioned and affirmed as disciples, to live like Christ in the world.)
He calls for us to pay attention to intensity, focus and concentration in the way we celebrate, rather than merely doing it "like we've done it a million times before."  He raises evaluative questions about how well we welcome and celebrate, calling attention to the worship and not to ourselves. Mass, he insists, should be focused on "making Christ clearer" - especially to those who are seekers, who might be considering returning, who have yet to experience conversion. If we see Mass as the proclamation of the Word of God and our response, he concludes, we challenge and nourish our people to experience renewal and conversion.

This 40-minute talk would be a great discussion-starter for parish liturgy or evangelization committees, or perhaps the RCIA, apart from their study of the basic structure of the Mass. That is not what this is about. Fr. Frank is concerned with the way we express the purpose and the underlying dynamics of the Mass. If everyone in liturgical ministry in a parish were to hear this message, it could make a difference in how well Mass is celebrated - and ultimately in the quality of parish life.  

While he does not name many specific techniques, Fr. Frank does ask all the right questions.  What he is doing here is issuing an appropriate "wake-up call" to parish ministers to get back to focusing on what is really important. Worth hearing.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Opening the "Door of Faith": US Bishops Announce Plans for Year of Faith

Although in my area any professional parish catechetical leaders worth their salt have already planned and announced their line-up of adult faith formation activities for the upcoming catechetical year, and DRE's have already published calendars for child/family activities, the USCCB yesterday finally unveiled its campaign.  Our diocese, like most, has a committee, but as yet no guidelines or suggestions for parishes (probably because they were waiting for the USCCB), so up until now, savvy leaders have had to rely on the original Vatican guidelines.

Yesterday's resources announced by the USCCB are

  • An online searchable edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (find it HERE)
  • An announcement of plans and a theme, based on the "door of faith" (find it HERE)
  • A new resource page on the USCCB site (find it HERE)

Here is what they had to say about "the door of faith" (which comes from the title of Pope Benedict's October 2011 motu proprio entitled Porta fidei  in which he declared the Year of Faith :
“The central image of the Year of Faith is the ‘door of faith’ based on Acts of the Apostles,” said Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, in his presentation to the bishops. “The ‘door of faith’ is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year we are called to open it again, walk though it and rediscover and renew our relationship with Christ and his Church.”
OK, we have their wisdom. Now, parish leaders need to re-focus their plans for next year or find ways to tie already-scheduled events in to this theme.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Full Participation in the Body of Christ at Worship Matters

At one of our parish Masses every week for a few years, there was a mother and teenage daughter who always arrived as the opening song was ending, then stood, sat and knelt without ever moving their lips during the entire Mass.  As a regular cantor at that Mass, I had the opportunity to watch them, noticing because they so obviously looked bored and disengaged.

Right after the final blessing, they would slip out the side aisle before the procession of the ministers had even started down the aisle. Every week, the same thing. I often wondered why the mother continued to give such a poor message to her daughter about what it meant to part of the celebration of the Mass. I suspected it was most likely that is the model she had been given by her parents, or perhaps that there was resentment over the absence of the child's father.  The only positive thing I could say about the years I observed this was that the mother did bring her child to Mass - in body, if not in spirit.

Finally, one summer, they simply stopped coming. Most likely no one other than me noticed, because they had never talked to people around them before or after Mass, or connected in any way. (Unfortunately, our parish does not have a formal hospitality ministry.) Most likely, the girl got confirmed, or perhaps graduated from high school - Mom's responsibility to get her to Mass was over. So was Mom's attendance at Mass. Apparently, this was all about obligation.

Today, on the feast of Corpus Christi we  celebrate what it means to be a committed member of the "One Body" that is the community of faith - the Church. We also hear clues about what it means to participate fully.  The readings of the day provide some clues as to what this looks like.

We hear the unified voice of the people in the first reading:
When Moses came to the people
and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD,
they all answered with one voice,
"We will do everything that the LORD has told us."  (Exodus 24:3)
In the Gospel reading (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26) we hear more corporate actions from the disciples gathered for the Last Supper:

he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them

Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.

Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.
All of this implies full participation, full engagement by all who are present. There are no watchers hanging around the margins, no mention of anyone not being part of this. (No "except so-and-so). No one with folded arms standing silently watching. Yet at Mass, sometimes that is what priests and cantors see during the people's responses and the songs.  When we meet this same community on the 2nd Sunday of Easter in our first reading from the Book of Acts, we hear "The community of believers was of one heart and mind..."  (Acts 4:32)

The biggest question in catechetical and liturgical ministry today is the growing lack of participation in the life of the Church.  Why do so many not feel like they are part of the community? The proof is all around us: families who never attend Mass, but drop off their children for a couple of years for sacrament preparation, then disappear. People who can't wait for Mass to be over, but leave after Communion - not realizing that an important part of the experience of Mass is to rejoice (in song) as they are SENT, not simply to leave.

We need to continue to explore all options to improve our outreach and evangelization from both the catechetical and liturgical sides of the Church. These ministries share the same fundamental issues. It's way past time for them to come together.  In 1997, the General Directory for Catechesis noted missing areas ("lacunae") in catechesis -particularly this in section 30:
— Catechesis is intrinsically bound to every liturgical and sacramental action.' Frequently, however, the practice of catechetics testifies to a weak and fragmentary link with the liturgy: limited attention to liturgical symbols and rites, scant use of the liturgical fonts, catechetical courses with little or no connection with the liturgical year; the marginalization of liturgical celebrations in catechetical programs.
This, along with good liturgical celebrations and parish hospitality that welcomes every person needs our attention NOW.  Statistics on attendance at Mass by Catholics continue to show a downward trend.  Despite shrinking resources and de-professionalization of lay ministry, (as I previously noted HERE) we cannot afford to allow the situation to get any worse. The growing dis-engagement of our people is a call for increased, not decreased resources to be devoted to catechesis and liturgy.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

New Liturgical Catechesis Video on Baptismal Mystagoy

Sometimes the right technology just makes it all too easy.  I just completed a video for catechists, giving instructions for a mystagogical reflection on baptism for Confirmation candidates or RCIA Candidates for Full Communion. I used a simple iPad app called ScreenChomp, from TechSmith Corporation. 

Even though I had never used ScreenChomp it was simple: I chose a background, recorded my voice instructions (and if I wanted to, I could have drawn diagrams on the video as well). I then opened the video in the Safari browser, emailed it to myself, downloaded it from to my laptop, then uploaded it to YouTube. (There may be a way with fewer steps, but I am still a little new at my  iPad.)  I also linked it to the Strategies page on my website, The Liturgical Catechist.  Here is the fruit of about 45 minutes of work - and only two attempts:

(Pats self on back!)

Fred Rogers Redevivus: Positivity and Goodness Go Viral

In the past few days, this beautiful Fred Rogers digital remix video of a segment from his popular children's show called "Garden of Your Mind"  has gone viral - approaching 2 million views in the first 5 days after it was posted.  It has been discussed on national television, shared countless times in the social networks, with some people even reporting it moved them to tears.  Just what is it about this video?
Certainly Mister Rogers had a beautiful way of expressing things - and that counts for a lot of the reaction - but I really think it is the message - and its underlying assumptions - that are so gripping.

This, essentially, is a video about the goodness of being human. It implies a world where people are surrounded by goodness and possibility. For the slightly over three minutes of this video, one can forget that sometimes human endeavor is not enough to overcome circumstances,  almost forget that to be human is to be fallible and flawed - and mortal. The fact that Fred Rogers, an icon of children's television, is reaching out from beyond the grave through the efforts of PBS Digital Studios should not be lost here. It makes this all the more poignant. The freshness of this message, accompanied by Rogers' ever-engaging smile and digitally enhanced voice is reaching adults and taking them back to childhood, when possibility seemed endless.

Where did Fred Rogers get that worldview? Look no further than his biography - he was both a musician and a Christian theologian (and ordained Presbyterian minister) who believed the power of television could be harnessed to reach people with a positive message. That message is very much of a piece with a key outlook of/Christian identity - God is good, the world is good, and human beings are essentially good.  Even though God is never explicitly mentioned, this video, in essence, portrays a sacramental worldview - that everything we do is done through, with and  in  the presence and goodness of God. It is playing out the moment in Genesis, when God created everything, including human beings and declared it was "good."  It is steeped in the theology of St. Paul, who said in Phillipians 4:13"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." 

In a world so darkened by bad news, political conflict, war and general hopelessness, Fred Rogers' timeless message calls us to become like little children again - to imagine hope, possibility and positivity. That, in the end, is what makes this video both timely and memorable.  Thanks, Mister Rogers - I know you are smiling in Heaven.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Austerity or Abundance? When Church Budgets Drive Ministry Decisions

Today, I feel moved to engage in a little hand-wringing... and to pose lots of questions. With the stressed economy and falling contributions, some parish pastors have been cutting back on ministry salaries and hiring recently. I personally know of both catechetical and liturgical positions that have been converted to part-time, people who have been told the parish "can no longer afford to pay" them. It is heartbreaking to watch.

It began a couple years ago, when local pastors started letting full-time degreed lay ministers leave or retire, replacing them with part-timers with minimal formation for ministry. In my own diocese, this unfortunately coincided with the demise of our lay ministry formation program. This spring, I have watched with increasing dismay as excellent veteran ministers are pushed out at the behest of finance councils, or leave the ministry to retire while the pastor intends to get semi-volunteers to replace them.

Are we becoming an austerity Church rather than one of abundance?  We seem to be abandoning a theology of Christian hope and retrenching as if we are businesses instead of mission-driven agencies of the Kingdom of God on earth.  Have we forgotten the blessing to the Church that lay ministry provides?  Have we forgotten that the Holy Spirit is in charge?

At the same time parishes cut back, the cultural challenges to church participation and attendance are greater than ever and call for additional skills and strategies from our catechetical and liturgical leaders. Replacing them with well-intentioned but unformed people who are simply able to organize and operate a  program can only have negative effects.

We have not lost the need for catechetical leaders who can see the big picture - people with the ability to evangelize families and draw people into deeper participation in the life of the church, not just people who can "make the trains run on time."  We need people able to evaluate catechetical materials intelligently, who can deal with the very real issues of non-practicing parents of children in formation, and who have the ability to choose, lead and form catechists to provide more than what is in the textbooks.  We need leaders who can discern and support volunteers, with a vision for the future, who are available to attend local and diocesan formation to develop new strategies and skills, not part-time people who have another day job and/or the responsibility for a young family.

Parishes also need to provide more, not less adult faith formation. The promise of "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us" that adult formation should become the priority in parishes has not been realized in most places - and without someone giving that area attention, parishes provide either nothing or very little to engage and catechize adults. Small wonder that stewardship of time, talent and treasure for many people is tepid or irrelevant to their Mass attendance (if they attend at all.)

This church needs liturgical ministers who understand the beauty of the liturgy and have the ability to lead volunteers to enculturate the celebration appropriately to make it lively and appropriate for the community, not just people to play keyboards. The most frequent complaint parishioners have is about the quality of liturgy.  When pastors cut back on liturgical staff, they make good liturgical leadership even less possible - and more of the burden goes onto the pastors themselves.

Back in 2005, Paulist Father Robert Rivers proposed that we need to go From Maintenance to Mission - to move forward as a church to accept the challenges of evangelizing in today's culture. Today, it is even bleaker than that, as we seem to backslide into retrenching, rather than maintaining.

So where are we going? Where is the vision? Where is our trust that "God will provide?" Why do we have such a failure of Christian hope? More than that, how does the trend toward retrenching affect our ability to carry out the Church's mandate to provide the "New Evangelization"?  Since pastors seem to be more and more adopting a business model of operation, why are they having so much trouble seeing that the more they invest in good people the more they will get back?

The ROI (return on investment) in good lay ministers who are able to work with a pastor and independently to provide and inspire great parish leadership will naturally be larger in terms of participation, engagement and stewardship of its people.  The experiments by the Gallup organization with "church engagement" strategies have shown how true that is.

The larger question here is why are pastors listening more to the voices of their business managers than to the voice of the Holy Spirit?   There is a term that seems to apply here: "Functional Atheism" - meaning we say there is a God, but we act as if God has no power to affect our situation.  We are going into a Year of Faith. Perhaps it should instead have been a "Year of Hope" instead.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday: the Great Commission - "Go" (And ROI)

Today's Gospel for the Most Holy Trinity includes the famous words with which Jesus leaves his disciples:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.  (Matthew 28:18-20)
Besides the importance of Jesus himself naming the three persons of the Trinity, this passage, because of the command "go, therefore..." has become known as "The Great Commission."  Jesus is mandating this simple job description for his followers - to make disciples, baptize, and teach them - for all time, until the end. Pretty simple - and ostensibly this has been the mission of the Church since its beginning.

Notice the order here: first, we are called to "make disciples", then baptize, then teach. In the early Church, of course, converts called to the faith were primarily adults, so first they felt the urge to discipleship - they heard the Gospel proclaimed by believers and were attracted to the faith. Then they spent time in apprenticeship to the  local bishop to learn how to be disciples, also learning how to live as believers. Then they were baptized.  The order is often a bit different today.

Making Disciples. Disciples are called by hearing the Gospel. Certainly hearing the proclamation of the Gospel happens whenever it is read in church, and if the preacher is doing his job in the homily - of inspired instruction on what that proclamation means. But back up a minute. Because first we need to get people to church to hear that preaching, the calling of disciples is not primarily the job of preachers, but of the laity - the "faithful witnesses  who evangelize others  by testifying to their faith in Jesus Christ through their words and their lives, in the world. (In a previous post, I noted that this is a key theme of the Year of Faith.)

Calling and making disciples is the job of ALL Christians. The entire community of faith is called to proclaim the Gospel in its very life - and to call forth the gifts of its members so that they can become truly engaged deeply in the life of the community - so that the parish itself calls and makes disciples. Some churches do this very well. Others fail, for whatever reason. The Catholic Strengths and Engagement Community is a great resource on church engagement - providing resources and strategies for how to get people to be active, involved and contributing members of the parish. (Sign up for their June 15th webinar with Albert Winseman of the Gallup organization and Fr. Bill Hanson, pastor of the first church to use the Gallup ME 25 instrument to become an "engaged church."). 

An engaged church, by its very presence in the community, evangelizes, encouraging not only its members, but others, to become disciples.

Baptizing.  Of course today, since most Christians are baptized as infants at the desire of their parents, they have to spend a lifetime learning what it meant. That is why calling and evangelizing children and adults who are already members of the Church through inspired proclamation of the Gospel is so important.  If people really hear and see what is proclaimed, they remain in the Church.  But for that to happen well, we need to be part of a community of mystagogy - engaged in constant reflection on the essential and personal meaning of baptism. This begins, not with the entrance of a child into formal catechesis, but with engaging the parents of baptized infants and children in the life of the parish. Then, we need to provide lifelong learning and opportunities for participation in the life of the Church for all its members. (See the Engaged Church resources above.) In this reversed reality, baptizing does not stop after the water dries - each of us remains an apprentice in faith, learning daily how to be a better disciple and to "observe all" that Jesus has commanded. Parishes need to provide frequent opportunities for ongoing mystagogy on baptism for all ages, because it should be part of the lifelong learning of every Christian.

Teaching.  We know about that, and we attend to it - at least for children and youth. For the adults, not so much. In the 11 years since the USCCB document on adult faith formation, "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us"  was published, only minimal progress has been made in most parishes toward making adult formation the centerpiece instead of the periphery of parish life. We can and must do better - even in this stressed economy, when so many parishes are finding ways to make do with volunteer leaders instead of paid staff for adult faith formation.

But what about that first word of the mandate: "Go"?

Recently, I heard Neil Parent, former executive director of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership and former representative for adult education for the USCCB, say:
"Jesus said 'go and teach.' We say 'come and learn.' We need to go where people are." 
That is increasingly the challenge for the Church today - especially since so many of our people do not physically show up at the parish on a regular basis. It is why so many, including the Pope, are advocating for an increased use of social networking to spread the gospel, which is literally going out where people today are. Although many parish leaders have heard this, they still falter when it comes to doing this well. As many other good people have put tremendous effort into raising awareness and assisting Catholics to use technology to spread the Gospel, I will not do that here. However, here are just a few of my favorite resources from people at the forefront of Catholic exploration of technology:

So, how are you and your parish living up the "The Great Commission" these days? Do you give adequate resources (time, energy, money and personnel) to "going","making", "baptizing", and "teaching?" Or, do you need to step back and rethink your parish plan for outreach, evangelization, engagement and catechesis?  Remember, the more you put in, the bigger the ROI (Return on Investment.)  After all, we don't do it alone.  Jesus promised to be with us in this endeavor until the end of the age.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Marriage Catechesis: Winning Hearts & Minds of Catholics

Yesterday, I attended a diocesan day-long gathering on Marriage catechesis, featuring Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, of Louisville, vice-president of the USCCB and vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, and Dr. Helen Alvaré, a noted lawyer and theologian who has long been active in support of family and life issues for the Catholic Church. This kick-off event for a diocesan-wide initiative to bring Catholic teaching on marriage was packed with pastors and parish leaders. It was illuminating - and daunting - and inspiring.

Archbishop Kurtz, who has been characterized as a "smiling conservative," was gracious and pastoral, but firm in his contention that the Church's teachings about marriage need to be heard. The problem with marriage in our culture, he stated, is that "while people admire Jesus for sacrificing, they do not want to make sacrifices themselves." Although our own Bishop Daniel  Conlon admitted we may not win the public battle in our courts and legislature, Kurtz insisted that we need to have the "conviction that our leadership can make a difference" and that "cultural movements can change." The difference, he said, is us

Kurtz challenged us, pointing out that it is clear that "God's revealing and our nature go together 'like a horse and carriage' - man and woman fit together as two in one flesh. This is the first time in history we have tampered with that definition of marriage." What is needed in response, he insisted, is "three C's: courage, compassion and commitment" along with a need for communicating that to live within Church teaching requires both "inner discipline and community support." He urged all to read the USCCB document "Love and Life in the Divine Plan."

The archbishop had several practical ways to promote and strengthen marriage in parish life:
1. Find ways to proclaim good examples of married life (find and lift up the stories and examples in the community)
2. Pastors should be involved in marriage preparation so they develop relationships with couples.
3. Be involved and provide marriage enrichment. Couples are not "done" after the wedding.
4. Support those who are on the brink of separation or divorce - reach out and help them.

In the Q & A session after his talk, Kurtz noted that we need to be a part of local decisions on what it taught in public schools about marriage, and that we need to be more "out there" with the truth about marriage - because our own people often form their opinions without the Church.  He encouraged the use of the new "Blessing for a Child in the Womb". And to our youth, we need to communicate that "the friendship between married people is not just about mutual satisfaction, but about chaste and holy living and sacrificial love."

After his talk, we viewed a video which has been provided to all parishes: Made for Life (you can view it online HERE.

After lunch, Dr. Alvaré provided a tour of the developments in court decisions and legislation regarding marriage in the United States.  Some key points from her presentation:
  • The 1970's saw the rise of decisions and factors that changed our traditional American view of marriage: no-fault divorce, right of unmarried people to birth control, legal abortions, rise of cohabitation, new reproductive technologies, an increase in non-marital births (she noted that today among Hispanic women, 54% of all births are outside of marriage.)
  • In the history of American legislation and court decisions, originally marriage between a man and a woman was seen as supportive to a good society.  The "goods" of marriage meant more than the rights of the individual.
  • Up until 1980, courts saw traditional marriage as the vehicle for preparing children for the obligations of society. Indeed, all current federal programs are based on a preference for children to be born within marriage.
  • Abortion says fathers have "zero rights to the child." (Arguments in favor were based on assumption of male violence.)
  • Reproductive technology breaks family ties and give preference to single parenting.
  • Cohabiting and single parenthood as promoted in the culture today are all about the rights of women. (Even though there is 11 times more violence in co-habiting and single parent homes than in traditional families.)
  • Procreation is now seen as a matter of choice for the individual, even within marriage.
  • The rights of the adults are seen as more important than the rights of children
  • Current arguments for same-sex or non-traditional models are based on "sexual expressionism"- sex is a matter of self-expression, not related to children or maintaining a stable home.
  • Same-sex marriage advocates call state interest in linking marriage to children "irrational"
  • The research is behind us. It shows that the family structure with the best outcome for children is two biological parents who remain married. The economic divide between those who are doing well and those who are poor, is not actually race, but marital status.  Strong marriages = strong economy. (Book recommendation: Charles Murray, Coming Apart.
  • Difficulties with the current cultural view in the US:  Totalizing the state: it now gets to define marriage. Dualism: taking the baby out of sex takes the body out of the person and objectifies women. Rule by men, not by law: the courts get to make the decisions. Threats to religious freedom when religion conflicts with sexual expressionism: denial of the role of natural law.
  • Religion, she said, has "value added" - it is expert in humanity, based on truths of natural law and covenant values. Our track record is stability in marriage - the Catholic way of marriage is recognized as good for society. Transcending politics with principles is a novel idea today.
As someone who supports the Church's teaching on marriage and is disturbed by many of the cultural trends, I have to say that this day was encouraging. Like Bishop Conlon, I have a gut feeling we will continue to lose the legislative and court battles, for the reasons Dr. Alvaré gave - that the culture regards sexual self-expression as the highest good and the only factor involved in the concept of marriage, and that we have turned over the decision-making to the state. This is certainly not ideal, but we still have a chance to reach our own people with the message that marriage is not only a human institution, but a divine one, created by God himself, within the natural order of things - and that the union of one man and one woman for a lifetime, providing a strong foundation for the children who will form our future is still the highest good. If we can do that, we can send them out to plant seeds of truth in American culture.