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.