Building a Better Catechist Formation Workshop

This month I have an article in NCCL’s Catechetical Leader magazine reflecting on our diocese’s experience in catechist formation on the Roman Missal, Third Edition. The text of the article is presented here:

In the fall of 2011 our diocesan Office for Catechesis, in cooperation with our Office for Worship and the Catechumenate, sponsored a series of regional workshops helping Catholic school teachers and parish catechists to understand the (then) upcoming implementation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition; examine the changes in the English translation; and prepare the faithful to embrace these changes through their catechetical programs.

We knew that this would be a challenging workshop, due both to the inherent pain and grieving many people experience when their mode of worship is altered, and a history of poor reception of such large, regional workshops. With those considerations in mind we made a conscious effort to change our approach from past workshops.

  1. We dumped the single-speaker approach. In the past we’ve hired individual presenters to lead our regional catechist workshops. This year, because we increased the number of workshops and spread them out over the course of six weeks, hiring a single presenter from outside the diocese didn’t make logistical sense. Instead, the members of the sponsoring offices took responsibility for pieces of the workshop. As a result participants heard from five different people over the course of the session.
  2. We kept things moving. At three hours long the workshop could have dragged on for participants. Instead, as we broke down the agenda for the workshop, we intentionally kept the individual sections short and to the point. No individual section was longer than 30 minutes and some were as short as five minutes long. Combined with the multiple speakers, participants were always being presented with something new to hold their interest.
  3. We utilized interactivity and multimedia. To help participants come together as a group we began the workshop with a 15-minute Liturgy of the Word. We also had a reflect/pair/share exercise early in the session and presenters asked feedback questions throughout the workshop. In addition, besides using traditional PowerPoint slides, we played short clips from ICEL’s Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ DVD in between major agenda items to either highlight ideas from the preceding presenter or to set up the next one. These short clips gave participants an opportunity to stand and stretch or just œreset  before the next part of the workshop.
  4. We eliminated technological variables. As we went around our diocese we brought our own laptops and projector. Even more importantly we invested in a portable PA system that allowed us to forgo using unreliable and outdated sound systems in the parishes. This ensured that, regardless of the setting or size of the room, participants would always be able to hear the presenters clearly.
  5. We gave them resources to use. In the past the biggest criticism of our formation workshops was a lack of resources to œtake back to the classroom.  This was especially true of school teachers, but parish catechists also expressed a desire to have relevant materials that they could take back and use in their programs. Because we didn’t hire a presenter, our budget allowed us to purchase booklets and other materials to give to catechists to take back with them. These were handed out in folders by grade level (K-6 or 7-12).

Implementing these changes meant working outside our established patterns, but in the end it made for a more effective and engaging catechist formation experience. Our future workshops will build on and refine this model.

What the Revised Roman Missal Proves About Adult Faith Formation

A friend of mine on Google+ made what should be an obvious point, but one which hadn’t  occurred  to me:

The Roman Missal changes was the most recent…  adult educational moment for parishes in the US since the release of the US Catechism over 8 (??) years ago. Parishes do not need to teach adults the faith so many do not make it a priority. I find this frustrating.

This hadn’t occurred to me (most likely  because  I wasn’t working in catechesis when the USCCA was released), but it is true: the changes to the language of the Mass were the first sustained and universal attempt at adult faith formation in this country for some time. While there have been other, smaller efforts here and there (the Year of Paul or Forming Faithful Consciences), nothing has reached the scope and depth of the efforts leading up to last November.

Here’s the thing: the catechesis and formation around the Roman Missal, Third Edition was, as near as I can tell, a success. Parishioners have, by and large, accepted and implemented the changes without much fuss or angst. In the  Midwestern  parishes I’ve traveled to since last November I haven’t seen or heard anyone using the old translation in an intentional act of defiance, and I haven’t seen much ink (physical or electronic) spilled reporting mass discontent about the changes. People seem to have accepted (perhaps grudgingly in some cases) the reasons given for the changes and implemented them in their parishes

So what does this prove?

That when effort and resources are put into adult faith formation — when we make it a priority and act as if it is the most important evangelizing moment — it is successful. The amount of work put into the implementation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition was remarkable — every publisher had their set of resources, the USCCB put out massive amounts of information in the form of essays, brochures, and videos, and dioceses put together workshops and trainings for a variety of constituencies. We laughingly predicted in our offices that we  would  receive  ten calls the first week of Advent complaining that the priest was changing the words of the Mass. In fact, we got none — my only conclusion is that it was impossible to be even a semi-regular church-goer and not know that the changes were coming.

All this hard work paid off. The implementation has been a success and, from where I stand, should be a model for large-scale formation efforts in the future. My hope is that the Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis at the USCCB has done or is planning to do some sort of  postmortem  on their efforts so as to be more intentional the next time this sort of evangelizing moment presents itself. I know that I will remember the lessons learned and put them into practice.

Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP / flickrCC

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.

Roman Missal Workshops: Unexpected Success?

Our diocese had our fourth day of regional workshops on the Roman Missal, third edition yesterday. We offer an afternoon and an evening session, each 3-hours long, covering some basics of good liturgy, the reasons for and some examples of the changes we’ll see on the Firth Sunday of Advent, and a packet of resources for implementing the changes.

Our last two workshop are next Tuesday, and after they’re done I really want to sit and analyze what we did right with this workshop. The afternoon session is for Catholic school teachers — usually a very tough audience. But so far, with some minor exceptions, this is the most engaged I’ve seen the teachers on a catechetical topic.

I’m not sure why that’s so; part of it may be that we’re giving them materials they can take back and use in the classroom (something they’ve been asking for for years), but I think the fact that we’ve divided up the workshop into smaller subsections — none longer than 30 minutes, some as short as 5 minutes — helps to make the presentations feel snappier. We’ve also added a variety of short video clips (from ICEL’s Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ DVD, a great resource), multiple presenters (participants hear from 5 different people), and we purchased a portable PA system so that we don’t have to rely on spotty systems in gyms and parish halls.

I suspect that it’s a combination of all these factors that have made the workshops a success. Of course, the real proof will be how parishes use the materials and prepare people for the new language of the Mass we’ll be using in two months!

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.

COREnotes Issue 06

The latest issue of the Office for Catechesis’ COREnotes goes out today; it features the second half of Fr. Paul Turner’s DAEC address, information on our diocese’s Confirmation of Catechized Adults, and an article on the evangelization of the family.

You can also sign up to have the COREnotes delivered straight to your inbox!

Setting the Context for the Roman Missal, third edition

At our January 20 meeting of DREs in the diocese, our director of worship and the catechumenate, Eliot Kapitan, delivered a great presentation addressing four common questions about the new translation of the Mass. Because of bad weather, many DREs couldn’t attend so we recorded the presentation:

The Roman Missal: Re-Focusing Our Attention

I am reluctant to enter into discussion of liturgical theology and practice. It is not the field in which I work and I have little education on the subject. That having been said, my diocese, like many others, is preparing for the Vatican’s recognitio of the translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. While we may not know when the final approval will come (most people seem to suspect it will be sometime this spring, with mandatory implementation at Advent 2011) we will need to prepare for its use in our parishes. This means a concerted catechetical program for all: priests, deacons, musicians, liturgists, catechists, people in the pews   — and maybe even people out of the pews!

A couple weeks ago a small group of our diocesan directors met to begin envisioning what that catechetical process will look like. During the course of the conversation, one thing became clear: in order to prepare people to pray the new translation in a meaningful, intelligible way, we need to be able to articulate why the Church is changing the words of the Eucharistic liturgy in a way they can understand and accept.

In other words, we need to find the marketable message for the changes.

I won’t claim that we came up with all the answers, but I think one of the priests at the table got us started the right path. He noted that, during the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, the message was that the laity will no longer be passive observers but will be called to “full, active participation” in the liturgy. For forty years this has been the mantra of liturgical catechesis, for better or worse. It was, in a sense, the “marketable message” on liturgy following the council.

He contrasted this with the new missal and translation which have shifted attention from the action of the congregation back to the object of worship: Jesus Christ. Without diminishing the importance of the council’s reforms or denigrating the progress made in liturgical theology, the heightened language of the new translation pulls us out of the mundane and reminds us that while we participate in the liturgy, the liturgy is not about us.

With that in mind, a useful way to enter a wider conversation about the new missal — and a way to point towards a “marketable message” — may be to pose the following three questions:

  1. Who calls us to participate in the liturgy?
  2. Why do we participate in the liturgy?
  3. How then do we participate in the liturgy?

This series of questions begins with the invitation to worship, points to the object of our worship, and then asks if the manner of our worships honors that end. I’m not completely satisfied with the wording (I’m open to suggestions!) and obviously not everyone will agree on the answers to these questions — especially the third! But they at least focus the conversation in a constructive manner that can lead to further exploration about our theology of liturgy, why we have a shared liturgical practice in the Church, and why the changes make sense within that context.

And without resorting to, “Because the Vatican says so!”