What is an “Ordinary” Mass?

I appreciated this weekend’s episode of the CNA Editor’s Desk podcast and their conversation about parish membership and what drives people to choose a parish. I was particularly gratified to hear Ed Condon echo a sentiment (at about 27:16 in the episode) I’ve had over the years — that part of the fragmentation of parish life is the diversification of styles of celebration of the liturgy in parishes:

Almost everywhere I’ve lived there have been a variety of parishes — and styles of liturgy — to choose from: the “liberal” parish, the “traditional” parish, the “social justice” parish, etc. Almost inevitably parishes that are known as a “type” allow this to influence their celebration of the Mass in such a way as to distort or work against what would seem to be the clear rubrics. In the case of so-called liberal parishes this often takes the form of changing the words of prayers or creating extra ministries for laypeople; in the case of traditionalist parishes, of adding back in gestures or prayers from older forms of the Mass that aren’t called for in the Ordinary Form.

Indeed, I can think of only two parishes I have worshiped in regularly in the past that seemed to favor a “vanilla” style of liturgy — that is, simply doing what the Church prescribes in her ritual texts. One was the only parish in a small town (the result of a merger of five parishes some years earlier) and the other was a Midwestern cathedral. (Our current parish is pretty good, too.)

So what would an “ordinary” Catholic Mass look like? Here are four elements I think we should consider: (In case it needs stating: these are my opinions and not necessarily those of my employer.)

  1. Following the words and rubrics of the ritual texts. I’m not a huge fan of the phrase “Say the Black, Do the Red” because it seems overly reductive (especially insofar as it ignores the importance of the ars celebrandi — more on that in a minute) but there is something to be said for following the texts gifted to us by the Church. I’ve been in Masses where the priest blatantly left out phrases from the prayers, interrupted the prayers to make comments, and invented new blessings and rituals whole cloth (“renewal of vows” at wedding anniversary celebrations are a good example of the latter). The people have a right to the proper celebration of the Church’s liturgy; being guided by the Church’s texts seems like a minimal consideration to give them.
  2. A focus on a simple, reverential celebration of the liturgy. Even when the texts are followed exactly it’s possible to celebrate the Mass in a lackadaisical, irreverent fashion. I’ve even seen this in more conservative parishes where the gestures were performed with extreme precision but the words spoken in a casual, almost off-handed manner. Those leading liturgical celebrations should strive to do so in a reverential manner, avoiding the extremes of being too performative, too regimented, or too glib.
  3. Appropriate inculturation. One of Thom Rainer’s principles in his book Autopsy of a Deceased Church is that the congregation should look like the community in which it’s situated. For Catholics, the liturgy should also take into account the community and cultures of the people gathered. If there is a heavy Latino presence, some elements of the all Sunday Masses should be spoken in Spanish — even if there is a dedicated Spanish Mass. If the parish is in a rural community, regular celebration of various blessings for seed and harvest times should occur. In this way the liturgy can more deeply touch the everyday cares and concerns of the faithful.
  4. Hymns the people can sing. Ignoring the rubrical question of antiphons versus hymns, the selection of music is one of the most visual (aural?) ways a parish inculturates the Mass for its local community. While allowing for a variety of styles, liturgists and music coordinators should choose music that is in a range people can sing and that is easy enough to pick up after a verse or two. Too many modern liturgical tunes are neither and wind up becoming performance pieces for the choir.

Consideration of these elements doesn’t depend on location or resources; they can be adopted in the largest basilica or the humblest mission parish. But, as noted in the CNA discussion, having the liturgy celebrated in an “ordinary” way across parishes would help mitigated the felt need for parish shopping and eliminate some of the fragmentation of Catholic communities.

The Tasks of Catechesis

On May 2 our diocesan Office of Catechesis hosted our biannual Parish Catechetical Leaders meeting. We host these gatherings twice a year as an opportunity for fellowship and ongoing formation for DREs, youth ministers, RCIA coordinators, and other parish leaders.

This spring the theme of our meeting was “Education, Formation, and Catechesis.” I gave a presentation on the tasks of catechesis (as found in the General Directory for Catechesis); I’m happy to share the audio and slides of that presentation here:

Question from the Field: Can Students Bless One Another?

A few years back I received a question about the appropriateness of students in catechetical programs signing one another on the forehead with holy water at the start of class. The catechist had been told that blessings can only be given by someone who has authority over the person receiving the blessing (e.g., a parent to a child or a bishop to a member of his flock) and wanted to know if this was true.

We need to make a distinction between liturgical blessings and devotional blessings. The former are defined by the Church and set out in ritual texts (such as the Roman Missal or Book of Blessings); the latter are not defined, but should support and and extend the liturgical practices of the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1675).

The Catechism says of blessings:

Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a ‘blessing,’ and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1669)

There is nothing in that explanation that supports a hierarchical notion of blessings of persons over persons; the principle regards the nature of the blessing itself.

So the question then becomes: how concerned with “ecclesial and sacramental life” is a non-liturgical blessing on the forehead with holy water?

The Book of Blessings gives us some guidance. Generally, liturgical blessings over people (“Blessing of the Sick,” “Blessing of a Mother Before Childbirth, “Blessing of Students”) give the option of allowing a lay person to preside if no clergy are present. The text states that

[L]aymen and laywomen, in virtue of the universal priesthood, a dignity they posses because of their baptism and confirmation, may celebrate certain blessings… Such laypersons exercise this ministry in virtue of their office (for example, parents on behalf of their children) or by reason of some special liturgical ministry or in fulfillment of a particular charge in the Church, as is the case in many places with religious or catechists appointed by decision of the local Ordinary. (Book of Blessings, no. 18; emphasis in the original)

Students signing one another with holy water seems in line with the “Blessing of Students.” Given the principles of the Book of Blessings, the ideal would be for the catechist to do the blessings. (And in fact, I think it would be a powerful ritual symbol for a catechist to sign the foreheads of students as they came into the classroom.) But since the signing in question isn’t a liturgical action, but a devotional one, I don’t think there’s anything stopping a catechist from delegating the act of signing to a student. (If it were a liturgical action, such as celebrating the “Blessing of Students” from the Book of Blessings, I’d say the catechist must preside, unless a member of the clergy is present, in which case he would be the proper minister.)

Joyce Donahue and Liturgical Catechesis

Yesterday I hosted a wonderful conversation with Joyce Donahue. This past summer Joyce wrote an 8-part blog series on “Forming Children and Youth for the Mass”; in our conversation we talked about liturgical catechesis, and how to help young Catholics embrace the liturgy, helping families participate more fully in the liturgy, and more:

In our conversation we referenced the following resources:

I’m hoping to host more conversations like this in the future; let me know if you have a topic or guest you’d like to see featured!

Hangout with the Liturgical Catechist

Next Tuesday, at 12 noon (Central Time) I will be streaming a live conversation with Joyce Donahue (Diocese of Joliet) about her recent 8-part blog series on forming children and youth for the liturgy:

You can watch live on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-iH_wR0-L4, or by visiting this page.

We will discuss her blog series, liturgical catechesis in general, and how to make your catechetical session more liturgical. We’ll also take your questions during the conversation — we hope you’ll join us live!

Improving Parish Marriage Prep – More Highlights from Notre Dame

Last week I shared some highlights from the general sessions of the 2015 Notre Dame Center for Liturgy summer symposium on “Liturgy and Vocation.”

The afternoon sessions I attended were led by Josh and Stacey Noem and dealt with marriage prep in a parish setting. The Noems did an outstanding job laying out the theological and pastoral contours of an effective, evangelizing marriage prep process:

I’m looking forward to helping the parishes in our diocese deepen their commitment to a welcoming, evangelizing marriage formation process. Big thanks to Stacey and Josh Noem — and the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy — for the great conversation they facilitated at the symposium!

Highlights from the Notre Dame “Liturgy and Vocations” Symposium

This week I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy‘s annual summer symposium, focusing this year on “Liturgy and Vocation.” This was my first time attending the symposium — indeed, my first time on the campus of Notre Dame — and I was delighted by the rich conversations that matched pressing pastoral questions with deep theological insights.

(Next year’s topic will be Liturgy and the New Evangelization — I would highly recommend attending!)

The symposium began on Tuesday evening with Msgr. Michael Heintz. His address on “Liturgy and Vocation” set the stage for the remaining general sessions and afternoon seminars:

The second general session by Dr. Brant Pitre was a whirlwind tour of nuptial imagery in the Bible, based in large part on his book Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

On Wednesday Dr. Chad Pecknold of CUA spoke about the social and political dimensions of marriage and the priesthood, rooting his talk in St. Augustine’s image of the two cites.

Finally, on Thursday, Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman helped us to reflect on the nature of icons in order to practice seeing marriage and ordination as icons of Christ’s love.

These highlights don’t even touch the panel discussion on marriage and priestly formation or the two-day afternoon seminar on marriage prep that I attended — I’ll share more on them next week. In the meantime you can browse all the live-tweeting from the event by following the #NDSymposium2015 hashtag.

Thanks to Timothy O’Malley for inviting me to the symposium and for the gracious hospitality extended by the staff of the NDCL. I look forward to attending more Center for Liturgy events in the future!

Book Review: You Have Put on Christ

017173_rdax_266x400At the root of all Christian discipleship is the Sacrament of Baptism, for it is in Baptism that we become a new creation and are clothed in Christ (cf. RCIA no. 229). Jerry Galipeau’s new book You Have Put on Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality is an extended reflection on this reality, told mainly through stories of Dr. Galipeau’s discovery of the power of his own baptism.

The very first chapter recounts a pilgrimage Dr. Galipeau took to the church where he was baptized in an effort to connect his ministry to the roots of his participation in the life of Christ:

“I reached out and gave the top lid of the font a little push and, sure enough, it began to move. The lid opened and inside I saw three small chambers, probably enameled over some kind of steel (rust had formed around the edges) that once held the baptismal water. I just stood there and stared inside this font, thinking to myself, ‘My little head was once right here.’ I was overwhelmed with emotion. ‘Right here,’ I thought, ‘right here is where my life changed forever.'”

Subsequent chapters unpack the baptismal character of Lent and the ways in which a Catholic parish might help parishioners to rediscover the power and meaning of their baptism.

The book comes with an enhanced CD-ROM containing four instrumental tracks, sheet music for the hymn “God, Who at the Font once Named Us,” and the script for a parish-based baptismal reflection session (as described in the third chapter). The files are all reproducible for parish use.

You Have Put on Christ is a short but moving reflection on the grace of Baptism and a great resource for parish liturgists and catechists.

Videos: Building a Better Disciple Series

This past Monday evening I completed my five-part webinar series “Building a Better Disciple.”

All five videos are available to view. In addition, slides and catechist formation participation forms for catechists and teachers in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are available at BuildingABetterDisciple.tumblr.com.

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the live webinars. This was a fun and enlightening experiment in webinar-based catechist formation and I already have some ideas for a video-based formation series in the spring. Stay tuned!

17 Insights from FDLC (in Tweet Form)

Last week I attended the 2014 National Meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC). I’m not a liturgist (and don’t even play one on TV) but I was invited by our diocesan director for worship and the catechumenate to participate in a consultation process with the US Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship regarding edits to the National Statues on the RCIA.

(With a new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults on the horizon, this is an opportune time to reevaluate the national statues in light of our pastoral experience since implementing the RCIA in America.)

In addition to the consultation process we heard from a variety of voices, most notably from the staff of the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship; a report on a recent survey by CARA about the RCIA in parishes; pastoral and theological reflections by Fr. Ron Lewinski and Fr. Paul Turner; and Parish Day presentations by Jim Schellman and D. Todd Williamson. Here are some of my takeaways that I tweeted from the meeting.