Category: Liturgy

The new Roman Missal

Change is always difficult, and that has certainly proved to be the case with the impending changes in the translation of the Mass. Some people are looking forward to the new translation, and a great many are feeling anxious about it. Nevertheless, the changes are coming, and we who are in leadership have to decide how we are going to best help parishioners incorporate new prayers and responses into their worship lives.

Mitch Finley suggests we give it a chance. He writes:

You may, for a while, find it a bit awkward to use the latest “new and improved” English translation of the Mass prayers. However, you will probably find it rewarding to cultivate an open mind and an open spirit and this will help you to better share these changes with those you teach. Explain to them that it may take a while to get used to the new wording, but it’s still the same Mass. Share with them, too, that because of this new translation, we are using the same Mass words as people all over the world.

Read more of Finley’s thought on the new missal in his article, “New prayers, same Mass.” He has some ideas that will help you explain the changes to your parishioners.

Use Holy Week for faith formation

Passion Sunday and the liturgies of Holy Week are the richest and most powerful liturgies of the year. And they are also a tremendous resource for catechizing about our faith. Mary Birmingham says,

The aim of liturgical catechesis is to help people not only fully encounter the sacramental mysteries they celebrate, but also to reflect and appropriate meaning from those same mysteries once they are celebrated.

Be sure to take advantage of this amazing part of the liturgical year and provide some reflection for your parishioners on the meaning of the rites we will celebrate. For more ideas on how to do that, see Mary’s article, “Use liturgical catechesis to reinforce Catholic identity."

Teach about the scrutinies

“The best way to enter into the mystery of salvation made present in the sacred ‘signs’” said Pope John Paul II, “remains that of following faithfully the unfolding of the liturgical year. Pastors should be committed to that ‘mystagogical’ catechesis so dear to the Fathers of the Church, by which the faithful are helped to understand the meaning of the liturgy’s words and actions, to pass from its signs to the mystery which they contain, and to enter into that mystery in every aspect of their lives.”

This coming Sunday, we celebrate the first of the three scrutinies for the the elect. Some of our parishioners are still unclear about what the scrutinies are and why we celebrate them. As the pope point out, the most effective way to teach people about the meaning of these rites is through a mystagogical catechesis.

For more on how to do that, see Jerry Galipeau’s article, “How the scrutinies teach."

The new Roman Missal

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard all about the coming changes in the Roman Missal. Some parishes are exerting a great deal of effort to help their parishioners prepare for the changes. That’s great news. However, I don’t think the impact on the parishioners is going to be as great as it will be on the presiders. Parishioners will have to get used to new texts for the Gloria and the Creed. And we will no longer be able to sing the “Christ had died…” memorial acclamation. But the bulk of the changes will be found in the presidential prayers.

For a terrific overview of some of the changes presiders can expect, read Francis L. Agnoli’s article, “What’s new about the new Eucharistic Prayers” on the Today’s Parish website. And please leave a comment to let us know what you are doing in your parish to get ready for the new translation.

Ancient things that Catholics know

There are some things that Catholics just know. I was talking with a friend yesterday who was having trouble with her computer. I’m no expert, but having had plenty of computer woes of my own, I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years. So I gave her the benefit of my limited knowledge and concluded the impromptu tech session by saying, “Try that, then reboot and say a prayer to St. Jude.”

St. Jude, of course, is the patron saint of hopeless causes. If my friend were not Catholic, it wouldn’t have made sense to her. But Catholics know what that means.

There is another ancient touchstone that Catholics should know, but mostly we don’t. What we should all know in our bones is the meaning of mystagogy and how to practice it. In an article on the Today’s Parish website, Mary Birmingham reminds us that mystagogical reflection was the normative model of instruction in the ancient church. And, because of our experience with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, church leaders have mandated that mystagogical reflection once again become the normative model for teaching.

Take a look at Mary’s article for a clear and simple overview of how to implement a mystagogical model. And don’t miss her helpful sidebar on creating a mystagogical reflection on the Eucharistic Prayer.

Downloadable Chant settings of the new translation

I received an email in response to my article informing me that the chant versions of the new translation are available for free to download.  You can find them at this website.

If chant is your “bag” as jazzers would say, then knock yourself out.

Interestingly enough, I’ve received a couple of different emails from both sides of the fence who took issue with my pragmatic approach.  The conservative side saying that I wasn’t recognizing the movement of the Church to a higher form of Liturgy and that I was trying to impose faulty Vatican II ideals on our new higher calling;  and the progressive side saying that I didn’t take a good hardlined stance against this injustice to our Liturgy.  (both my paraphrasing, I don’t mean to put words in people’s mouths just trying to sum up many different people’s views)

To all of these views I say this:  Our congregations need us to be leaders.  I firmly believe our job is to recognize the positive ideals in the new translation and make the music work for our congregations’ individual identities as best we can.  To me personally, that means avoiding hardlined stances on the subject.  That’s for theologians and Church leaders who are way above my paygrade.

What’s new about the Eucharistic Prayers?

Everyone knows by now that the implementation date for using the newly-translated third edition of the Roman Missal is set for November 27, 2011—the First Sunday of Advent. In the November-December issue of Today’s Parish, Francis L. Angoli discusses “What’s New about the Euchartistic Prayers.” He writes:

While the structure of the Mass is not changing, there have been additions to the Missal (e.g., new Saints, new prayers) as well as minor adjustments to the rubrics (or directions). In addition, our approach to translation has shifted. Therefore, while the Mass will look the same, it will sound different—more formal, varied, poetic, inclusive, and concrete—and more clearly reflective of its Scriptural origins.

This article is packed with specific examples of the changes that are coming. It is an especially good piece for priests to read because the prayers and dialogues you are used to will soon be different. You might need to spend a good deal of time practicing and getting used to the new texts.

Click here to check out this interesting look at the new translation.

10 leadership practices for lectors

Me and the Cool Lectionary by maveric2003 [Flickr]How can lectors be leaders in their parishes? Here are 10 suggestions:

            1. Every Advent, become an expert on the gospel for the liturgical year. Read the gospel. Take a workshop. Read a commentary. Start a study group.
            2. Every time you are scheduled to read, learn or relearn about the book or letter you are reading from. You can find introductions for each book of the Bible on the United States Bishops’ website.
            3. Affirm other lectors every Sunday.
            4. Challenge yourself to excellence. Choose two skills to improve every year. Work on projection first—even if you think you have that skill mastered.
            5. Never proclaim a reading you haven’t rehearsed (unless you need to fill in unexpectedly).
  1. Arrive early.
  2. Dress up as a sign of respect and honor for the people you will be serving.
  3. Ask for feedback. Act on what you hear.
  4. Don’t assume anything. Check the microphone. Check the batteries. Check that the ribbon is in the right place. Check that the intercessions are in place. Even if these things are not your job.
  5. Be believable. Believe what you proclaim. Live what you proclaim.

Can you think of more? What are some additional ways lectors can practice leadership? Share your thoughts, because your insights are valuable.

431 golden opportunities

Detail einer Wand: Kairos by Francesco Salviati [photo by The Yorck Project; Wikimedia Commons]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?

Real presence

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.

Liturgy is not a talk show; it’s an opera

La troupe de Carmen (Opéra de Budapest) by dalbera [Flickr]For a long time, I’ve had an image stuck in my head about Sunday liturgy. From the looks of things, it seems many liturgical leaders—probably unconsciously—think of Sunday Mass as a kind of prayerful talk show. Much of what goes on seems to mimic the format best popularized by the Tonight Show.

I don’t mean that liturgical leaders are irreverent. Quite the opposite. I think they are trying very hard to engage the parish assembly in the action of the liturgy. What I question is the model they are using to foster participation.

Jay Leno and folks like him are masters at improvisation, humor, and—most of all—engaging the audience. We see these men every night on every network working the crowd and creating a high level of interest in seemingly mundane, boring topics. It’s only natural that we would try to imitate them.

A cure for boring liturgy?

The talk show, however, the wrong model. First of all, you have to be Jay or Conan or Dave to make boring things interesting. It is a rare talent, and most people cannot do it. And the premise is wrong. Of course, we, the parish leaders, don’t think Mass is boring. But we often concede that the parishioners think so. And with that premise, we try to spice things up a little.

I don’t believe parishioners think the story we are telling in the Mass is boring. But I think they often find the telling of the story to be boring. That makes me think the analogy we should have in mind for the liturgy is opera. The stories that underlie famous operas are compelling. But badly performed opera is an exercise in watching paint dry.

If you are the director of an opera and your goal is to make the opera compelling, what do you do? Do you ask the tenor to make a quip to the orchestra, wink at the audience, and chat with the soprano who has just published a tell-all about her time in the chorus? Of course not. You would, instead, find people who have the talent to carry off their role and then rehearse them until they had mastered the dramatic flow of the story. You would work at making the opera more operatic.

Operatic liturgy

An opera is an art form. It is a dramatic work that combines theater, dance, and music. The dialogue is mostly sung. It think that describes Sunday Mass pretty well. Or it ought to. We have lost the sense of the Mass as a sung event, but that is what it is intended to be. One key to engaging the assembly is, instead of mimicking the talk show, make the liturgy more operatic. Introduce more sung dialogue. Some of the parts of the Mass that are not usually sung—but could be—include:

  • Greeting
  • Penitential rite
  • Opening Prayer
  • Gospel
  • Profession of faith
  • Intercessions
  • Prayer over the Gifts
  • Eucharistic Prayer
  • Lord’s Prayer
  • Blessing and Dismissal

Of course, this will require work. It will require change. It will be uncomfortable at first. You’re going to have to rehearse more. Badly performed liturgy is like badly performed opera—excruciating. To avoid bad performance, you’re going to have to risk more. Talk shows are not art, and they require little risk. Opera—and good liturgy—is art and requires dying to ourselves for the sake of the art.

Build engagement

If your assembly is not used to this much singing, I wouldn’t suggest unveiling a complete operatic revision next Sunday. But you could begin to introduce some more sung elements and build gradually. Try, for example, singing the blessing and dismissal for six Sundays in a row. See if that doesn’t change your sense of the dramatic power of the liturgy. I guarantee the assembly will be more engaged.

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