Looking At Liturgy In Unleash The Gospel I

From Detroit this Pentecost, a much-noticed pastoral letter, Unleash The Gospel. Archbishop Allen Vigneron zeroes in on the Church’s enormous need and challenge: evangelization.

I could go into detail on this document–and there are many excellent details to read and ponder. But it belongs to another diocese and their particular initiatives. I do recommend it as a starting point, if not for a parish or larger Catholic community, for personal reflection. I can hope that my diocese and others will find it within their plan to produce similar initiatives. These are about forty years overdue. Chalk up another bit of foresight to Pope Paul VI.

Limiting the scope of my commentary, I thought I’d look at how Archbishop Vigneron treats liturgy as an element of his desire to unleash the Gospel. We’ll divide this up into three separate posts. Family is one topic that touches on liturgy. The archbishop also has a section in which he addresses “Holy Eucharist.”

But in this post, I’d like to look at the importance of leading people to “life-changing encounters with Jesus,” Archbishop Vigneron offers a very concrete parallel anyone can understand, a person-to-person intimacy:

An encounter is a person-centered form of contemplation; it is two people being present to each other with no utilitarian purpose. For some people the encounter with Christ is a cataclysmic “Damascus road” kind of experience; for others it is more gradual. In either case, encountering Jesus is like meeting the person you are going to marry: you are overwhelmed by this encounter and cannot imagine going forward in life without that person. The Christian life becomes not just one but a series of encounters with Jesus, especially through prayer and the liturgy, which continually deepen our relationship with him.

With some interest, I clicked on one of those “offerings” I see on my facebook page, “23 ways in which you know you are in love.” I pondered how these might apply to the Christian disciple’s relationship with Jesus. Some were obvious–for human lovers: the beloved is all I can think about; I want merely to spend time with my beloved; my friends get tired of how much I speak of the beloved; sex is less important than the expression of intimacy; I notice gifts I can bring to my beloved; I find myself interested in things my beloved is interested in that perhaps in the past I didn’t care about.

How do we devote time to our Beloved? Prayer and liturgy are obvious times and places of encounter. Note that Archbishop Vigneron describes that liturgy and prayer are means of deepening an already-existing relationship. Prayer and liturgy are already important for the believer. Does the Roman Rite offer those opportunities for deeper relationship? Do our faith communities offer these opportunities?

Preaching and catechesis in our local Church must foster such encounters, especially by explaining our love relationship with Christ as the purpose of the liturgy. Whenever possible we should invite people to respond to Jesus by surrendering their lives to him, and give them concrete opportunities to do so.

“Preaching and catechesis” are largely “head” encounters. But intimacy is something of the whole person, not only the head but the heart as well. When a human being today seeks a partner, perhapsd the head is in the relationship somewhat. Will this person make a suitable partner? Do we think alike, share the same political preferences, or analyze the potential traits of our children? How will we manage our finances, our friends, our work? I suppose we treat Jesus in this way. Will I find a parish that aligns with my opinions and tastes? Will I get encouragement to live according to the values Iwith which I assent by my will?

The “textbook” definition of liturgy, according to Vatican II, is worship of God and sanctification of the faithful. How does this fit with the “love relationship with Christ”? I think it does. But I also think it must include something of the human affect. In our person-to-person relationships, it is easy to size up the other by the benefit they will give me (and perhaps the benefit I can give in return). But the Lord doesn’t work in those ways.

What do you see in this piece of Unleash The Gospel?


Posted in evangelization, Liturgy | Tagged , | 1 Comment

On Climate

When I changed majors halfway through college from straight biology to biology-geology, I had an opportunity to enroll in a summer course after sophomore year, GEO 204. I don’t remember the title, but it was about climatology. We focused a lot on ice ages–that was my term paper topic, too. In upstate New York, our geology (and geography) is greatly informed by the advance and retreat of glaciers in the past few million years.

One thing that fascinated me were the findings of frozen mammoths with greens still in their mouths. (Image credit for Woolly, left.) That must have been one quick and unexpected blizzard. In the 1970s, geology was moving into new territory. Plate tectonics had mostly overtaken the notion of sections of the ocean and continental crust rising and falling to form land bridges and seas or oceans. Asteroid impact was the next big paradigm shift to come–but that was after my graduation. Over the decades, I’ve seen science readjust many times in many disciplines when expectations were dashed by observations.

In the same thirty -plus years, I’ve watched the various conversations on climate change with interest. And not little amusement. Resistance to change not only deals with rocks, but also human beings of every or any ideological stripe. It is easy to embrace the notion that the Earth has always been the way it is. But many things tell us otherwise: data from satellites and measurements taken in the air, over and under the sea, and on the ground. Records of human history. Archeology. Paleontology.

Over the years I’ve seen people deny the climate is changing. I’ve seen people confuse weather with climate. I can understand that people are skeptics on how much effect puny humans have on the environment. Now that most everybody concedes that there’s an undeniable warming trend far outstripping previous upticks, some are stonewalling on the obvious culprit–us. But I have yet to see critics of human-caused climate offer any serious alternative explanation.

Yes, Earth’s climate has changed in the past. Usually without human interference. Sometimes it has changed so quickly that an animal hasn’t had time to swallow its dinner. Often enough, we can pinpoint events in the geological record what happened: an asteroid hit, massive volcanic eruptions, shifts in continents and ocean currents. Climatologists have the benefit of working in the field, in laboratories, and with theoretical models on computers.

For select persons on the Right, it may be deeply annoying that political liberals align themselves with climate scientists. It could be galling that people who once self-identified as “conservatives” seem to be little interested in conservation–conserving our planet, our climate, and our human achievements. Instead, some on the Right present themselves as libertine narcissists intent on enhancing their personal wealth, power, and prestige. Because there'[s either nothing we can do about it, or that Jesus will come soon. These are the grasshoppers of Western culture, if you will. To answer the question: yeah, I vote we let them into the shelter when winter descends.

I will part company from the vehemence of some of my like-minded friends on the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Unlike them I don’t see this as a big deal. I view President Trump as a boss, not a leader. There is a distinction. I’ve known many people who seem content to boss others around. It happens in the workplace. It occurs on college campuses initiated by the so-called Left.* Bullies can chase people, and try to order them around. Most people just part company, Only toadies like to hang with a bully, but if there’s nobody else available, ideological cannibalism will result. The fangirls and fanboys will be eaten, make no mistake. Real leaders don’t need to look back. People follow because they are inspired. Not because they are afraid or insecure.

One facebook friend laments that Russia and China will vault into international leadership on climate change. I doubt it. They are facing a century of wanton poisoning of their own land, water, and air. I hope they get it right in the 21st.

I do think Mr Trump’s positioning on climate is a shame. But I don’t think it will have any long-term effect. I’m heartened that US states and cities have publicly repudiated his stance. Efforts like recycling, renewable energy, and new technologies were going to have to come from the people anyway. When a boss comes bossing people around, he or she’s only going to self-isolate. Especially when we aren’t employees.

If presidential posturing galvanizes people to get more active and interested in conserving, then this might well turn out better in the end. Citizens don’t need bosses. We need the motivation from leaders. Look carefully to see who’s leading and who’s following whom. And even if Mr Trump could convince three-hundred million Americans to go their own way; it’s only 5% of the population and 2% of the Earth’s surface. Not everybody will be a dinosaur on human advancement.


* These students have been infected by the trumpology virus–but that’s a topic for another post.

Posted in Commentary, Politics, Science | Leave a comment

Dual Role

I was lurking on another site and saw a piece of some interest, a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of playing a dual role as conductor and accompanist. It’s personally relevant because I bounce between these roles on occasion. Most of the time, I’m fortunate to have a fine accompanist (when she’s not involved with the local college) so I can attend to improving my craft as conductor and getting I nice sound out of my singers. But often I’m at the piano. So the question is: wave a left or right hand, make facial expressions, to just pray?

In my first full-time music ministry gig, I had a thirty-voice choir. I waved my hands on everything, and I no longer think that was the right approach. In my new parish, every-week acclamations don’t and shouldn’t need me to conduct. So I step into the instrument section and play. (Of all musical things, I like playing the best.)

Some of the comments at CMAA were interesting:

… (working as both is) certainly better than trying to work with both a music director and a priest, this way you’ll have more control.

Speaking spiritually, sometimes it’s better to cede control. But I’m aware of advantages to getting the music exactly the way one wants it.

Currently I’m just the choir director and not organist. We are capable of so much more subtlety and musicality in our music due to having a director to cue dynamics and more. I work with a fantastically talented organist.

Love this comment. One person to a role really does enhance the music. Jimmy Page notwithstanding.

Conductors are highly overrated.

I’d agree here, too. I’m aware of a few ensembles that don’t have a conductor. Usually they consist of excellent musicians. My wife was in the mood for Vivaldi earlier today and I brought up this concert video of Julia Fischer with a small string ensemble. No conductor was one of the first things she noticed. With people from this effort, as you would expect.

A few more things come to mind:

Coaching and training one’s singers as leaders and conductors is not a bad way to go. When I was in grad school, I met a local choir director who encouraged her people to suggest pieces and then learn the music well enough to conduct them. She said she got to sing in the alto section about a third of the time. The motivational factor for keeping a choir’s attention might have intensified. Walking a mile in the director’s shoes might well make for choristers more attentive when they’re back with their singing.

Catholics already have the model for multiple roles wrapped up into one office: the parish priest. Some guys are excellent at administration, human resources, teaching, homiletics, liturgical presidency, counseling, hearing confessions, visiting the sick, and even mowing the lawn. But do they have to be? Is it good that they are expected to be?

Back to music: what do you think about the dual role, especially if you’ve been the recipient, beneficiary, or victim of it?

Posted in Ministry, Music | 2 Comments

First Name Basis

Commentators have noticed a vector toward informality in American culture. Clothing is one bit that comes to mind. I wore a dress shirt and tie to Mass in my early Catholic days (1970 to 72-ish). I wasn’t alone, but I was in the minority among my peers. My mother insisted and I didn’t fight it, since I like dressing up in good clothes–as long as they aren’t wool or polyester.

When I began full-time church ministry nearly thirty years ago, dressing up was more often a habit when I was on “active” duty as a music director or liturgical emcee. I wasn’t displeased to find the music ministry in my new parish adhere fairly closely to Sunday dress.

Names are another thing. And they have age-appropriate structures … still. Generally, with teens however they address the youth minister–which is usually first-name–is fine with me. In my first parish, one of my guitarists was a Louisiana import. Her young children were told to address me as Mr Todd. That sounded a bit strange to my ears. But I occasionally run into the address, and it seems downright respectful and fitting. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older.

Much of the time, young people just avoid calling me by any name. I suppose its understandable.

For priests, the usual practice has been Father first-name or just first-name in private or in staff meetings. I always address a priest as Father in public. One priest I worked with added he preferred a third person reference as Father last-name. It’s only polite to go with what the person wants.

One priest I worked with preferred Father last-name in all addresses, private, professional, and public. It was a bit jarring to hear the ordained associate refer to him by first name only. And a new staff member who worked with him in another parish called him Father last-initial. And that was a bit strange, too, as his last name has only seven letters and entirely pronounceable.

I noticed the whisper about a new western bishop and his first blog entry telling his Wyoming flock how he would prefer to be addressed:

Why “Bishop Steven”?  Steven is my baptismal name, and the name that I was called by my family.  As a priest, I used Fr. Steve, so Bishop Steven is similar.  While I understand that using a Bishop’s last name for address is a form of respect, it might also create distance in a relationship which is meant to be fatherly and familial.


Posted in bishops, Commentary | 11 Comments

Wedding Lectionary: Deuteronomy 8:7-14a, 17-18

We look at good words from the Jewish Torah for this non-Lectionary possibility for a wedding reading:

For the LORD, your God, is bringing you into a good country,
a land with streams of water,
with springs and fountains
welling up in the hills and valleys,
a land of wheat and barley,
of vines and fig trees and pomegranates,
of olive trees and of honey,
a land where you will always have bread
and where you will lack nothing,
a land whose stones contain iron
and in whose hills you can mine copper.

The table, as it were, is set. The ancient Israelites experienced grace and blessings from God. At the end of slavery and wilderness wandering, was a place they could call home, a land of natural resources and a potential for a life of plenty.

Why would I suggest such a reading? In part because I think that for many people, the single life is very much a time of unsettled wandering. The union of two lovers often accompanies the commencement into adult life: graduation from college, first jobs, first home–the life events that happen with a marriage of twenty-somethings. For many couples, economic security they’ve only known as children is now at their hands. There is also the emotional richness of marriages after a significant period of the single life–years that may include a sense of loneliness and longing.

For a couple that is successful in material possessions, these words ring as a caution:

But when you have eaten and are satisfied,
you must bless the LORD, your God,
for the good land he has given you.
Be careful not to forget the LORD, your God,
by failing to keep his commandments
and ordinances and statutes
which I enjoin on you today:
lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied,
and have built fine houses and lived in them,
and your herds and flocks have increased,
your silver and gold has increased,
and all your property has increased,
you then become haughty of heart
and forget the LORD, your God.

Otherwise, you might say in your heart,
“It is my own power
and the strength of my own hand
that has got me this wealth.”

Remember then the LORD, your God,
for he is the one who gives you the power to get wealth,
by fulfilling, as he has now done,
the covenant he swore to your ancestors.

Moses was speaking to his people, urging them not to get too proud over their achievements. As a metaphor for marriage, the caution is well-taken. Many of us might pride ourselves on pursuing and winning a beloved. Instead of power and strength, it may be charm and good looks. Many cultures, modern and ancient, looked favorably on the achievement of gaining a spouse. And when the wife or husband was no longer the beauty, the breadwinner, or the polite and companionable partner, then the spouse could be discarded like a possession.

The metaphor of the Israelites in the promised land strikes me as apt for the marriage. It is God who is part of a sacramental covenant. It is God who has made us the way we are, to “fit” with another person the way they are. If we try to maintain a relationship based on our own strength, we may well fail. Not only when our strength fails, but when we lose our chemistry, our sobriety, our youth, our wealth, our good moods, our job, our good cheer, our social status, or anything in which we might take pride.

On second thought, maybe this isn’t the best reading for a wedding day. But if a couple were to choose it and take it seriously, I’d think they’d have a better chance than  most for a fruitful union.

Posted in Rite of Marriage, Scripture | Leave a comment

Ministers of Liturgical Music, Directors: SttL 45-47

The last of the music ministries discussed in the US Bishops’ 2007 document Sing to the Lord: the director. This person is defined first as a collaborator:

A professional director of music ministries, or music director … (works) with the bishop or pastor to oversee the planning, coordination, and ministries of the parish or diocesan liturgical music program. (45)

A three-point checklist follows. This describes the expectations:

  • fosters the active participation of the liturgical assembly in singing;
  • coordinates the preparation of music to be sung at various liturgical celebrations;
  • promotes the ministries of choirs, psalmists, cantors, organists, and all who play instruments that serve the Liturgy.

This seems to be a good skeleton for any job description, including that all-important responsibility for the singing of the liturgical assembly.

The bishops offer a curious comment, “(M)any potential directors of music are not of our faith tradition. It is significant as we go forward that directors of music are properly trained to express our faith traditions effectively and with pastoral sensitivity.

I would agree some directors are not Roman Catholic. However, the overall faith tradition is Christian. Different varieties of Christian, be they Eastern, Western, Reformation, Anglican, Roman, Coptic, or whatever, do share a single faith. But I would agree that within the cultural and religious expression of a particular faith community that a broad sensitivity should exist, however one might interpret that.

SttL 46 mentions baptism, discipleship, the USCCB document on lay ecclesial ministry, and the importance that music ministry “finds its place within the communion of the Church and serves the mission of Christ in the Spirit.” (Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord #17) I would think that a serious music director (meaning a long-term or career person) find time to digest the document and be prepared for a personal reflection on how one’s ministry aligns with the greater view expressed there.

SttL 47 reminds us of the importance of working together, clergy and music directors, and that the latter are part of a baptismal priesthood, one that leads to a life of discipleship.

That wraps up ministries of music. Any comments on it?

Posted in Liturgical Music, Sing to the Lord | 3 Comments

Wood or Stone, Clutter or Plain?

PrayTell has been monitoring developments at a Houston parish, in 2015 here and a few days ago here.

The before picture on the 2015 link is illustrative. I noticed a few things in the redecoration: a shift from stone (maybe faux-mineral) to wood (maybe fabricated cellulose). Even the new altar presents as wood. I’m a strong advocate (as the Church is) of permanence of an altar in a main church. The mineral-to-plant switch seems to be a step down from permanent. But there’s no doubt the new furniture seems more warm and inviting. Cancelled out by the altar rail, but ah well.

The new plan appeals to those who prefer symmetry. The asymmetry of the before picture seems a problem more for being too cramped and cluttered: presider chair and tabernacle side-by-side, then ambo and the altar a little to the front.

Other aspects seem a bit fussy to me: the multiple candlesticks and the altar rail are a detraction from what seems to be a warmer presentation. They do continue the tradition of clutter in this parish’s church. I’ll admit that other things being equal, wood does it better for me than stone in most small places. It can speak of a certain intimacy.

All that said, the new paintings are the most delightful part of the redecoration. Here’s a link to the article cited at PrayTell.

Posted in Art, Liturgy | 1 Comment