If you go to the United States Bishops’ website for the new English translation of the Roman Missal, you’ll see a counter in the top right corner, counting down the days until November 27, 2011, when we begin use of the translation. As of today, we have 431 days left. If you’re a little cynical, this countdown could be like a doomsday clock and maybe the Mayans were right—the world does end in 2012. Or if you’re among the can’t-wait-to-get-started group, it’s like you’re six again, and Christmas can’t come soon enough.
But if you’re where I think most parish leaders are, you’re looking at that counter and thinking about how you can best use those 431 days to get your parish ready. For those born after Vatican II, like I was, this will likely be the only time in our lives that everyone who pays even minimal attention to the Catholic Church—from CNS to CNN, to families at the dinner table, couples in the car, priests from the pulpit, and church secretaries in the bulletin—will be talking about the liturgy. As Nick said in an earlier post, it’s a golden opportunity.
The right moment
To me, these 431 days are kairos. We use this term, mostly, to speak of the quality of time in liturgy that is different than the rest of our time outside of liturgy—chronos. We usually refer to kairos as “God’s time,” time out of time, when time seems to stand still. Although this is a true description of how we often experience that brief moment in our Sundays, to me, it’s a very passive image. It implies too much that liturgy somehow magically transports us into God’s presence in a timeless ether. And when liturgy is done, we go back to our tick-tock lives.
But in Greek mythology, Kairos was a god with wings on his back and feet. He had no hair except for a hand-full of long locks at the top of his forehead—a kind of reverse mullet! Kairos was constantly running, very fast. Where, I don’t know. But the only way you could catch Kairos was by that strand of hair at his forehead. To the Greeks, Kairos was the “right moment,” the perfect opportunity, which you only can catch if you see it coming.
When I learned this, I thought, of course! When we enter into liturgy, we’re entering the right moment, catching the perfect opportunity to spend some time with God in the midst of our busy lives. That’s what we mean by kairos, isn’t it? But what if it were the other way around? What if we are Kairos, always rushing about our business, checking off our to-do lists, never stopping for a moment just to even breathe? What if God is trying to catch us, and the liturgy is the best way for God to do just that?
This rings more true to me. As the Christian Brothers always say to begin their gatherings, “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” Liturgy isn’t when we enter into God’s presence, as if God hadn’t been there before the opening song. Liturgy is when God has the perfect opportunity to catch us and slow us down and say, “Here I am.” Listen.
As we count down these 431 days, with our myriad plans for the new translation, let’s treat this moment as kairos—431 golden opportunities for all of us to pay more attention to the liturgy we already celebrate. It’s the right time to grab the attention of all our parishioners to help them enter more deeply into that liturgy not only through the words we speak now, but also through the music we sing, the gestures we make, and the places we gather. Let’s prepare not only for a new translation but also for a new way of participating in the liturgy, fully present, completely engaged, ready to be grabbed by God who has been ever watchful for this perfect opportunity.