Book Review: When Other Christians Become Catholic

Tomorrow I will head to Chicago for the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. It’s not my usual annual conference — and I’m not even a liturgist! — but the attendees will be participating in a consultation process with the USCCB’s Committee for Divine Worship on the National Statues for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), so our director for the Office for Worship and the Catechumenate asked if I would like to tag along given the catechetical import of the topic.

One of the pieces of “required reading” we were given to prepare for the consultation process is Fr. Paul Turner’s When Other Christians Become Catholic (Pueblo, 2007). This short tome covers a number of issues related to the reception into the Church of Christians from other ecclesial communities. This includes an overview of the history of how other Christians have been received, starting with the early years of the Church when adherents to heretical sects (such as the Arians) joined the true faith; a look at how other Christians receive members into their communities; and a look at issues that still remain with the process as it was renewed after Vatican Council II.

WOCBC-turnerFr. Turner’s overarching message, however, is to remind us that when other Christians choose to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, they are not doing so in a vacuum or as if their previous faith commitments were invalid. This is both a theological and a pastoral point: theological in that we must take seriously the validity and reality of the person’s baptism, even if that baptism occurred in a community not connected with the Catholic Church. The question of whether to recognize other baptisms was decided in the affirmative by the ancient Church; this presupposes that God is really and truly acting in their lives even before their movement towards the Catholic Church.

The point is pastoral because, in practice, many Christians come away from the process of reception into the Church with the impression that their baptisms were somehow “lesser” because they did not occur in a Catholic context. Fr. Turner puts the blame for this squarely on the practice of including baptized candidates for full communion in the same preparation program as unbaptized catechumens who are preparing for full initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), culminating in a combined rite at the Easter Vigil. As Fr. Turner states,

By adopting Easter as the paradigmatic occasion for celebrating the rite of reception, the Catholic Church in the United States has reframed the meaning of the rite and its attendant preparation into something more resembling a conversion, a dying and a rising – rather than an evolution, a coming to full communion… Such a conversion is a symptom that something has gone wrong with the rite of reception. The council envisioned an ecumenically sensitive rite that would promote the concept of one baptism among Christians. But the rite of reception is being celebrated as a near equivalent with the initiation of the unbaptized.

This will, no doubt, be a major topic of conversation at this week’s FDLC meeting as we discuss the National Statutes.

The only downside to Fr. Turner’s book is a linguistic one; because the book was published in 2007, it does not take into account the 2010 translation of the Roman Missal. As a result, his discussion of such texts (including an otherwise excellent examination of the text of the Mass for Christian Unity) do not reflect the current liturgical language, although his overarching points are still relevant.

Nevertheless, the book is highly recommended for it’s overall theme and discussion of the historical and ecumenical nature of welcoming other Christians into full communion. When Other Christians Become Catholic is a valuable resource for pastors, evangelists, and RCIA leaders and team members.

How to Break In Your Liturgical Books

Recently my office purchased a complete set of the Lectionary for Mass. Wanting to make sure the books lasted a long time, I asked our director for worship and the catechumenate how he prepares liturgical books for regular use. Here’s a video demonstrating the technique he shared with me:

Image by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP, under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

Free Webinar Series: Building a Better Disciple

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesI’m pleased to announce that this fall I will be offering a free webinar series entitled “Building a Better Disciple.” Over the course of five webinars we will explore what it means to be a Christian through the lens of Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”

Full information on the series is being posted at; here’s a quick overview of the sessions (clicking on the links will take you to the registration pages for each webinar):

October 13: Jesus: The Face of Discipleship
Before understanding how to become a disciple we must first know what a disciple is. Through the person of Jesus Christ we will come to know what it means to claim the name “Christian.”

October 20: Scripture and Tradition: The Boundaries of Discipleship
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition – passed on through the biblical authors, the apostles, and their successors – form the deposit of our faith. As the basis for all of the Church’s teaching they also provide the boundary lines for discipleship by illuminating the path that followers of Christ must follow.

October 27: Christian Community: The Foundation of Discipleship
Faith is nurtured and sustained in the context of a community of believers. This session will explore how the Church in various contexts (family, parish, school, etc.) sets the stage for a life of discipleship.

November 3: Liturgy and Prayer: The Engine of Discipleship
In this webinar we will examine how the graces received in the sacraments, liturgical celebrations, and personal prayer fuel our capacity for embracing the call to discipleship.

November 10: Vocation and Mission: The Aim of Discipleship
Faith that is not put into practice is sterile. Connecting the themes of the previous webinars we will explore how the faithful participate in the Church’s mission in the world through their particular gifts and calling.

All webinars begin at 7:30p (Central Time) and will last 90 minutes. I hope you’ll be able to join me for this exciting series!

Can Catechists Be Too Reliant on the Catechism? (Bosco RoundUp Part 3)


My experience attending the St. John Bosco Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville did leave me with one lingering question prompted both by the content and methodology employed in some of the presentations. Namely, I went home wondering if there isn’t a danger in becoming overly reliant on the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a source of the Church’s teachings.

To give an example: I attended a session on liturgy and catechesis given by a well-respected catechist. He outlined the Church’s understanding of liturgy, beginning with the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi. But in his presentation and handouts, every reference was to what the Catechism had to say about liturgy. He did not reference the Roman MissalSacrosanctum concilium, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, or any of the Church’s many documents on the nature and practice of the liturgy. The implication — intentional or not — was that everything we need to know about liturgy can be found in the Catechism. There was little “liturgy” to be found in the presentation.

Contrast this approach with that taken by Bishop Richard Malone at the start of his Saturday keynote. His topic, God the Father, was not explicitly tied to the liturgy. Indeed, one might have expected him to use as his starting point the Catechism‘s teaching on the first person of the Trinity. Instead Bishop Malone turned to the Roman Missal and the prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayers to show what they teach us, through our common prayer, about the Father. He didn’t talk about lex orandi, lex credendi — he practiced it by showing how our prayer leads to and informs our doctrine.

Reflecting on these contrasting approaches led me to wonder if focusing too intently on the Catechism leads to didacticism — a tendency towards excessive teaching (narrowly defined) that fails to reflect the fullness of catechesis (c.f. Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults no. 75). In its most extreme form this didacticism elevates the Catechism to a status it neither claims nor was designed for. As Bl. Pope John Paul II states in his apostolic constitution promulgating the Catechism,

The Catechism of the Catholic Church… is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illuminated by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradtition, and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and this a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.

In other words the Catechism is not the last word on the content and expression of the Catholic faith. It is a statement and a norm, not the sole source. That is one reason John Paul II stresses the continued importance and prominence of local catechisms such as the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults and the YouCat. These local catechisms enculturate the content of the Catechism by giving it new expression in local language and form.

This isn’t to say (it should go without saying) that the Catechism isn’t helpful or shouldn’t be used in catechesis. Indeed, a universal catechism should have a place of prominence in the handing on of the faith. But there does seem to be an overly didactic tendency in some catechists that a fixation on the Catechism feeds into. This tendency manifests in claims that the Catechism is the only authentic source of Catholic teaching, rather than a summary of it, and an insistence that the language used in the Catechism is the only authentic expression of the Catholic faith (an insistence that neglects both Church history and the rich tradition of the Eastern churches).

That this question was prompted by the conference is ironic since on at least two occasions I heard different speakers warn against didacticism in catechesis. Indeed, I don’t want to give the impression that the conference or any presenter specifically endorsed sole reliance on the Catechism. But the fact that the only document quoted by a good number of presenters was the Catechism does give me pause and makes me think that we are not giving our catechists the full range of tools they need to pass on the faith.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts in the comments. Do you sense this same creeping didacticism? How can we help catechists embrace a wide range of sources of Catholic teaching?

Passing On the Peace

About two weeks ago my family and I found ourselves in an unlikely setting: participating in the Divine Liturgy of the Maronite Catholic Church. Specifically, we were at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis, Missouri.

I’ve attended a Divine Liturgy before (in the Syro-Malabar tradition), so it wasn’t that foreign to me. But I was delighted to experience the way in which the Maronites conduct the Sign of Peace: The person receiving the Sign of Peace puts their hands together at about chest level, as if in prayer. Then the person giving the Sign of Peace places their hands on the outside of the receivers hands.

It’s a surprisingly intimate gesture.  Even more delightful, however, is that the congregation doesn’t just give the Sign of Peace will-nilly; the priest begins by giving the Sign of Peace to the ministers in the sanctuary, then (at this parish) to two ushers who have come up to the front of the church. The ushers go down the aisle, giving the sign to the persons sitting at the end of each pew, who then “pass it down” the pew from one person to the next.

The whole effect, at least from my vantage point in the back of the church, was to literally see Christ’s peace spread across the faithful gathered in prayer, from one person to the other. The fact that it began with one person also emphasized the unity of the congregation — this wasn’t just many people wishing peace to each other, but a single peace being passed from person to person.

When I remarked on the practice to my friend Fr. Zehnle, he said that he had heard of (but not experienced) similar practices in monastic communities in the Latin Church. I’d love to see the practice adopted in more parishes — I think it would help people understand, through gesture, the profound nature of our communal sharing in the peace of Christ.

Original photo by catholicism/flickrCC

“We need a form.”

Since worship, along with the other central mysteries of our human existence, outstrips our own spontaneous attempts at responding adequately to the event at hand, we all find the help we need in words and movements handed down to us by wise tradition. Oh, to be sure, the Father whom we invoke is, like any father, delighted with whatever halting, lisping, stammering efforts we direct to him from our hearts. He does not sit as critic when we come to his knee. But when we come to the business of regular, recurrent, public worship, then we are glad for a form. A structure. The inexorable march of time, century after century, exhausts our spontaneity. We need a form.

– Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass

Book Review: If Your Mind Wanders at Mass

Shortly before Christmas I participated in a Secret Santa exchange on my favorite book cataloging site, LibraryThing. I can only assume that the administrators of the exchange picked people due to common interests,  because  I was paired with a lovely young Catholic woman who picked out a copy of Thomas Howard’s If Your Mind Wanders at Mass for me.

The book is deceptively short at 124 pages, but filled with wonderful reflections on liturgical participation, the parts of the Mass, and the importance of corporate worship. Dr. Howard writes with depth, but doesn’t rely on lofty or inaccessible theological language. For instance, take this passage on “assisting at” Mass:

“Assist at”: that is an old and very accurate way of referring to our attendance at Mass. We are not spectators. We are not an audience. We are the congregation, brought together (congregated) to do something — all of us, not solely the priest up there at the altar. Every one of us who wants to be numbered among “the faithful” is, by virtue of his baptism, made to be a sharer in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The priest himself, by virtue of his ordination, participates in that priesthood in a particular way. He is “ordained” to preside at the Lord’s Table, that is, to be in the place of Jesus Christ, who instituted this sacrament when he broke the bread and blessed the cup at the Last Supper. But we the faithful share in the action by uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ which is made present in the Mass, and by offering our adoration, and our very selves, and all our work and our joys and our sufferings, and our aspirations, to God as the particular things which we alone can offer. No one else can offer me to the Lord. This is an act which I alone can carry out.

The rest of the book is written in the same beautiful, reflective style. This isn’t a “how-to” book on the Mass so much as an extended mystagogy on the Eucharist.

The only thing keeping me from fully recommending the book is it’s copyright date — 1995 — which means that it references the older translation of the Roman Missal. I hope that Dr. Howard or his editor will take the time to update the book with the new English translation recently implemented across the globe.

Even with that caveat, the quality of the reflections are enough to merit their inclusion in any Catholic’s library.

Photo by Kevin Dooley/flickrCC.

Keeping Advent

Every year it seems that the cultural observance of Christmas starts a little bit earlier. Stores are constantly seeking to lengthen the time they have to sell holiday items; this year I even saw some stores with Christmas decorations in stock before Halloween!

While this is understandable from a commercial point of view, it clashes with the Church’s observance and understanding of Advent — that time of both preparation for Christmas and anticipation for the Second Coming of Christ.

How can we keep Advent in a culture that has forgotten this important liturgical season?

  • Put up an Advent wreath in your home. Light it during meal time with your family.
  • Start each day in prayer and reflection. Many parishes provide a booklet of reflections for use during Advent; you can also purchase such booklets from a local Catholic bookstore or online Catholic supply store.
  • Utilize a site such as the University of Creighton’s “Praying Advent” page for daily prayers and audio reflections.
  • Don’t decorate your house or trim your tree until the week before Christmas and leave the decorations up throughout Christmas Time.
  • Attend the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, either at a parish reconciliation service or at your parish’s normal time.
  • Find or download an album of Advent music (yes, they do exist!) to play during the season.

For the record: This year Advent begins on November 27. The Octave of the Nativity of the Lord begins on December 25 and ends on January 1 (the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God). Christmas Time begins the evening of December 25  24 and runs until January 8 (the Epiphany of the Lord) 9 (the Baptism of the Lord).

Have a very blessed Advent season. Come, Lord Jesus!

Good Celebration of Liturgy

Last month my office, in conjunction with our diocesan Office for Worship and the Catechumenate, offered a workshop on the Roman Missal, Third Edition  to the faithful of our diocese.

The introductory section, which I presented, was a brief (10 minute) overview of why good liturgical celebration is important to the life of the Church. We recorded the workshop and I offer my section below. You may notice from the context that the audience at this particular workshop was almost exclusively Catholic school teachers and staff.

My office also created some catechetical materials designed to be used by students in grades 2-12. They can be downloaded from our diocesan web site.

The New Roman Missal is Not Better

I rarely make declarative statements regarding liturgy. As I’ve mentioned before I have had exactly one course in liturgy in my education; it is, to be sure, not my area of expertise. So at the risk of stirring the pot, let me say:

The new translation of the Roman Missal we will be using this fall is not a better translation than the old translation.

Now before you head to the combox,  let me explain.

I get very uneasy when I hear people say that the new translation will be “better” than the old. This implies that a) what we have been saying is somehow wrong or deficient, and b) that what we will be saying this fall is what we should have been doing all along.

But I think this is comparing apples to oranges. You can’t really compare the two because the rules for translation changed. If the rules had been the same, then we might be able to claim that one is better based on a shared criteria. But the old translation was a “good” translation in so far as it followed the rules of dynamic equilelency in force at the time; the new translation is a “good” translation in so far as it follows the rules of formal equilelency that are now in place.

Now we can debate which set of rules is “better”; but we can’t fault the old translation for following the rules the Church had in place at the time.