Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent Reflection: Finding A Light of Hope in a World of Darkness

And so it begins: our annual journey toward the Incarnation at Bethlehem, toward the Christ Child who is also the King of Glory. Each Advent is about new beginnings, yet this year, after a brutally antagonistic election and its aftermath, that seems just a little beyond reach.

Personally, I am tired and rather discouraged that the battle for decency, justice, human solidarity and peace seems so much more difficult these days. For now, at least, it looks like many of humankind's baser instincts have been unleashed upon our nation - from all sides of the political divide.

That's why I read that marvelous Collect in the Roman Missal for the First Sunday in Advent differently this year:
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 Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Resolve. For me, that is a strong "ask" this year. Negativity cannot be allowed to triumph. Injustice, hatred, prejudice and anger cannot be allowed to triumph. Most of all, fear cannot be allowed to triumph.

I want to run forth to meet Jesus, but my heart is too heavy for that sort of eagerness right now. Lord, grant my heart wings and give the strength to stand upright in your light.

What are the righteous deeds God asks? The core message of the Gospel certainly calls us to love our neighbor. But today, who is our neighbor? For me, my literal neighbors are the Mexican-American family across the hall, the white-like-me single mom and her teenage son next door, the Muslim family down the hall, the East Indian and Eastern European families upstairs, the maintenance guys who only speak Spanish... Yes, these are all my neighbors. Broader than that, however, my neighbors are my "friends" online - people of all races and orientations - on all sides of that very contentious political spectrum.

What righteous deeds will make me worthy to possess the Kingdom? Jesus has defined them in Matthew 25 and the Tradition of the Church has interpreted these as the Works of Corporal Mercy:
To feed the hungry.
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To welcome the stranger.
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned.
To bury the dead.
This year, this list seems to present an even bigger challenge. It seems to me that if we profess to follow Christ, we should not only perform these acts on a personal level, but also stand firmly against those who, out of self-interest, desire for financial gain, and prejudice wish to abandon the very people who most need our help.  Should we not speak up when the disabled are mocked, when the elderly are threatened with loss of the "entitlements" for which they have worked their entire lives, when refugees are refused asylum, when women are insulted and assaulted because of their gender, and when all immigrants come under suspicion? Should we not speak up when the rich are rewarded for being rich and the poor are penalized for being poor? And should we not speak up against these forms of injustice just as loudly as we have spoken the name of God for the rights of the unborn?  As the song says, if I don't do that, what good am I?

This is not mere politics. This is a fight for Christian principles against a climate of self-interest and self-righteousness. This is resistance against a culture in which many no longer see justice for all as necessary, because some are more valuable than others. It is a fight to preserve the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just for some.

I want to be able to present Christ with righteous deeds, but today, the responsibility seems particularly heavy. Lord, lift me up and strengthen me to serve and advocate for the "other" - those who are unfortunate, different and rejected.

As I light the first candle on my home Advent wreath tonight, I will most ask for hope. Hope that I might be a light in the darkness. Hope that I will not lose heart. Hope that other people of good will will likewise work while the night is upon us so that when the dawn of the Son of Justice arrives, we will be able to say we fought the good fight in his name.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Feast Day" - The Liturgical Year Board Game: Good, Low-Tech Fun & Learning

Feast Day!, the newly-released board game for ages 6-adult, is a personal project from Steve Botsford, a former youth minister, designed to help kids learn about the seasons and feasts of the Liturgical Year and the significance of parts of the Mass. Like a traditional board game, it comes with a colorful board, four markers - one for each person or team playing, a die and a set of cards corresponding to the seasons of the liturgical calendar. This visually attractive game is intended for families, schools, parish religious education, and home-schoolers and can be played either by individuals or teams. That makes it suitable for use in a classroom situation.

Game play is simple. Players place their markers on the Christ the King space, then roll the die and move through 52 spaces, one for each Sunday of the year, Whenever a player lands on a space, the player to the right draws a card from the pile that corresponds to that season and reads the question to him or her.  If the player answers correctly, he or she keeps the card.

The questions on the cards are mostly pretty basic - asking the color or meaning of the season, the significance of a symbol used during the season or the ways we celebrate the Liturgical Year. The Ordinary Time deck includes questions about the Mass and the Bible. Occasionally, some questions even invite brief reflection, such as this one: "During Advent we watch for signs of God's love in the world. Name one place you can see signs of God's love."

If a player lands on a space with the Feast Day! logo, everyone shouts "Feast Day!" and the player draws a card from the Feast Day stack. These cards contain interesting facts about the liturgical year, but no question. In effect, it's a free card - with bonus learning about how special days are celebrated during the Liturgical Year.

The first player to travel all the way around the board and land on the Christ the King space chooses a season and attempts to answer a question from that card pile.  If the question is answered correctly, the game is over and players count their cards. The player or team with the most cards wins the game.

My take:
This would be a great addition to any home or classroom to test knowledge of Catholic liturgical basics and encourage learning about the liturgical year by children, parents and even teachers and catechists. The graphics on the board are colorful and engaging, the game play simple enough for younger children. There is a nice variety of questions that can appeal to all ages.  I like that it gives a team-play option. When playing this in teams in a classroom, the teacher or catechist could, if time runs out, count cards as the end of class approaches, if the game is not completed.

While Feast Day! may not be as glitzy or "modern" as app-based learning games like Catholic Words and Games, it is attractive, simple and easily used in classrooms where a projector and screen are not available or the catechist reluctant to use technology. Board games may be low-tech, but they are versatile, easy to use and here to stay. At a reasonable price-point of $34.95, with potential appeal to all ages and a durable, heavy-duty box and board, this is a game worth getting and enjoying for years.

Feast Day! is a great learning tool and can be fun, too. Go here to order it now, while there is a free shipping offer. (Grab the free quick review guide for the liturgical seasons while you're on the site, too.)

NOTE: I was provided with a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 29, 2016

In Which I Discover Why Biblical Literacy Is Important to Understanding the Mass

Last Monday night, I spent two hours with the catechists in my parish, teaching Part 2 of From Mass to Mission in a bilingual format. (See my post about the experience of Part 1 here.) The room was nearly twice as full as it was for the previous session. More catechists came, and some even brought their teenage children. I sort of expected that. since typically Hispanic folks invite their friends and family to things they get enthusiastic about. Have to admit, it made me smile to see so many there. I was determined to make the night worth their while.

The subject for the evening was Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Concluding Rites of the Mass. I went through the Offertory and taught them about how to offer themselves with the bread and wine - how to offer their hearts and lives to the Father to be changed with the Gifts at the Epiclesis. We worked our way through the Eucharistic Prayer and they learned about joining in the Liturgy of Heaven,  remembering the Last Supper, transubstantiation, Real Presence and such.

Then, we got to the Lamb of God. I asked if anyone knew why Jesus was Cordero de Dios, the Lamb of God.  Not really. So, I mentioned the Passover, the blood of the lamb on the doors of the Israelites and the concept of being saved by the Blood of the Lamb. About that time, a few looked confused, and one woman asked for clarification. It seems they didn't know the story of Moses, the Pharaoh, the plagues, the Angel of Death and the death of the Egyptian firstborn children that ultimately resulted in the freedom of the the Israelite people.  Luckily, my DRE, who speaks Spanish fluently, got up and in 5 minutes, told the entire story.  Then, they understood. The lights went on.

The rest of the evening went pretty much as expected as we learned about receiving and being changed by the Eucharist and being sent forth on the mission to evangelize. Those present expressed gratitude at the end for what they had learned.

In reflecting later on what had happened that night, I realized that when teaching about the Mass, one cannot assume people have the Biblical literacy to understand the connection between the Last Supper, the Passover and the Lamb. It also occurs to me that the image of the angels and saints worshiping in heaven along with us might be less-rich for those who don't know the images from Revelation, although they do hear about that at Sunday Mass upon occasion. There are probably more issues about understanding the Mass that lack of familiarity with basic Bible stories would affect.

In short, I learned something else I cannot assume when teaching about the Mass.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

When Adults Learn that the Mass is Much More Than They Thought...

Last night, I was privileged to spend a couple hours with 28 of my own parish's fellow catechists, all Hispanic, almost all of whom attend Spanish Mass.  I have known some of these folks for years, but last night, I watched them grow, right before my eyes as I presented an adapted-for-catechists version of my book, From Mass to Mission for Children.  What I experienced confirmed my suspicion that many Catholic adults know very little about the Mass except the basics of external participation.

The format was a bilingual presentation... with bilingual slides and the help of one of the catechists who translated what was said.  The informal camaraderie of a community of learners was quite evident. These catechists definitely appreciate one another and our director.

As I unfolded the structure and meaning of the Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word, I noticed that lots of notes were being taken. Their responses to questions about how they personally prepare for Mass revealed a wide range of practices, but many of those in the room had a real "aha moment" when they learned that looking at the readings ahead of time and considering what they need to pray for at that Mass are good practices.

They did not already know (except those who are readers at Mass) that there are 3 cycles of Sunday readings - and years dedicated to Matthew, Mark and Luke, nor did they know about the relationship between the Old Testament readings and the Gospel, or the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing the Word from the ear to the heart of the listener.

When we talked about what they had heard, there was such wonder and joy in their ideas on how they will now attend Mass differently.

It was a very good session - and I definitely felt the love and appreciation. I bet they all come back on Monday for Part 2 - and maybe they will even bring a few friends.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

(Overdue) Book Review: Jared Dees - "To Heal, Proclaim and Teach"

What if parish ministers treated everyone they encountered as if they truly wanted them to become disciples of Jesus Christ?  What if they used the same methods Jesus did to attract his followers? These are the important questions that Jared Dees attempts to answer in To Heal, Proclaim and Teach: The Essential Guide to Ministry in Today's Catholic Church.

Dees starts by noting the crisis in catechesis, which has resulted in many young people leaving the Church after Confirmation. He begins probing the problem by noting the 5 stages of evangelization described in the National Directory for Cathechesis, all of which are inspired by the Catechumenate (RCIA):  Pre-Evangelization, Missionary Preaching, Initiatory Catechesis, Mystagogical or Post-Baptismal Catechesis and finally, Permanent or Continuing Catechesis

In effect, Dees implies, we tend to move right into the third stage without giving attention to the first two. Then, we skip the 4th stage and wonder why people are not around or not interested in the fifth. An experienced teacher himself, Dees admits that he, too, has spent a great deal of time doing things in less-than-effective ways.

Jesus, Dees points out, had a specific method. He reached out to people in ways that they most needed. Quite often, Jesus first healed people, either physically or by attending to what it is they needed most spiritually.  Then, he proclaimed his message about the love of God the Father. Only when he had done these, did he teach them. The disciples and those most closely connected to Jesus received a deeper form of teaching. The crowds, however, he taught in parables, because they were not ready for the fullness of knowledge of the faith. "In other words, writes Dees, "we do not teach the unevangelized. We cannot expect them to understand the mysteries of God's Kingdom because they are not yet ready."

The first step is healing. We need to listen, get to know people and understand their deepest longings. Catechists cannot move forward effectively if they do not know those whom they teach. We need to help people discover the sin and brokenness in their own lives. We do that best when we get in touch with our own brokenness - so that we can recognize it and approach it authentically in others. This, of course, echoes the "threshold conversations" of Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples, aimed at building up trust.

The second step is to proclaim. He suggests we share four things with those we evangelize: the Paschal Mystery, personal testimony, saint stories and the way we live. (See Chapter 6 for how to have something to share on these.)

The third step is to teach. Not in the ways that currently bore young people, but by challenging them to look at the world differently:
In order for us to to be truly remarkable teachers and catechists, whether it is in religious education of children, youth ministry, marriage preparation, RCIA, or adult faith formation, we have to think of ways to present our beliefs in ways that challenge conventional thinking about the world. We have to offer new and creative insights into the stories and teachings Catholics have heard for years or even decades. Or, at the very least, we need to make sure that we do not strip all sense of wonder and awe out of the process.  (p.105)
It all hinges on Chapter 6, "Be Evangelized."  Dees issues a series of nine challenges to the reader to deepen his or her own faith... and skills for sharing it. We cannot accompany learners unless we ourselves live our faith.

The rest of the book is dedicated to exploring methods for one-on-one evangelization, for fostering small groups, and to suggesting specific age-appropriate approaches for children, teens, college students, young adults and adults.

Dees has offered us a blueprint for deepening our formational approach in parishes from teaching ministries to what Pope Francis calls "accompaniment." Parish ministers who, like Jesus did with the disciples at Emmaus, listen first, then reveal what people most need to hear in ways that reach them deeply will revolutionize parishes by truly forming disciples.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair review. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Liturgical Catechesis Should Make Jesus in the Eucharist as attractive as... BACON!

I had a chuckle or two over this funny post this morning about a mythical parish (St. Simon the Sulfite) attracting people to Mass by serving bacon at after-Mass hospitality.  

But then I thought about it. Our goal should be to make people want Jesus in the Eucharist as much as they want bacon. Really.

Many people will go out of their way for bacon. People also testify to their love for bacon all over the internet by sharing pictures, recipes and other signs of bacon-joy.  We don't see much of that kind of passion for Jesus, whom we consume in the Eucharist at every Mass.

The goal of liturgical catechesis should be to change that from a blasé attitude to one of intense longing that echoes the longing of the psalmist:

We've got work to do.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 8: Liturgical Catechesis - An Apprenticeship

JAMES PAULEY: "Liturgical Catechesis: an Apprenticeship in Mystery and Mission"

Cultural shifts in US affect how we do catechesis.  
Jim Beckman in Becoming a Psrish of Intentional Disciples  proposes small group ministry

"Apprenticeship" in the Decree on Missionary Activity
"The catechumenate is not a mere expounding of doctrines and precepts, but a  training period in the whole Christian life, and an apprenticeship duty drawn out, during which disciples are joined to Christ their teacher." [14] 

Characteristics of an Apprenticing Relationship:
  • We put ourselves under the direction of someone who has mastered/is mastering the craft
  • Objective: learning a new way of seeing and learning new abilities
  • Learning happens through the experience of sustained presence with the other.

Three Related Concepts: 
  1. Pope Francis has freqently mentioned "Spiritual Accompaniment"  (EG 169-170)
  2. GDC 47 "Slow Stages" of Evangelization  - Before relationship with God is proposed there needs to be a sustained conversation
  3. Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples: Thresholds of Conversion. - We need to study the person... And tailor our approach based on who they are. 

How  Would "Apprenticeship" Inspire our Catechetical Approaches?
  • The Content of Faith would e communicated in a genuinely personal way
  • All that is taught would e oriented to how it may be lived
  • Time would be set apart to allow for responsiveness, dialog and mentoring
  • Participants would learn a new way of seeing and a new way of living

Sophia Cavelleti allows time for silence... 
Apprenticeship model is most germane to liturgical catechesis because the liturgy is a place of encounter with God. 

See CCC 1624 on marriage role of Holy Spirit...  

If catechist is teaching in impersonal way, the richness  will be missing

Four Necessary Skills Needed to Live a Rich Sacramental Life
  1. The ability to disengage from distractions and attune ourselves to God in the sacramental action  - How do we help people disengage and attune to God? How the catechist starts the session is crucially important.
  2. The ability to "see" and "receive" and "give" in a sacramental way  - Seeing in a sacramental way gives us the ability to unite ourselves to see the invisible in the visible (Sohia Cavaletti) we need to help people to see the invisible. Then, we need authentic witnesses
  3. The ability to unit the mind and heart to the language of the liturgy  (is this even possible today - is it too much to expect? Children can. See Sophia Cavalletti Religious Potential of the Child, p. 43 
  4. The ability to be responsive to the gift God gives so that a change is effected in how we live

3 challenges to doing this.  From 2013 institute of church life survey

  1. Lack of trained personnelL
  2. Insufficient intentional disciples
  3. Catechesis takes place in larger groups

Maybe we start out small...

Organic Opportunities Today for Apprenticeship:
  1. It remains a deep conviction within our tradition that parents are the primary educators of their children... - Challenge to help parents apprentice the sacramental life.. Need homes where faith is lived organically
  2. A vitally important element of our ecclesial vision is that adult evangelization and catechesis  is "the axis around which revolves the catechesis of childhood and adolescence as well as thoat of old age." (GDC 275)...   We must pour our efforts into evangelizing adults 
  3. We can invest deeply in the mentoring roles that are already clearly defined... - Invest in mentoring roles sponsor, godparent...
  4. We recognize that the year after receiving a sacrament is a sensitive period... - The neophyte years is important. In marriage, the 1st year establishes behaviors
  5. The practice of spiritual direction is an already familiar model...   Spiritual direction is an apprenticeship model
  6. Opportunities may be found in catechetical sessions as they are currently structured...  Build time for mentoring into catechetical sessions 
  7. Many of the Saints [our mentors] apprenticed others in the Christian life...  If the task is beyond our strength,   like St. Therese, turn to God

Our catechesis should be rooted in respect for the mystery of God and the person.

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 7: Preaching - Relational Evangelization

KARLA BELLINGER:  "Liturgical Preaching and Evangelization"

YOU matter. YOU are the way. Pope Francis embodies this. Jesus was like that too. This is a theological statement. Yet we wonder if any word WE say matters. Do our words matter?

When the Holy Spirit asks say yes!  You matter, words matter, liturgical words matter!

Many people have deep feelings about preaching.

Name one word that comes to mind about Sunday preaching: (mine is "Forgettable")

Is preaching epiphenominological?  (i.e., Does it cause something to happen to the listener?) Too many people say "I come for the Eucharist not for the preaching." The homily is the 21st century hair shirt!

Priests and deacons think: Is anyone listening? 
Those in the pews think: Are you talking to me?  

Preaching is a relationship... When we don't have the connection there is a gap. Deep feelings on both sides... A conversation we are not having.

Study: 94% of those who gave feedback gave it to preachers they liked.  Only one in four catechetical leaders would pass a comment they heard on to a preacher... Zero would do it if the feedback was negative in nature.

Preaching is relational.

We need: new methods, new ardor, new expression

Andrew Greely said 1 out of 6 are preaching well.  CARA study says 1 out of 6 people in the pews is active. The target audience is the other 5.

Preachers should aim at those who only come once a year... If preacher yells at them or the music is bad, why would they ever come back?

For evangelization the homily that speaks to the inner circle does not work.

7-10 minutes can make or break a parish for a visitor.

The homily matters to the relationships in the church.  Connection and authenticity. Be real. Young people: don't talk AT us. Talk TO us.
Go deeper!

The focus should be on How can our people get an "A" in life? Let's call on the Holy Spirit to help us do this.

Q & A 
What does going deeper mean?   The spirituality of the listener and the preacher's content both matter.

Preachers need to get out among the non-active to listen.

What would a seminary formation in authenticity look like?  Like vinyl siding: paint scratches off aluminum siding. Vinyl siding is the same on the inside as on the outside.

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 6: Music - Connecting Experience

FR. ANTHONY RUFF "What does Church Music Have to do With My Life? Music and the New Evangelization"

The Problem
Young people think organized religion is not for good and that rituals of the church are meaningless. Inherited structure is meaningless. 
But his students are curious open and searching for meaning. They are often surprised that the rituals of the church can have meaning. It's news to them that liturgy is participation in salvation history.

Why is it a surprise that the rites are saving? Poor catechesis?

What happens in the Eucharistic prayer?  EVERYTHING

Christian Symbol and Ritual Bernard Cooke and Gary Macy starts with human experience... Very Rahnerian. He uses it to teach, because students today need that approach.

Five aspects of Ritual:
  1. Hermeneutic of experience
  2. Maturation
  3. Presence
  4. Service
  5. Friendship

Rahner  Foundations of Christian Faith all experience is open to God
vs. Von Balthaasar Intentions A very Critical Intorduction (Kilby)  beauty aesthetic acknowledging the beauty of revelation

Rahnerian starting point is a better approach in the Church today rather than zealots with an attitude that church teaching is good and the world is evil

Book he uses is Patrick T McCormick, A Banqueter's Guide to the All-Night Soup Kitchen of the Kingdom of God.  Students don't see any of this as spirituality. No connection between social justice and spirituality. Spirituality, in reality,  is an entire world view.

How is it meaningful?
Does it relate to spirituality?
Does it relate to my life?

We need a realistic piety around texts we sing

Do the texts of the songs line up with our longings?

Or, are they epiphenomenological?  (Do the texts cause the longings?)  Or are the songs overly cut off from the real world?  Do we balance our faith and doubt?

We don't want to be pious in a sloppy way.  No need for a layer of lace and holy water 

Instead, we need to respect artistic ability and musical impulse. Do musicians have to be disciples? Sing to the Lord 39  says yes, but we should expect them to be human and not to be perfect.

The Appropriate use of Tradition

SC 112 we need a Thesaurus Musicae Sacrae 

Overly traditional impulse comes from a sense that what we have is  not working. It's not all bad... 
Idealization of chant and stylistic Euro-centrism ignore the culture people come from.

Some agendas  more chant, fewer hymns...

The reform of the reform starts with Musical tradition and points to the liturgy... Is backwards. We should start with liturgy and work toward musical tradition

Alcuin Clark T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy.   Critique 
nothing positive about congregational singing or participation

Musical traditionalism attempts to make music meaningful. Escapist. Misreading of hermeneutic of continuity

We can indeed have a preferential option for tradition in Vatican II 

We need a hybrid hermeneutic for interpreting SC chapter 6. 
Theological dynamic,culturally sensitive rite plus a solid musical tradition 

Music-Makiing as embodied Spirituality: 
Sacred Music divinizes us by humanizing us.

Great tradition of music making in the church as humanizing got subverted In The 18th and 19th century when we first had concerts.  "Concert culture"

Before 19th century most music making was without any written page 


We need:
  • More comfort with our bodies and voices
  • Greater relationality in our ensemble music- making -see Voice Care Network website
  • Naturalness in proclamation of texts
  • Comfort with rhythm and dance
  • Relationality in engagement of assembly - cantor eye contact...
  • Affirmation of musical professionalism - Greater musical skills enable us to be more human
Multicultural music  we need openness to all culture

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 5: Ritual - How Do We Form People in a Visual Culture

KIMBERLY BELCHER: "Ritual Formation and Evangelization"

 History,  ritual and formation in the liturgical movement

1. Narrative of the past 
2. Explains one aspect of the present evolution.  Romanticism

Metzger book History of the Liturgy as example: everything took place before 12th century or between then and Vatican II. Liturgy is something that takes place in old books.  For most people text is not the most important thing about their experience of the liturgy.

Liturgy's boundaries  

Through 20th century boundaries were the 7 sacraments.  Text studies fairly limited.... Jewish texts, etc.  
also Liturgy of the Hours  
Liturgical Year
Rites of Burial
Occasional rites a any public prayer in common

Renewal was limited to input of books and output of books.  That is not sufficient.

Liturgy's meaning
Aidan Kavanaugh Three Days story of baptism romanticized

Paul Bradshaw and Max Johhnson The eucharistic liturgies - deconstructs the romanticism... There was no golden age of the catechumenate...

History and the worshiping subject.  Guardini (1918) on the church as beyond the body of the faithful.  In 1964. He said in the 19th century we moved to qwindividualistic inward act and lost the sense of being a member of the body of Christ 

Some implications of ritual
Traditional -----> pluralistic.    In a traditional worlds there is only one way.. The way you have always done it and your parents etc.  we forget there was evolution

Oral----> Post-literate. Transition to culture not adept at interpreting body language, imagery etc.  but are adept at texts. (Now that is transitioning to a culture of images again.

  • Distinction between public and private eroding
  • Knowledge is embodied  and interpretive
  • Individuals do not live  in stable symbolic communities it contrict their social worlds through pastiche 

Ritual: a system of mutually interpreting human behaviors that function as connected tissues....

Ritual and meanings
  • Meaning is fluid, not fixed
  • Meanings are constructed by practice and reflection over time - we have to go back to it over and over so the ritual can speak to us when time arises
  • Individuals are now capable of subversion-assigning sago a practice a earning opposite that prescribed by authority - confirmation
  • Ritual can be a space for production of meanings rather than having a meaning of its own

Allowing space for questions

Ritual: defying bounds

Ritual is "connective tissue". Can be stretched but retain its connection
  • Liturgy has intrinsic tension between its nearness and distance from the everyday
  • Liturgy promotes connections bwtwymundane experience, private prayer, and social and cultural life

Ritual and renewal

Not just about new books or old books!

Nathan Mitchell is it possible that modern people don't know how to make a ritual act?

We need to learn to dance! We need to give people permission to thrive in the culture the live in that isnverynnegative

Liturgical evangelization:  
Make space to LISTEN
To decolonizing cultures 
To those we minister to
Build up the partial

Foster BODY  practice. Doesn't just happen in the Eucharist.
How does our culture re-learn how to process?

Video of Kenyan dances at papal Mass

Photography as tool to help people reintegrate their lives

  • REFLECT and remember use photos to help the,m remember 
  • SPEAK a common language from our experience

Pictures of 2 churches from Flickr...

Pictures take a sustained gaze to generate theological reflection

We need to get together to generate sustained reflection on our rites -theological reflection in communities. 

Ritual evangelization is to assist people in liturgy, not to assess

Q & A
Doing this together communally builds up an assembly that understands how better to celebrate

In our cultures athletes and musicians understand doing things over and over until we get it right.

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 4: Sociology - the Mobile Culture

MICHAEL MCCALLION: "Liturgy, Sociology and the New Evangelization" 

We have a communal relationship with the liturgy. 
The problem: we have to stay put in order to have community.  We have "collective effervescence" -  too much individualism.
What is the optimal level of social connectedness? 

We need communal relationship with Jesus.  But our first impulse is individualism and we have such mobile lives...   We live de-synchronized with friends and family.
What are the ways we create community in the liturgy?

Common repertoire of liturgical music is important. People in pews appreciate fewer songs. They don't sing if they don't know the songs.
It boils down to "Playing well" with the liturgy.

How do we evaluate if?
We need fewer meetings, more processions.

Pp 129 -133 in Tim I'malleys book. Eucharistic  center - Who's going to do this?  

We need better trained staff, more commitment to develop better liturgy

It's the music... people

The issue is upward social mobility. We move away... Makes it hard to form community.

Q & A:
Disses Rebuilt for breaking up community...
Architecture facilitates or hinders community
Balance -Needs to internalize faith and take it out into the homes personal and communal in balance.

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 3: Popular Culture - What Can We Learn from It?

DORA TOBAR: "Popular Culture and Liturgy in the New Evangelization" 

Popularized cultures in North American church's evangelization scenario:

Secularized Spiritual Culture - more pervasive. Sacred is recognized in society but we in the church fail to recognize it as sacred. We need to make pact with it.
  • Spirituality without form - new age - trying to break free from tradition. Defines itself by contrast with established religiosity. People are thirsty for spiritual experience 
  • Spiritual spontaneity 
  • Search for wholeness and holistic integration with reality
  • Search for personal-existential relationship with the sacred
  • Feminine aspect of humanity and women's leadership 
  • Incarnational-existential relationship with divinity in a new integral cosmology(looking for a new cosmology that makes sense in our reality 
  • Creation-friendly religion (Pope Francis is trying to do this
  • Wholeness rather than an ideal human perfection
  • Integrality without dualism  
  • Inner consciences and discernment rather than hierarchical authority
  • Spirituality and real, concrete stories (religion as experiences of individual people
  • Authenticity before worldly powers
  • Sibling model of brotherhood rather than hierarchical difference 

New spirituality is not collective, but is a personal experience.  

Hispanic popular piety- characteristics result of centuries of intercultural dialog
  • Is magic - sense that is supra-rational and intuitive 
  • Is symbolic and rich in images (natural and supernatural) people want to touch God
  • Is emotional- exististential
  • Festive-theatrical 
  • Collective and politic religiosity identifies and unites them
  • Is natural cosmic religiosity- follows natural times and moments (bad when their is a new cosmology for new generation)
  • Family rooted tradition transmitted at home by mothers and grandmothers -issues arise when families no longer speak a common language between the generations.

Charismatic Hispanic Movement
  • Spiritual gifts (charisma) available to contemporary and ordinary Christians
  • Preachers -often women- give testimonies, not lectures
  • Music and invocations to pray allow everyone to participate
  • Rich in emotional and existential connection - many bodily expressions are involved
  • Worship is centered on establishing wa personal connection with God

Lot of commonality between these three spiritualities. All are outside the temple, all rely on the Holy Spirit...

Charismatic movement engages more in renewed experience of faith than traditional devotions.

For younger Hispanics raised in modern cosmology,  traditional symbols don't make sense.

See EG 123,  EN  48, AAS 68 popular religiosity 

Popular religiosity has much to teach us, has missionary power.  EG 124

Nw evangelization has - Pope Francis (in common with popular religiosity)
  • Incarnational-sympathetic commitment with human pain 
  • Not message to pass but personal encounter with JC
  • Joy and festive Attitude mark the style 
  • Discerning and openness is pastoral attitude
  • Jesus, with his Holy Spirit is primary agent EG 11.  & 49
  • Starts at intimacy with Holy Family
See SC 40!!!! If people cannot understand the liturgy in their culture, adaptations must be made

Question: Should we do more Liturgical catechesis or should we make liturgical language more accessible to today's people's cultural range of comprehension?

Inculturation is not simply adaptation is dialog that allows people to fully and consciously participate in the liturgy. Pastoral suggestions:
  • Happy popular beauty connect liturgy with heart and soul of the people 
  • Personal-exististential language in preaching is essential
  • Listen to the Spirit

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 2: Liturgy in a Digital World

DANIELLA ZSUSPAN-JEROME: "Digital Media and the Liturgical Capacity of the Christian"

The myth of the Golem (Jewish) symbol of dark side of technology... he was a created monster... Digital technology is our Golem today.  Digital culture has spiritual implications  profound relationship to the liturgy.

Not talking about technology IN the liturgy. EWTN Mass -example: book, glasses, TV camera... We forget these are also forms of human technology.

Techne (Greek) =art, skill or craft
Practical things that extend human capacity - always paired with human action

Technology sometimes has become symbol in the liturgy.  Candle is example. So is microphone headset... it means leadership.

However, objects and tools matter. They make sense in broader cultural context. Multiple meanings "Madonna headset" became a name for the headset mic, for example.

Technology always has a interactive human element.

Digital culture has subcultures, lots of layers.

LENSES to look at technology:
  • Values - innovation participation, ubiquity, collaboration simultaneity, creativity
  • Beliefs - newer is better, belonging matters over content, partipation matters, access is possible
  • Practices - (missed it - sorry)
  • Artifacts- mobile devices with cameras, apps, bio-responsive technology, social media platforms, Internet of Things

Curation - focusing and filtering information to avoid information overload. Individuals choose trusted filters.  The Missal and Lectionary are  examples of curation of texts.

Key question: How do we (re)establish the liturgy as primary curator of meaning?

Connection: we are plugged in all the time and loosely connected to others through information... Belonging to the network.  Continuous partial attention. We are not in the habit of going deep.

How can the liturgy be way to move us from connection to communion?

Self instrumentalization. Data about us is currency of digital age. As data we are means to an end. We are willing to do this as a price for continual connection. Violent communication is one outcome. (We are critical and some people do not care what they say (trolls)

How do we recover encounter instead of instrumentality and primacy of person in communion?

Liturgy gives us an Incarnational model for culture, including digital culture. see Ad Gentes 10

The incarnation speaks to digital culture. Communion et progressio 11. 

Liturgy embodies culture. Offers context for how incarnation offers model for digital world

Communicating in the manner of the incarnation:

  • Listen First - Mary as open to welcome the Word her fiat is trust choosing a posture of -trust and authenticity 
  • Words  Give Life -  Mary with child in womb - mutual encounter communication - body and presence
  • Self Gift in Love  Christ is perfect communicator. Communication begets communion. Deeper connection  to liturgy
  • Bear the Fruit  - openness to Spirit... faithful and authentic communication Galations 5:22 in the liturgy how do we connect the Word as fruit

What can the liturgy do? What can it not do? What do we want it to do? How can it reveal the pattern of the incarnation? How can it be prophetic?

Q & A
Shallowness of encounter in parish life... Distinction between digital culture and reality is not there

Value of the new. (New is better.)

Relationship between digital culture and the aesthetic....

NEXT NOTES: 3 - "Popular Culture and the New Evangelization"

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 1: Parents Matter

CHRISTIAN SMITH & JUSTIN BARTKUS:  "From Generation to Generation: How American Catholic Parents Today Approach Passing on the Faith to their Children"

Parents are the biggest influence on American teenagers. The predicted religiosity of young adults can be identified by age 15. Parents who attend religious services regularly have teens whose religiosity is stable- high. Other factors don't have quite as much effect. The most powerful factor is parents who talk about faith at home.

Studied 245 parents 73 were Catholic from upper, middle & lower classes. Personal in depth interviews

The household is a culture in miniature a meaning-making project. It is fundamental to children's existential initiation. It is permeable to other cultures - sports, faith, etc.

Parental transmission of faith is a cultural project
Catholicism is a lifelong commitment
Success happens when maturing children see that Catholic commitment = success.
Failure happens when maturing children see that Catholic commitment = failure.

Children must perceive intrinsic value to religious commitment. They easily see inauthenticity when they see gaps in modeling or elevation of other priorities.

Parents are "arch-celebrities" in their household by power of personality practices and way of being - they model & generate culture of household. they are the dominant influence.

Many Catholic parents outsource religion to the parish program.

Interview with mother of 3 teens who is personally devoted to faith.. has the intention to transmit, but her religiosity is thin. So sends them to religious ed.

Any household that intends to transmit faith has to have

  1. narrative of motives
  2. degree of conscious intentionality
  3. parents supplying religious content
  4. enacted interpretation of intended religiosity at key moments in family life

Common motives:

  • Dogmatic
  • Individualistic
  • Morale boost
  • Ethnic -family identity 
  • Formational
  • Moralistic

Many are inarticulate/ineffective

Key question is there gap between motive and commitment?

When parents reflect on their motive there is coherence
Frequent, repetitive and participatory

Religious content takes several forms:

Institutions and programs are secondary to parental modeling.
Failure is not because of bad programming but failure of parental modeling
Effective households reflect inter penetration of church & home
Religious content is not in itself enough

Enacted interpretation:

  • Conversations in household
  • Parental explicitness about transmission
  • Outward manifestation of parental conversion
  • Substantial processing of religious motives in life experiences I the household

Spiritual personality of parents is single most powerful force. Possible only if they intend transmission

Parents and churches both need to understand centrality of parental role. Faith cannot be seen as belonging only to parents.Parents are Gatekeepers, Sponsors, Interpreters of Catholicism to their children

Q & A
Who is the carrier of Catholic faith now? The old carriers in our culture don't carry any more. The challenge is for parent and churches to be reflexive now.

Empower parents to share faith, don't shame them.

NEXT NOTES: 2 - "Digital Media and the Liturgical Capacity of the Christian"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

It's Simple: If Parents Want Kids to Be Catholics, THEY Need to be Catholics!

Marc Cardonarella boils it down to its essence: kids are disengaged and leave the Church after Confirmation because many parents are doing it wrong. Expecting the local parish religious education program to turn their kids into lifelong Catholics in one hour a week (or a Catholic school to do it when the parents don't practice the faith at home) is futile.

In his new book,  Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making it Stick, Cardonarella, a parent and religious educator who himself was missing from the Church between Confirmation and late young adulthood, lays it on the line for parents:  "Your actions are an education for your children. How you live your life will significantly influence who and what  they become. So, if you want them to be religious, you need to be religious yourself."  This is the heart of what we need to say to parents.

Cardonarella doesn't stop with saying it. He leads the reader through a process of self-evaluation of relationship with God, prayer life, liturgical life - and more - and lays out a plan for parents to learn and grow in the faith.

His analysis of how typical catechesis is failing to engage young people, based on the wisdom of Cardinal Newman, hits at the heart of how that, too, needs to change. In Chapter 3, he notes:
Teaching that come solely from a textbook creates a merely notional assent, passive involvement, and a distanced and indifferent religion. Thus, students' lives are never touched by the real and personal. They remain unchanged by their religion because the religion they experience is bland, weak and unspectacular....Human persons are moved to action not by intellectual abstractions, but by personal influence and powerful example, as well as by engaging their imagines with the concrete realities of life. When we interact with others personally, we open ourselves to deep encounter and change. Without that engagement and interaction, Catholicism is just a bunch of words and listless actions. To some, it will be logical, reasonable, even interesting, but will remain just one theory among many. Faith itself becomes notional - abstract and distant - rather than real.
 So, beyond laying out a path for parents, he challenges religious educators to reconsider how they are delivering the faith.  Recently he presented a webinar on just that topic:

Keep Your Kids Catholic is a real page-turner, filled with stories, personal witness and a concrete plan for change. It is must-read for parents, but also for religious educators.  Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy at no charge in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sacrosanctum Concilium: The Renewal of the Liturgy has a Long Way to Go

Last night, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Timothy O'Malley of the University of Notre Dame Center for Liturgy speak on "The Work of Our Redemption: A Liturgical Theology of Sacrosanctum Concilium" wherein he noted that this Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was aimed not so much at "reform" but "renewal" of the liturgy.

He noted two important things in particular about that infamous "full, conscious and active participation" mentioned in SC that I will have to spend more time with: that the combined voices of the people at Mass are the voice of Christ, lifting up the prayer of the Mass to the Father and that the people are there to offer their lives, along with Christ, to the Father with the sacrifice of the Mass - to become a sacrifice of "self-giving love," as O'Malley emphasizes in his book.

Certainly, neither concept is new to me. However, in reflection on what I heard last night, I am even more convinced that these are two areas in which we have almost completely failed  in typical parish catechesis. Many of our young people leave behind  practice of the Mass after Confirmation (current stats are that only 22% of young adults regularly attend). Why? They think Mass is boring and repetitive. They don't see the point in going. This is not just true of young people, but of many in previous generations as well. Even those in the pews tell me that they really don't fully understand the role of the Assembly (the people in the pews) at Mass.

Most parish catechesis does a reasonably benign job of helping people understand the missional actions of love which Christ calls us to - those works of mercy expressed so well in the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
What's missing from this equation?  Christ has no voice but yours - no voice to lift his sacrifice of praise to the Father. We don't teach people that their voice, in word and song at Mass, is integral to their identity as members of the Body of Christ.  Why else would people attend Mass passively, not singing or responding, only mimicking the postures and gestures of everyone else in the room? (Yes, I see that - as a cantor, facing the people. I see parents not participating and kids beside them, learning by example not to participate.)

Parish leaders and catechists think that preparation for lifelong participation in the Mass is complete after they prepare someone for their First Eucharist. We have, often, a congregation of people who have not progressed a whole lot in their level of appreciation or participation beyond a second-grade level. They sit, stand and kneel on cue, and most at least stumble through the Creed and say the "Our Father" but may do little else. Why?  Because they have never seen their "job description" for full participation in the Mass. This needs to change. Want to look at that "job description?" This might help.

That second point, offering their lives to God at the Mass, is key, but it, too, has gotten little attention. When I tell people about paragraph 901 in the Catechism, it is often the first time they have heard that when the bread and wine are offered on the altar, they are to offer their lives:
 "Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvellously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit maybe produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit - indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born - all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. and so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives."  (CCC 901)
That consecration of the world is the real goal of the work of the people that is the liturgy. Growing in holiness themselves through participation in the sacrifice and taking it beyond the church doors to sanctify the world through their actions of self-giving love - none of that happens if they are simply sleepwalking through the Mass.  We have work to do!

If you have been reading this blog or know the book project I just completed with Liturgy TraininPublications, you know it has long been a passion of mine to help people understand their role in the Mass. What I heard last night confirmed that this is crucially important work - something all church leaders need to be about. If we continue to fail to help people see why the Mass is important to them - and they are important to the Mass, we will continue to see a decline in the Church. The time to wake up to the need for good liturgical catechesis at all age levels in parishes is now. The very life of the Church depends on it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Special Community: All Are Welcome to Celebrate in Their Own Way

Yesterday, in my role as diocesan contact for disabilities, I had the privilege of joining one of our local parishes for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of their special needs religious education program and the first communion of three young people in the program. Rarely have I felt such a sense that everyone at a Mass belonged to a large and diverse family, all united by one goal - the love of special children. This unity of purpose certainly permeated the celebration of the liturgy.

The opening procession was a delightfully messy affair that included all the children in the program and their parents. Some kids walked in on their own, others with the help of a parent's guiding hands firmly on their shoulders. Some even wore noise-canceling headphones because of their sensitivity to noise.

As the choir and the rest of the assembly sang the opening "Song of the Body of Christ" the children and young adults shuffled, marched and were gently prodded into place in the pews. "We come as your people. We come as your own, United with each other, love finds a home." Indeed.

The pastor preceded his formal greeting with a shout of joy.  "Whoo-eee!  Fifty years! That's a long time!" What followed was a beautiful, sincere celebration.  The liturgy was simple and heartfelt and those who took roles in the ministries of the Mass were competent, or assisted in whatever ways they needed to be competent. There was no hesitation. These are people who do this often, and they do it well.

The altar server performed his duties reverently and admirably. The first reader signed as the interpreter read.  Those who read intercessions did so with little prompting or need for assistance. The petite young woman with Down Syndrome who served as an Extraordinary Ministry of the Eucharist was competent and confident.

Everything was interpreted in sign language for the benefit of the deaf, who sat in a special section. There were only a few children who shouted out or got away from their parents.  On the contrary - all of them knew exactly what to do at Mass. (In fact, most were better behaved and more engaged in the Mass than typical children their age!) The three who received their First Communion had obviously been well-prepared.

Special young people indeed. These live with Down Syndrome, Autism and many other varieties of disability, but there was no lack of ability to celebrate the liturgy. Those who could sing did. The deaf signed their responses.  Applause, when called for, was expressed by waving their hands in the air.  "Alleluia" was two index fingers crooked and twirled in the air. At the end of the Mass, all the young people gathered in the sanctuary to offer their own praise by joining in gestures to an upbeat version of "How Great Thou Art"

Through it all, there were the parents. From the moment they firmly guided their children into church, it was clear that not only did they love these kids and want them to be a part of the community of faith, but that they shared their lives of  joy and challenges with this community. There was a sense of purpose and solidarity. None of these families have an easy life, but it was not hard to believe that dealing with their challenges together has made them stronger. This is a beautiful community with staying power. Yesterday, they brought all that to the altar and offered their thanks and praise to the God who sustains them, It could not have been more powerful.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Joy: Committing to Positive Social Media for 50 Days

Lots of people have noted with sadness the decidedly negative turn that American politics has taken - and the accompanying flurry of negative posts on social media. (I even know one person who has taken an account down in reaction to the craziness.)   Of course, negativity on social media is nothing new... and yes, I've done it.

Yesterday was Easter Day - for Catholics, the beginning of 50 days of celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, culminating with Pentecost, which commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit and, by tradition, the founding of the Church. We are called to be "alleluia people" who sustain the joy of Easter for at least that 50 days.

So, what if...

What if people committed to 50 days of positive posts on social media? What if we refused to share negative humor or posts that mock people?  That doesn't mean we stop sharing news of concern, but that we make a commitment to being positive in every way we can.  What do you say?  Can we try this?  I'm going to. Who knows? It might just become a good habit.

Use the hashtag #Easterjoy if you wish.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"A fire... never dimmed by the sharing of its light ": The Evangelizing Message of the Exsultet

At the Easter Vigil, we begin by blessing the paschal candle, from which are lit the candles of all the people. As soon the paschal candle is lifted into its place of honor and incensed, the deacon (priest, or if necessary, cantor) begins to chant what is arguably the most important text of the entire church year: the Exsultet.

This is the great hymn announcing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, brought into the present moment by the insistent repetition of "This is the night..." It is also a celebration of all of salvation history and the meaning of the paschal candle itself, which, while made of beeswax,"the work of the bees," is the very light of the risen Christ.

The Exsultet connects the sin of Adam with the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, and this "night when Christ broke the prison bars of death, and rose victorious from the underworld."   It is the "truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wedded to earth and divine to the human."

As each person in the assembly holds his or her small, flickering candle, lit from the paschal candle, we hear of the "fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by the sharing of its light."  Finally, the paschal candle itself is offered to God, to "mingle with the lights of heaven."

So, what do we hear in the Exsultet?  The message and meaning of the kerygma, pure and simple. The Exsultet is a full review of the significance and circumstances of Christ's coming, of the way it was foreshadowed in the history of his Jewish ancestors, and of his redemptive work in saving us from the "truly necessary sin of Adam."

We come to know, through this mighty song, the essential meaning of the Paschal Mystery. We receive an exhortation to unite ourselves with that mystery, knowing that whenever we share the light of Christ with others, that light is multiplied, not diminished. Even as the paschal candle itself is shared and offered as an oblation (offering) to God, so, each believer's light should be shared and offered.

The takeaway? Our very sharing of the story and message of Jesus Christ (evangelization) is an offering to God and a necessary consequence of God's mercy in sending his Son to save us from sin and death.

So this year, don't be distracted by the lengthy chant. Listen to the message. It is an exhortation for you to discover that: "Dazzling is the night for me and full of gladness."  "Exult" indeed, then go out to spread the Good News.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

From Mass to Mission: Accessible Liturgical Catechesis for All Ages

How well do most Catholics participate in the Mass?  I have often commented in this space that as a cantor, facing the people, I frequently see the bored, passive expressions of the externally (and maybe internally) disengaged. However, Bishop Robert Barron has named an even bigger problem: 70% of our people around the world (75% in the US) do not even attend Mass!  He calls that a "spiritual disaster." How can we fix this? We need better tools.

As I have mentioned before in this space, I was privileged to be asked to write the children's portion of the new project from Liturgy Training Publications, From Mass to Mission: Understanding the Mass and its Significance for Our Christian Life.  Created for use in parish catechesis, this series  is an answer to the common issue that catechesis and liturgy are not sufficiently connected in parish life.  More than that, it is a resource that can involve the entire community in learning about and growing in their appreciation of the Mass.

From Mass to Mission from Liturgy Training Publications on Vimeo.

The USCCB put it succinctly in the National Directory for Catechesis: “in the Church’s mission of evangelization, catechesis and Liturgy are intimately connected” (§ 33)  Unfortunately, that has not often been true. Catechetical textbooks barely scratch the surface of the liturgy. Parishes simply tell families with children to bring them to Mass. Catechetical sessions for first communicants provide a brief overview of the Mass, maybe the parish leader or catechist hands parents a children's picture missal, and then expects parents to fill in the blanks.  After that, people are mostly on their own for the rest of their lives to figure out the meaning of the liturgy and of their personal participation, with very little catechesis.  Is it any wonder that older kids often tell us Mass is "boring" and that by the time they can make a choice, the majority of our people do not attend Mass regularly?

Filling a much-needed gap in updated materials since the 2011 revision of the Roman Missal, From Mass to Mission provides a vehicle for parish communities to make the explicit connection between the Mass and full, conscious and active participation, both internal and external. Too often people know when to stand, sit, kneel and say responses, but have never been instructed about the internal spiritual participation of the assembly at Mass. Participants learn to bring their own Mass intention, to offer themselves to be transformed with the bread and wine, and to make a personal spiritual connection to the Eucharist that informs their prayer and actions in daily life.

Each level consists of a participant's book and a leader's guide, accompanied by a CD-Rom containing additional handouts and activities and  6 video segments depicting what we do at Mass. punctuated by clips from interviews with clergy, catechetical leaders. liturgical leaders, children, teens and adults.

When I was invited into this project last spring, I was asked to write a 36-page resource on the Mass for kids, grades 3-6 - to be part of a series that would also include teens and adults. However, it is my conviction that children's participation and attendance at Mass are inseparable from family practice and the level of understanding of their catechists. At my urging, LTP allowed me to expand the original vision for this from a 36-page classroom-based resource to a longer one that includes preparation and reflection for the adult catechist, family activities and reflections, and two models for an intergenerational introduction of the resource to parents and children together.

There are 5 chapters, but really this is six sessions, due to the length of the section on Liturgy of the Eucharist.  There are six videos, set up to accommodate that split.

Now, that I have seen the finished product of the children's level, I can't tell you how impressed I am with what LTP did with this. The photos and illustrations are great, the accompanying videos are outstanding. The CD-Rom contains letters for parents, handouts, quizzes, a PowerPoint game for identifying seasons of the liturgical year (probably best for the older children) and the video segments.

And, though I have not seen the adult or teen levels yet, I have been told that the adult level even has an all-day retreat option built in, using all 6 videos. That sounds great!

From Mass to Mission goes far beyond existing resources on the Mass insofar as it engages the learners in age-appropriate ways beyond mere presentation of the information.

Lest you think I am giving this series a thumbs up because I will personally benefit, this was a contacted project, and I will actually not profit from royalties. I am promoting From Mass to Mission because I believe strongly in it and its potential as a way to encourage people to attend Mass because they actually understand it, feel spiritually involved, and really want to be part of their community's worship. My dream is that this helps people to know what they bring to the Mass and what the experience of the Mass has to offer them.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cantor's Diary: Never Assume...

Well, tonight was the vigil Mass for Palm Sunday - and it began with one of those memorable liturgy failures

You need to understand three things about my parish; 1.) when I came to this parish almost 14 years ago, the liturgy was celebrated well, 2.) there have been a lot of changes of personnel and abilities over the years and 3.) and I am only a volunteer. (In two prior parishes, I was director of liturgy.)  

I was scheduled to be the cantor so I arrived a little earlier than usual. The first thing I noticed was that a number of older people who had entered by doors other than the center rear one did not see and pick up palms from the table in back of church, so I went back and passed a few around.  The kids who were there for Confirmation service hours were hanging around the table, but not being very diligent about making sure palms were distributed.

The next thing I noticed was there was no priest in sight at 2 minutes past the time Mass was to begin. OK, that meant it was probably our associate pastor, who tends to run a little late. Sure enough, he appeared at the ambo 3 minutes past starting time and announced that people should go get palms. (We're already on that one, Father!)

Then, he goes to the back and after some short delay, he comes out gives me the "high sign" to start and forms up the opening procession. Wrong. I pointed toward the back, because I don't get to start on Palm Sunday, the presider does. Nothing. Not a glimmer. No book.  I dutifully greeted the people and asked them to stand. Still nothing. No book. The ministers in the back made motions for me to start.

I was a bit at a loss by now, and it was pretty obvious that we were not going to hear the preliminary gospel reading before the blessing of the palms, but knowing that the palms needed to be blessed, I finally hit on a creative choice. I  then asked "Please face the back and Father will now bless the palms." Still nothing. Then, finally, a faint hint of understanding appeared to dawn on Father and he picked up the aspersorium and with the altar server began to walk up and down the aisle to sprinkle the palms as if it were a sprinkling rite.

I looked across at my music director and we mutually decided there was nothing to be done but to start the opening song  (Psalm 122: "The Road to Jerusalem", with Palm Sunday verses.). When the presider and the server got halfway up the center aisle, it finally dawned on the lector with the Book of the Gospels and the other ministers in the back of the procession that they should probably come along too.  "I rejoiced when I heard them say we will go to the house of the Lord" - I think!

And so it began...  After Mass, I approached Father and explained that I did not know what to do at the beginning - and that I had expected him to begin with the reading and blessing, which he could find in the book. He grinned sheepishly and said, "Yes, it's in the book."  (Repeat after me, "I am only a volunteer. I am only a volunteer...")

Never. Assume. Never assume the priest has actually looked at the order of the liturgy ahead of time. Never assume the priest does not need help.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: From Mary's Heart to Yours

Whether you have a strong devotion to Mary, or are just curious as to how her experiences described in scripture can support you in your own life struggles, this set of three short presentations on Mary, the mother of Jesus, will give you opportunities for new insights.

In her latest DVD, From Mary's Heart to Yours, Dr. Mary Amore, of Mayslake Ministries, brings her keen understanding of the spiritual life to to three crucial moments in Mary's life (the unsettling life changes due to the Annunciation and her subsequent pregnancy, parenting Jesus - as a 12-year old and as an adult gone off to ministry, and the experience of his Crucifixion) and asks key questions about our own experiences to help viewers find parallels.

The reflections are thought-provoking and alternately comforting and challenging, enhanced by the reflection questions that ask us to examine our own related experiences.

The addition of three ritual prayer services, complete with both printed and video instructions, makes this an easy resource for parish leaders to use with any group of adults.

I think this could be a great small or large group experience - especially for mature adults, who will no doubt find it easy to make multiple appropriate life connections.

Monday, March 14, 2016

With a Little Help from My Friends: The Grace of Community

Yesterday, I had all those good intentions about arriving for Mass on time, to sing with our choir. I had set my clock ahead for Daylight Saving Time, gotten up on time, spent my usual morning session on the internet to wake up and catch up on what was going on, and grabbed breakfast in plenty of time, but  my body apparently did not reset its clock.

Those with celiac disease know that sometimes you just can't leave the bathroom behind in the morning, no matter how hard you try.  Add to that, it was raining, traffic was a little slow and Mass at my parish actually started a couple minutes early, which is very unusual. To top it off, the side door closest to the choir area was, unexpectedly, locked, so I had to go around and come up from the back of church.

I slipped into the choir area just after the opening song ended, actually only one minute after the time Mass should have started. However, that meant I was unable to put my pyx containing my low-gluten host on the altar as was our usual protocol. I quietly resigned myself to receiving only the Precious Blood, so as not to cause a disruption.

What I had not anticipated was that my friends in the community care about me. At the offertory (we had silence yesterday rather than a song), the choir member closest to the sanctuary offered to take my pyx up, quietly, after Father came down the steps. Gratefully, I handed it to her. But then, the usher taking up the collection on our side came over and took the pyx, saying he'd take it up with the procession and hand it to Father with the gifts.

After he walked away, one of our other choir members leaned over to me and whispered, "You are very much loved." A bit overwhelmed, all I could say was "I guess I am, in spite of myself."  Grace. It happens.