Category Archives: Liturgy and Society

Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Symposium 2016

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Register for Liturgy and the New Evangelization

Over the last several years, the Center for Liturgy has hosted an annual summer gathering attending to the rites reformed by the Second Vatican Council. These summer symposia enabled us to perceive again the theological, ritual, and devotional genius of the reformed Rites of the Council.

Yet, in the course of our conversation, it became clear that the primary concern of our participants was not simply on the reformed Rites of the Second Vatican Council nor a re-reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium. That is, there was a sense that the major concern of our era is not the implementation of a post-conciliar liturgical vision but responding to those new signs of the times that the documents don’t fully address.

We heard from campus ministers, who acknowledged that they are working with a diminishing number of students, who are not coming to Mass at all. We heard from directors of catechesis that there is declining participation in both the sacraments of marriage and infant baptism. Nearly everyone we talked to addressed the difficulty of celebrating the liturgy in parishes where distraction and the busyness of the modern world are obstacles to the flourishing of a liturgical life.

We also heard from the wider Church that the liturgical conflicts that have been so central to those who work in liturgy don’t really matter to them. They’re concerned about the quality of preaching, how to form students (at whatever age) for the sacrament of confirmation, how to draw on a larger repertoire of liturgical music and sacred architecture. And we heard most of all that the translation of the Missal, however despised by those in liturgical scholarship and ministry, is not a major concern among those who offer the sacrifice of praise on a weekly basis. They’re worried about their families, their kids, integrating their jobs and religious practice. The translation neither helped them nor harmed them in this work.

Our conversations during these Symposia reminded me again and again of that famous letter of Romano Guardini, addressing the German bishops in the midst of the Second Vatican Council:

The question is whether the wonderful opportunities now open to the liturgy will achieve their full realization; whether we shall be satisfied with just removing anomalies, taking new situations into account, giving better instruction on the meaning of ceremonies and liturgical vessels or whether we shall relearn a forgotten way of doing things and recapture lost attitudes.

From our conversations, we developed a sense that the liturgical rites of the Church have actually been quite effective in promoting a deeper sense of involvement in Christ’s sacrifice of love among those present in the assembly. But the dire statistics of Pew Studies, the reality of seminarians that are under-formed, of marriages and families in which prayer is not central to identity, and of gradually emptying churches at least in the Northeast and Midwest (and on college campuses as a whole throughout the country) kept intervening. The work of the liturgical movement today is to build a civilization where liturgical prayer can flourish. Where we address the problems of the day not simply through quoting documents, which don’t have credibility for the listener. But return again to the sources of renewal, imagining what it means to live a liturgical life in the 21st century.

This year, we will be hosting our 2016 Symposium precisely on this topic: Liturgy and the New Evangelization. Indeed, we are focusing on this not simply because I wrote a book with this title. Rather, the Center for Liturgy at Notre Dame seeks to solve the problems of this day rather than those of the 1960s. We want to understand, through the research of Christian Smith, how families pass on faith so that liturgical leaders can empower the domestic church. We want to discern how digital media has formed (and at times malformed) the human being, who is to participate in worship. We want to acknowledge the diversity that exists in the American Church, which may open up new avenues for connecting liturgy and spirituality, of “devotional life” and “liturgical life.” We want to know  how liturgy “evangelizes” in the first place through ritual activity, through preaching, through catechesis, and through music. And we want dioceses, high schools, and colleges alike to begin to develop a comprehensive strategy where they celebrate a diversity of liturgical rites as a way of contributing to the work of evangelization in the (post)-modern world. And we want these groups to develop new approaches to catechetical and spiritual formation, grounded in the liturgy, that leads to the fullness of human flourishing, of happiness, of self-gift.

The Center for Liturgy is thus hosting our final Symposia on Liturgy and the New Evangelization as a sign of what is to come.

  • In future summers, we will be hosting a three-year cycle of summer conferences that will form partner dioceses, parishes, and schools in the theological and spiritual principles of the liturgy; in a Eucharistic vision of the world; and in making explicit the intrinsic connection between devotion, social justice, and the liturgy. This event will also eventually have an advanced track, which will consider special topics in liturgical-sacramental ministry.
  • We will be hosting another week that seeks to discern how the principles of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd might influence how we carry out the RCIA, marriage formation, infant baptism, and spiritual formation on college campuses.
  • We will continue to partner with Notre Dame Vision to develop an approach to liturgical music that is not simply grounded in the formation of musical capacities but whose foundation is in the liturgical and theological vision of the Church. It is not enough to form musicians. We need to form liturgical musicians, who know the liturgy, who pray the liturgy, who love the liturgy.
  • And lastly, we will be hitting the road to do workshops, retreats, and other educational events on college campuses throughout the United States (we’re heading to Michigan State, Washington University, and the University of Michigan during this academic year alone).

In this way, the Center for Liturgy seeks to enrich the liturgical and sacramental imagination for the evangelization and transformation of the world. We see liturgical prayer, still, as a unique medium for healing the modern imagination from consumerism, from injustice, from domestic discontent, social isolation, and technological overload.

Join us this summer at Notre Dame as we start to work together on this renewal of the imagination. A renewal that will lead, we believe, to the renaissance of liturgical and sacramental ministry in the 21st century.



Dwelling with Love Incarnate: Part 2

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Editor’s Note: This second of two posts is part of a lecture given to inaugurate the Institute for Church Life’s 2nd annual International Crèche Pilgrimage, Dwelling with Love Incarnate. 

Dwelling with Love Incarnate: Part 1

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.


Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.


Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.


Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.


What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

This hymn, a text written by Christina Rossetti, rifts upon a number of the motifs that were implicit in O Magnum Mysterium. The silence of the bleak mid-winter is intensified through a placing of the Nativity in an English village, covered with snow. Worship is offered by the angels, yet the marvel of the Incarnation is upon display in Jesus’ drinking of milk from his mother’s bosom, worship being offered most fully through the tender kiss of a mother upon the cheek of her son. Yet, at the end, the hymn takes a turn common in devotional poetry of the time. The contemplation of the pastoral nativity demands some response by the poet and reader alike. A shepherd might bring a lamb, a Wise Man would bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but me—what is left but to give myself?

In this sense, Rossetti’s poetry functions almost Eucharistically. God’s action has unfolded in the Incarnation and what remains but the giving of oneself as a return-gift to the infant Son. And the icon of this return-gift is the blessed Virgin herself, who offers the kiss of love that the poet now desires to give to the Son. Such poetry is self-implicating, wooing one to participate in the gift of what takes place in the hidden indwelling of the God-man.

The liturgical poetry of Romanos the Melodist takes up this same perspective, where the reader of the poem, the singer of the hymn assumes a central role in the drama of salvation. In his hymn on the Nativity, Romanos invites the reader to assume the Marian role in the story:

“For I am not simply your mother, compassionate Savior;

it is not in vain that I suckle the giver of milk,

but for the sake of all I implore you.

You have made me the mouth and boast of all my race,

and your world has me,

as a mighty protection, a wall and a buttress.

They look to me, those who were cast out

of the Paradise of pleasure, for I bring them back.

May all things understand that, through me, you have been born

a little Child, God before the ages (The Nativity, 23).

While also reflecting upon the role of Mary in the drama of the Nativity, the hymn forms the reader to see him or herself as the Marian actor in the drama. In this age, as this hymn is sung, the Christian is also to become the place where Christ is born into the world.

Indeed, it is the very pedagogy of the crèche scene to invite us to participate within our own time in the Incarnation. The “Painted Houses” of South Africa uses tribal imagery to demonstrate how God’s dwelling among us might put an end to the hostility between rival factions.


The material of the banana tree of Paraguay incarnates the Christmas narrative into the agricultural milieu of that country.


Alaska’s own wintry background is now where the Savior of the world is born.


The crèche scenes are moments in which the story of Christmas is seen in its contemporaneity—the world grown weary through sin and death, now renewed through the glory of the Incarnate Word.

The family that keeps watch before the crèche participates in this drama of salvation. And indeed, this drama is unfolding even in the mundane world of family life. Cardinal Marc Ouellet writes, “…the love of Christian spouses and the richness of their family relationships become a sacred sign, a vehicle and sanctuary of a greater Love, the love of the Trinitarian, incarnate God, who enters into a humble and indissoluble bond with their community of life and love” (Divine Likeness, 53). The love of the Father poured out in his Son and then given over to women and men in history itself is still become manifest in the nuptial union. The family becomes an incarnate and inculturated sign of God’s love for the world to contemplate. Each of the families, in their own particularities, reveal something about the triune love of God made manifest in the Incarnation: the couple with a plurality of children, the elderly couple who now live alone, the family forced into migration, and the infertile couple who open their house to care for the poorest of the poor.

In this way, the nativity set can renew family life insofar as it reminds them that although domesticity is often mundane, it is in fact a participation in the drama of salvation in this time and place. It is a participation in a drama where there is not only joy but also signs of sorrow that mark the human condition. And the set invites us, just like the poetry of Christian Rossetti or Romanos the Melodist, to assume our role in the drama.

Born On a New Day

You are the new day.

Meekness, love, humility

Come down to us this day:

Christ, your birth has proved to me

You are the new day.


Quiet in a stall you lie,

Angels watching in the sky

Whisper to you from on high

“You are the new day”.


When our life is darkest night,

Hope has burned away;

Love, your ray of guiding light,

Show us the new day.


Love of all things great and small

Leaving none, embracing all,

Fold around me where I fall,

Bring in the new day.


This new day will be

A turning point for everyone.

If we let the Christ-child in, and

Reach for the new day.


Christ the Way, the Truth, the Life;

Healing sadness, ending strife;

You we welcome, Lord of life,

Born on a new day.

You are the new day.

A relatively modern carol, “Born On a New Day” is an adaptation of a secular song, one that promises the renewal of humanity through the burgeoning hope of love. The irony of the song, of course, is that the language of “new day” is fitting for the feast of Christmas. The hope of newness, of God’s renewal of the created order, is in fact at the font of the season of Advent itself, where we await the glad tidings of the Savior, who comes to renew all things.

And indeed, the crèche itself captures this newness through the presence of the Magi, who come from the ends of the world to greet the king whose power is made manifest in weakness. T.S. Eliot, in his “Journey of the Magi,” gives voice to these kings who have returned to their land:

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

With the coming of this new day is a necessary death, a giving up of the old dispensation for the new. Can we participate in a world grown tired from the reign of sign and death, when we have gazed with wonder upon the king who dwells among us? Is this not the reign we long for?

The new day that we long for, that was supposed to be inaugurated through the birth and death and resurrection of the beloved Son, seems so far away. The tragedies in Paris, together with the suffering of the Syrian migrants now denied homes make this patently clear to us. Should we turn away from this weary world? Should we give up on the project of waiting altogether?

LambThe crèche, as one might imagine, serves as a kind of medicine against this hopelessness, this world weariness of those who await the Incarnate Word’s reign on earth. To put up a crèche each year, in the midst of a world that has grown callous to the life of the unborn, to the suffering of the migrant and immigrant, to the prisoner condemned to death is a supreme act of hope. It is akin to the role of the tabernacle lamp, described by Charles Peguy in his poetics of hope in The Portal of the Mystery of Hope:

One trembling flame has endured the weight of worlds.

One vacillating flame has endured the weight of time.

One anxious flame has endured the weight of nights.

Since the first time my grace flowed for the creation of the world.

Since my grace has been flowing forever for the preservation of the world.

Since the time that the blood of my son flowed for the salvation of the world.

A flame impossible to reach, impossible to extinguish with the breath of death (Peguy, 5).

The family who each year puts up the crèche scene is doing more than following the liturgical calendar. Rather, they are manifesting to the world a hope that cannot be defeated by a politics or culture of death. Hope is born anew in the heart of the child, who recognizes for the first time the fact that that little babe in the crèche scene is Savior of the world; hope is born anew as the family prays before this scene each evening before darkness descends upon the world; hope is born anew when the family becomes the love they receive in this crèche.

Indeed, the manner in which hope is kept alive in the hearth of the domestic church is the reason why something so small as setting up a crèche scene is integral to the new evangelization. Secularity will ultimately not be defeated by intellectual argument alone; individualism cannot be destroyed by building a philosophical case alone against the irrationality of the position; nor for that matter will the coldness of the human heart toward the suffering of the unborn be “fixed” through a really fine op-ed. Rather, the hope of the Incarnation is passed on as a living flame from family to family, each time that they place in the infant Christ as the center of their home, manifesting to the world once against the fact that God is love. This, in fact, is the new day.


The Christmas crèche is thus more than a nice tradition, whereby Christians throughout the world mark the arrival of the season, just as they put up lights upon their homes or drink coffee out of a red cup from Starbucks. Rather, it is an embodied practice of remembering what the Father has accomplished through the humility of the Son, who is Love made flesh; it is an invitation to participation in this narrative again and again, renewing each season the hope for salvation that comes from God alone. It is a practice that serves as a bastion against a practical atheism that lives as if God is not more. It is a practice that renews from year to year the memory of the story that makes sense of all other stories.

And perhaps, it is the simple practice of praying before and setting up this crèche in the context of the domestic church that might be a source of renewal for the world itself. For as Cardinal Ouellet writes:

Evangelizing the family’s various relationships in the image of the Trinity, cultivating its sacramental life and consciousness, and revealing to the family the divine missions in which it participates; all of this could have a planetary impact on the mission of the Church and the future of humanity (76).

For the family to gaze with love upon the crèche, to contemplate the wonderful mystery taking place, and to pledge to become this mystery for the world: in this way, even now, the possibility of a new day, a new world of love can come into being. For when we dwell with love incarnate, we may find (perhaps even against our wills) that we become this love that we abide with: “Jesus, immortal boy, let this your birth give/to us peace and joy” (Adam of St. Victor 5.11).

Waiting and Liturgy: A Story of Papal Disappointment

Rose Urankar

Rose Urankar, ’16

Theology and American Studies

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

Thanks to a multitude of blessings, a few of my friends and I were able to go to Philadelphia for Pope Francis’s visit in September.  We even scored a couple of tickets to the Papal Mass, which was arguably the main event of the weekend.  So on Sunday afternoon, with our lucrative tickets in hand, we walked downtown toward the security checkpoints.  We were three hours early—what could go wrong?

This is the sight that greeted us:

papal lines

With jaws agape, we began wading through the sea of people, waiting for the opportunity to enter the secure perimeter.  There must have been a million people packed into three city blocks, but our hope did not falter.  Surely we would make it past this obstacle in an hour or so.

Hours slowly passed as we inched our way down 20th Street, moving at a glacial pace.  To abate our feelings of discouragement, my friends and I prayed together, offering up rosaries, hymns, and chaplets of divine mercy.  On our way, we met hundreds of people, all waiting for the Mass like we were.  We spoke with Christians from New York, Texas, and even Argentina, joining in prayer, song, and conversation.

Yet it was clear that the collective belief of the believers was slowly waning.  At four o’clock, we could hear the bells ringing, indicating the beginning of Mass.  Ok—we had missed the Opening Rites, but we would definitely make it in for the Eucharist, at least.  Right?

Time progressed, but we did not.  We waited, and we learned that waiting is perhaps the most inactive yet infuriating thing you can do. The ordeal was beginning to take a toll on my friends.  One was experiencing back pain and had to crouch on the street, curled up like an armadillo.  Another stopped participating in our conversations and just had to stand in silence.  Eventually, we all resorted to silence and our own thoughts, left to process this bizarre experience in whatever way we could.

I, however, was steadfastly holding onto hope as resolutely as I was holding onto my ticket.  Then, I heard the Communion hymn being sung as we were still deeply embedded in the crowd.  We had been waiting for five hours—five hours—and we had still missed the Eucharist.  I was tired, sore, and frustrated with our circumstances.  Incredulity washed over me as I stood, still quite stationary, among the sea of people.  My frustration came to a rolling boil, bubbling with rhetorical questions that contributed to my mental rhetoric of ridiculous defeat:  Why did this happen?  What was the point?

People walk towards a security checkpoint before entering an area under tighter security to attend Pope Francis events on Saturday, June 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Finally, as the closing hymn played, my friends and I passed through the security checkpoint. The irony was not lost on me that we were entering the space just as the ritual exit was occurring.  My group of friends was reunited but divided in our opinions on what to do next.  Some proposed that we go see the altar, but I was adamantly opposed.  We had missed the Mass; it was over.  Why would we go wading through crowds yet again just to see what we had missed?  I found the nearest patch of grass and sat down in a fury that was deflating quickly to teary hopelessness.

After letting me sit in silence for a little while, one of my friends approached and asked, “How are you feeling?”  With that prompt, I began to pour out all of my feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and depression at missing the Papal Mass, to which we’d been looking forward all weekend.  Even though he’d been feeling the same things, my friend patiently listened.  In turn, each of my friends shared their experiences, and a conversation began as we tried to make sense of the situation.  Certainly some good must have come from this.  We had met lots of wonderful people as we waited, and with them we had shared prayer and song.  Plus, thanks to the marvel that is the Internet, we had read the day’s readings and listened to the homily.

Of course, these revelations do not leave me feeling completely at peace with missing the Papal Mass.  But experiencing and processing these things in community reminds me that, as the Church, our life journeys (including our most frustrating, infuriating, and debilitating moments) are meant to be bound up with the experiences of others.

We are in a solemn liturgical time, finishing with our examination of the End Times over the next few days and moving into Advent, a period of waiting for the coming of Christ.  In these weighty liturgical moments, we are reminded of the struggles we face in our lives, from significant sorrows such as separation and death to daily frustrations brought about by waiting for and being disappointed by the mundane.  But in looking at these struggles through the liturgy, we see them not as singular but communal.  These difficulties are hard to bear on our own, but we are not called to bear them on our own.  Rather, we are called to wait them out with our brothers and sisters, the Church, confident that our liturgical lives, no matter how challenging or mundane, are to be lived alongside each other.

No Reference to Death: Eschatology Reimagined

James_CorcoranJim Corcoran

Undergraduate Fellow, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Thinking and preparing myself for the end of the world are not activities I do often. As a matter of fact, that kind of activity seems more suited to people on a TLC reality show, those who build bunkers and fill them to the brim with fortified peanut butter crackers, than to a sophisticated student of theology at an eminent Catholic university. And so, imagine my being shocked at what I read when I sat down to wade through the New Testament straight through last summer. Jesus spoke of the coming of the Kingdom of God, or what was to come in the next life, the parousia coming soon. Paul speaks of it. The Book of Revelation is all about it! And with the end of the world, my mind flooded with thoughts of judgment and damnation that just did not jibe with the Jesus I saw elsewhere. Then a thought occurred to me: the Final Judgment in Matthew is a list of statements about how we should live our lives. Then my interior mission began: I have to reclaim eschatology, or the area of theology that deals with the end times, and see it as it truly is.

Theologian James Alison
Theologian James Alison

Before we set out on our little adventure, an important distinction must be made, a distinction between an apocalyptic and an eschatological imagination, with a little help from theologian extraordinaire James Alison and his book Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination. Unfortunately, an apocalyptic imagination is the prevailing view of the end our life. In this imagination, we focus on law and justice. God keeps a tally of all the rules we knowingly transgress and at our death will judge us and are punished in accord with our crimes. This imagination, while not in itself harmful, often gets twisted all over the place. We focus on God as judge, make him punitive and judgmental and hateful. And when the God we shape in our minds and hearts acts like that, we will necessarily act in the same way toward the other. We become judgmental and legalistic, jealous and vengeful, sewing death and hatred like seeds all over our lives.

The eschatological imagination, however, is the exact opposite and affects our views of God and the other. For Alison, God is seen as “brilliantly alive and completely without reference to death.” In short, God is not created in the image and likeness of humans. He has no trace of violence, or revenger, or deceit. Jesus, in his mission on earth, was interested in “bringing to existence and making possible a human living together that doesn’t know death.” The paradigm we have of God shifts to the loving, good God we have always been taught about. If we believe in a God who gives and generates life, and if we wish to conform our lives to his, we also generate life.

I know what you’re thinking. This is very happy-clappy, all very well and good, to be sure, but very simplistic. But to get to this point of eschatological imagination, says Alison, we need to ask ourselves critical questions. Writing on Peter’s vision before visiting Cornelius (Acts 10:9ff):

The story of heaven is the story of how we learn not to call anyone profane or impure, so that a story is created in which there are, in fact, no impure or profane people, where not even disgusting people consider themselves disgusting, but rather where we have learned to disbelieve, and to help them disbelieve, in their own repugnancy. Our question as we receive the eschatological imagination must be: Who are, for me, the repugnant beasts, or for whom am I a repugnant beast? In this way, we begin to knock down the same wall as Peter.

Receiving the eschatological imagination, then, is a turn in the style of Rene Girard. We have to accept and realize that we demonize the other, that we find the other loathsome. To explain what I mean: Lamb who was slain passion1-agnusdeithere is a moment of imitative triangular desire. If I want something that is wanted by the people around me (safety and security, say), we enter into conflict with each other. The conflict reaches a pitch until we find the person or people who are the other and are unanimously chosen to be expelled from the society. This expulsion quiets down the conflict for a bit, then it, like clockwork, comes back again. But sometimes, people come along who are so nonviolent and so loving. They are different and worthy of scapegoating, and so we expel them. They have done their work, however, and the mechanisms are exposed. They expose the lie that underlies our society and our individual lives. Jesus, in other words, exposed in us the reality and calls us to shift very radically to a mechanism of life: “turn the other cheek,” “forgive seventy times seven times,” “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

To see the world in the eschatological kingdom is less a focusing on death and destruction than it is a creating of a new order in our lives and society based around love and respect and life. It is true self-knowledge. Jesus told us how the kingdom of God is and should be; reclaiming this image for ourselves calls us to some deep, sometimes scary realizations. But these realizations can only shape our lives for the better. During this Advent, as we hear read and proclaimed words of the end of things, let us reorder our lives so as to be ready.

Follow the author on Twitter: @JimCorc

Musical Mystagogy: The Requiem Mass

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Throughout the month of November, the Church has invited us to remember in a special way the souls of the faithful departed, so a few weeks ago I shared a piece by Geraint Lewis written for All Souls Day. As we near the end of November, we are also nearing the end of the liturgical year, which means that the readings in the Lectionary cycle are focused on what is often referred to as the “end time,” so it seems an appropriate moment to highlight a musical tradition that for centuries has shaped the way the Church has sung about the final things: the Requiem Mass.

Autograph (original) score of the first movement of Mozart’s Requiem

Musical settings of the Requiem Mass began to emerge during the Renaissance, and even today, composers are still producing works in the Requiem tradition (though most of these are written for the concert hall rather than the liturgy).

Over the centuries, the theological focus of the Requiem Mass has shifted somewhat, particularly with Pope Pius V’s addition of the Dies Irae sequence to the Roman Missal in the late 16th century. The added sequence required new music; thus, throughout the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras of the next three centuries, numerous composers set the Dies Irae as part of their Requiem Masses. Because “text painting” was a popular compositional technique during this time (in which composers would create musical pictures of what was happening in the text), settings of the Dies Irae often included dramatic and even terrifying music that highlighted the text’s vivid and often disturbing imagery of the final judgment and the fiery punishment awaiting sinners. And yet, these same composers also drew attention to passages in the sequence expressing heartfelt prayer for the mercy of God on behalf of the deceased and on one’s own behalf by setting those texts with some of the most luminous music that has ever been written. The multi-movement setting of the Dies Irae sequence found in Mozart’s Requiem is a stunning example of music that holds these two facets of the text in fruitful tension—the somber, dark reality of death and judgment is shot through with radiant hope in God’s gracious mercy and tender love.

Medieval illuminated manuscript showing a funeral liturgy
Medieval illuminated manuscript showing a funeral liturgy

The Dies Irae remained part of the funeral liturgy until the Second Vatican Council, when the sequence was removed in order that “funeral rights should express more clearly the paschal character of Christian death” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §81). In the current Rite of Christian Burial, the images of judgment have given way to reassurances of the merciful love of God and exhortations to hope in the resurrection, and yet, even in the years since the Council, ensembles continue to perform the great Requiems of the past, and composers have continued to set the sequence (see Richard Danielpour’s 2001 An American Requiem), which means that on a certain level, the Requiem in general and the Dies Irae in particular still resonate with people. It seems that, while it is of course a good and holy thing to place our trust in God’s love and mercy and to entrust our beloved dead to that love and mercy, we as human beings must also acknowledge that we will eventually be confronted with the mysterious realities of death and judgment.

The music of the Church can provide us with a way in to this struggle. The settings of the Requiem Mass that have been penned by composers down through the centuries are among the most famous, the most moving (even if this movement is one of disturbance), and the most stunningly beautiful pieces in the repertoire of sacred music. They place the reality of death, the holy fear of judgment, the horror of hell, and the hope of heaven before our eyes and ears, and allow us to contemplate these realities even as we struggle with them. They invite us not only to pray for our departed brothers and sisters, but also to consider the implications of mortality, the consequences of sin, and the need for God’s mercy. In short, the Requiem Mass is an musical momento mori, an aural reminder that we, too, will die, and that we have to give an account of our lives. And yet, the Requiem Mass is also a musical reassurance that Christ has broken the chains of death, and for those who have died with him in the waters of Baptism, death will not have the last word.

Duruflé's autograph score for the Requiem; the Gregorian chant melody is outlined at the bottom
Duruflé’s autograph score for the Requiem; the Gregorian chant melody is outlined at the bottom

While there are numerous settings of the Requiem Mass that are worth listening to on repeat, the one I would especially like to highlight is the setting by French composer Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986). Duruflé completed his Requiem in 1947 and dedicated it to the memory of his father. Musically speaking, what is so striking about Duruflé’s Requiem (as well as  several of his other sacred choral works) is that its melodies are drawn from the ancient Gregorian chants of the Requiem Mass, and yet its harmonic language is crafted from twentieth-century compositional techniques. In other words, this piece utilizes contemporary musical expression and yet is also completely rooted in a centuries-old musical tradition. In this way, it can be seen as a musical form of catechesis: (re)introducing listeners to the beauty of the Gregorian chant melodies while simultaneously appropriating that tradition within an equally and uniquely beautiful contemporary musical idiom.

Like Gabriel Fauré before him, Duruflé sought to highlight the merciful love of God in his Requiem; thus, all but the last two lines of the Dies Irae have been omitted. Yet, the reality of judgment is not altogether absent: it finds a place here in the setting of the ancient Responsory text, Libera me, Domine. The trials of death and judgment are not circumvented or glossed over or skirted around; rather, they are passed through, and as the tumultuous and trembling music of the penultimate Libera me, Domine movement gives way to the utter radiance of the final movement—the In Paradisum—where all is light and peace, the “paschal character of Christian death” pierces through the darkness and gives hope to all who place their trust in God.

Movement VIII: “Libera Me, Domine”

Movement IX: “In Paradisum”

Listen to the full work here.

Selfie Worship

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The ubiquitous nature of the selfie has reached a point of becoming comedic. This summer during a baseball game, a number of young women took five or so minutes of selfies, not once looking up to see what was going on during the game. When traveling on planes, it has become normal to see a seatmate pull up her sweatshirt hood, purse her lips, and snap away. Thousands of tourists throughout Rome purchase the selfie stick so that they can take pictures of themselves in front of famous churches, sharing with the world that they were there (yet perhaps never really looking at the church in the first place, only at their own image).


The comedy of the selfie, of course, became less comedic several weeks ago when a young women, Essena O’Neill, revealed the kind of idolatry that the practice had produced in her. O’Neill declared to her followers:

I’m quitting Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr. Deleted over 2000 photos here today that served no real purpose other than self promotion. Without realising, I’ve spent majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance…Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement. I was consumed by it.

The selfie, for Ms. O’Neill, was a form of self-worship, an adoration of an image that she could present to her online peers for their consumption. Rather than elicit happiness in her, Ms. O’Neill discovered again and again the surprising emptiness of a like, a favorite, a star. The heart longed for further likes, further adoration to take place. And the constant work of “creating the selfie” never ceased.

AcademicsTweetingIn fact, there is a sense in which much use of social media (whether employing imagery or not) is the creation of selfies for other’s adoration. Even photo-phobic academics tweet out their ideas, longing not simply to participate in conversations but to increase their followers, develop their brand, to be favorited and liked and re-tweeted for all the world to see (sometimes at the expense of the truth and charity alike). The person who tweets their wisdom to the world delights at being noticed by those with prominence, in some way becoming a more important self in the process. I matter because my thoughts have been recognized, acknowledged, taken up by others. I matter. This approach to social media gradually takes over one’s life such that every moment of one’s day is no longer an occasion for contemplation, for existence in the world, but a chance to tweet something out that will increase one’s self-image. The world becomes a house of idols.

This kind of selfie worship (whether of an image or thought) is ruining our capacity for liturgical prayer. In liturgy, we do not create a self before God, seeking to be recognized as beautiful, smart, talented, etc.; rather, we give up on the project of self-creation to begin with. We are to become selfless, which does not mean that we are to hate ourselves. Rather, we are to see the self as fully flourishing insofar as we adore the living God.

In this way, we must see liturgical worship as a form of “play,” which is radically distinct from selfie-worship. To create the selfie may look like play; but often enough the use of the selfie is really a conscious way of constructing a self-image for others to enjoy. Whereas in our celebration of the liturgy:

The practice of the liturgy means that by the help of grace, under the guidance of the Church, we grow into living works of art before God, with no other aim or purpose than that of living and existing in his sight; it means fulfilling God’s Word and ‘becoming as little children’; it means foregoing maturity with all its purposefulness, and confining oneself to play, as David did when he danced before the Ark…The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeless activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with sayings and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking ‘why’? and ‘wherefore’? It must learn not to be continually yearning to do something, to attack something, to accomplish something useful, but to play the divinely ordained game of the liturgy in liberty and beauty and holy joy before God (Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 71-72).

IncenseThe goal of liturgy is not self-creation, self-formation, self-adoration but self-emptying love. It is to learn to be who we are before God–a redeemed sinner, still learning to utter truthful words of praise to the triune God, who is total gift.

Perhaps, here, the novelist David Foster Wallace in his work Infinite Jest is prescient. We seem to have entered a time in which the goal is not the presentation of a real image of ourselves, of who we are, but a product and a brand that others can admire.  It is only those in the house of recovery in Infinite Jest, who can see themselves truthfully. They are the ones capable of love, of giving up on the project of self-projection to begin with. In the midst of the recovering addict, who has given up the project of creating a unique self apart from all others, do you find the possibility of salvation.

The liturgical rites of the Church also offer this possibility. The goal of our prayer is a halfway house for the selfie-loving soul, moving us away from the kind of self-adoration that infects the present human condition. We stand before the living God and acknowledge not simply that we are a sinner but that our flourishing is only possible through the grace we receive at the holy altar. The liturgy forms us not to hate ourselves, to despise our bodies. But instead to stand before God as we are, to give up on the project of creating the perfect self. We play before the living God, offering words of lament and praise, words that we did not create, discovering in the process an identity that we did not know was ours to begin with. We see our restlessness for what it is. Not something to be stopped, ceased at all costs. But the very driver of desire, which enable us to recognize who we really are: creatures made to praise and adore the living God.

Follow Tim on Twitter (ironic in light of topic of article): @NDLiturgyCenter


Liturgical Participation and the Apocalyptic

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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As anyone who has taught Sacred Scriptures knows, dealing with apocalyptic literature is a perilous affair. Students expect to read in such literature historical prophecies about the end of the world. Does the Blood Moon of late September portend the end of the cosmos? (No). What about the rise of Temple University’s football program? (Perhaps). Are the number of presidential debates evidence that God’s judgment has come upon humanity? (Likely). Because they’re looking for apocalyptic literature that predicts the precise details of the end of the world, students are often unprepared to see the surprising telos of literature like the Book of Revelation: that the wedding feast of the slain and resurrected Lamb is God’s definitive judgment upon history.

The loss of this sense of the apocalyptic, of God’s coming to judge the world in the wedding feast of the Lamb, has been detrimental to our capacity to participate fully, consciously, and actively in the liturgical prayer of the Church. As Annie Dillard has written in an oft-quoted text:

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return (Teaching a Stone to Talk).

EucharisticPrayingWe gather in our parish churches, seemingly unaware that the Eucharistic liturgy we celebrate on a weekly basis is the foretaste of this wedding feast of the Lamb. That the Scriptures we hear forms us to see the world from God’s own viewpoint. That the Eucharistic Prayer we offer to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit manifests to us that God is:

…the Master of reality, Lord, God of truth, who exist before the ages and govern throughout the ages; who dwell in the heights of heaven throughout the ages, gazing down on lowly things; you who have made heaven and earth and sea and everything that is in them. The Father of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, through whom you made all things, those visible and those invisible. Who sit upon the throne of your holy glory in your kingdom; who are adorned by every holy power (Alexandrian Anaphora of Basil).

Our celebration of the liturgy is a sacrament of God’s definitive judgment upon the world, in which the Christian is formed over the course of a lifetime to participate in the sanctified wisdom of the Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One. This participation will involve understanding the various ways that the life of the Church, our family life, our understanding of human dignity as a nation-state–all of these fail to measure up to the terribly festive judgment of the wedding feast of the Lamb.

The loss of this apocalyptic (and thus eschatological) disposition in our prayer is a real problem that the Church must face. Our participation in liturgical rites are not simply a celebration of our identity as Christians (although, they are indeed this). They are not the redeemed of the city, gathering together for self-praise. Instead, our prayer is participation in the sacrament of God’s eschatological judgment of the world in which sin (including the sin of particular parish communities, of nation states) is revealed for what it is: a paltry imitation of God’s power and might.

The renewal of this apocalyptic imagination in the Church need not involve a turning back from the liturgical renewal that took place as a result of the Second Vatican Council. Instead, it requires a remembering by those who practice liturgical ministry that our celebration of the liturgy is not first and foremost about our speaking of a word to God. Rather, it is a response to God’s call, the triune God’s glorious judgment of the gift of the world in the first place. It is because of God’s voice as other, as interruptive of ours, that prayer can take place in the first place. As Jean-Luc Chretien writes:

The space of response is opened only by the difference between speaking of oneself and speaking oneself. There can only be a call and a response if the two are no longer conceived as identical and if the fact that we do not speak of ourselves, out of ourselves, actually gives us a voice rather than condemn us to silence or to a simulation of speech (The Call and the Response, 27).

Therefore, to re-foster liturgical participation today will not (in the end) involve just changing the rites around. It will, instead, involve learning to see the Church’s prayer as actually speaking to, communing with a God who is not us. A God who comes to judge us, the world, not as the inaccessible judge. But as the Lamb slain, who announced that the world’s approach to violence, to destruction, is over. Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. 

Follow Tim on Twitter: @NDLiturgyCenter

St. John’s University and the Playful Gravity of Time

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This week, I’m visiting St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN for a series of workshops on hosting the St. John’s Bible at Notre Dame in an upcoming academic year. Like the rest of the Midwest, St. John’s is awash with autumnal color, sign of the beautiful death that the land is presently undergoing. And of course, like many universities, the passing of time is ubiquitous on campus as midterm week gives way to the second half of the semester, which will give way to Christmas celebrations (and in this case feet of snow).

Yet, the playful gravity of time at St. John’s feels different, because of the liturgical practice of the monks, who are the illuminati among us Catholics at marking time. Morning Prayer and Noon Prayer and Evening Prayer. The bells ring out from the Abbey Church, calling all those present to awareness of time’s passage. Indeed, at other schools, bells ring constantly. But, in this case, the bells that ring are markers of a community’s actual prayer (instead of a reminder that it is in fact 8:00 PM). At St. John’s that 7:00 AM bell is an audible sign that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has sanctified all the hours of the day and week and year.

MarcelBruerSince arriving on campus, I have attended three liturgies in this Abbey Church, all at different times of day. At Sunday evening Vespers, the wall of stained glass glowed forth with the power of the Resurrection, every hue of that massive panel fulfilling the fullness of its colorful vocation. Last night, at the Eucharistic celebration of undergraduate students, the stained glass reflected the darkness of night, the only light emerging from the Eucharistic liturgy playing out within the walls of the Church. This morning, at Lauds, the stained glass windows awakened with the sleepy choir of monks and guests, once again revealing its colorful hues as the Canticle of Zechariah came forth from our lips, the daybreak from on high.

This practice of marking time intrinsic to the Benedictine charism might offer something unique to Catholic higher education in a secular age. University discourse tends to refer to some distant future in which all knowledge will be discovered, in which progress will be made, in which endowments will grow. Yet, here at St. John’s, a radical alternative time interrupts again and again. The time not of capital campaigns, of curricular reviews, but the playful gravity of time embodied in the Christo-centric Liturgy of the Hours.

If I was a student at St. John’s, perhaps, I could not help but discover that this grounding in time, in the present celebration of the mystery of Christ, might actually be the most important part of my education on this campus. That to be a young person is not to wish away time, to hope for the day in which I will have the perfect employment opportunity, the right spouse, the ideal living situation. Instead, it is to let the present be infused with the reality of God’s activity, to perceive my vocation hic et nunc, here and now. My vocation as student. As one seeking a form of life, which will give shape to a life of discipleship. The time for salvation, the time for formation, the time to be fully human in Christ is not a distant hope. It is the time that is unfolding within the rural landscape of this Abbey Church and University.

In the midst of trends in Catholic higher education that strive for increasing graduate research, international immersion for undergraduates, and constant updating of curricula to remain up to date, it is helpful to keep before our eyes the playful gravity of the time that the monks celebrate day-to-day. And perhaps wonder, in the midst of a higher education landscape full the apostolic vigor of Jesuits and Holy Cross and Dominicans, if the marking of time that the Benedictines embody might actually be the key to renewing Catholic higher education in a secular age.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that the renewal of education and the Church comes from the sons and daughters of Monte Cassino.




Re-Ordering Our Church Politics

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

Intern, Washington University & Webster University Catholic Student Center Campus Ministry

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When Pope Francis stood before a Joint Session of the United States Congress, I watched with anticipation, joy, and excitement. After all, it was a combination of many of my favorite things – Pope Francis, the Catholic Church in general, politics, and people actually watching a joint session of Congress. It was also the perfect platform for Pope Francis to proclaim (much more eloquently than I could) that which I tried to articulate as a political science student, a government worker, and a devout Catholic. He declared:

A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.

Synod-on-the-Family-imageOur Holy Father’s advice is one that was quickly ignored by folks on either side of the aisle, who chose to stand and applaud at points of his speech that traditionally coincided with their Democratic or Republican beliefs, respectively. It is a statement that should be taken very seriously in the coming weeks of the Synod on the Family. As the Synod begins, the Catholic Church in America has once again forcefully divided itself into two camps–the conservative and the liberal. Americans on either side of the political aisle are taking to the opinion sections of their newspapers, while media professionals are encouraging this division by reporting upon it. In general, headlines with catchy titles with words like controversy, “sparks fly,” tension, and the like abound.

This commentary, controversy, and at times petty talk reflects a deeper schism in America that I see all the time – in college students, in politics, in parishes, and far too often in myself. Churches or parishes are defined as “liberal” or “conservative.” Those on either end of the political spectrum choose the pieces of faith that align with their political beliefs, and simply ignore, forget about, or explain away those that don’t.

When we divide our Catholicism into “Liberal” and “Conservative,” are we not diving headfirst into this same polarization, this simplistic naming of ourselves and our political beliefs as “good” and those of the other as “evil?” It strikes me as altogether heartbreaking that we simply skim over this piece of Pope Francis’ remarks and jump straight to a new controversy – after all, the Pope’s visit is over; he’s back in Europe now.

When we label our faith as ”Liberal” or “Conservative,” we reduce the sacrifice of Christ and the fullness of truth held in the Catholic faith. We make Gods of a political system created by human beings. We forget the supreme Truth revealed to us through the story of creation and the redemption of the world. We try to fit our Catholicism into our political beliefs, when we should look the other way around. Our politics do not define us; what is revealed in Christ does. To say otherwise is to build up our own importance and suggest that a human system knows better than the Lord, the giver of life, the fullness of reality.

There is only one solution to this ongoing temptation that is so prevalent in the United States. In the liturgy and the Eucharist, we are reminded of the right order of the world. We come to understand and present the memory of the world, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, the salvation of the world, and the Love which created and continues to move us, as the single most important thing in our lives and our worlds. We need this constant reminder to reorder our priorities, to return to that which created and compels us, and to give credit where it truly belongs. When we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice, we are able to accept that we are not the center of our own world, and that our political beliefs are developed through our faith, not the other way around.

Perhaps, we can do nothing more important than attend the Eucharist during the Synod, avoiding the politics of suspicion that marks so much present discourse.

The Local Renewal of Family Life: Marriage Formation

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Some years ago, I heard John Allen give a talk in which he was asked when the bishops of the Church would institute some particular reform that the questioner found important for ecclesial renewal. Allen responded by reminding the entire audience that it is not the primary ministry of the bishops to “renew” the Church. That the body of bishops gathered in Rome at the Vatican is fundamentally a “conservative” one (for good reason) and for that reason ecclesial renewal is best accomplished through charisms of both lay and ordained Catholics, who renew their parish at the local level. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Dorothy Day were not participants in a Synod of bishops sponsored by the Vatican. Yet, their witness to holiness has renewed the Church for countless generations.

While not belittling in the least the gathering of bishops in Rome over the coming weeks, it is important to remember that the renewal of family life will not ultimately be accomplished by the Apostolic Exhortation that follows the Synod. Nor for that matter will the Synod lead to doctrinal development around marriage itself, specifically related to divorce (although reading secular media’s portrayal of this ordinary Synod, either conservative or liberal, you get a sense that this is the purpose of the entire gathering). The orientation of this particular Synod is the pastoral state of family life and marriage in the present not simply Western world. The document preparing for this Synod notes:

Today’s society is characterized by a variety of tendencies. Only a minority of people lives, supports and encourages the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, seeing in it the goodness of God’s creative plan. Marriages, whether religious or not, are decreasing in number, while separation and divorce is on the rise. People are becoming increasingly aware of the dignity of every person — man, woman and child — and the importance of different ethnic groups and minorities, which — already widespread in many societies, not only in the West — are becoming prevalent in many countries.

In various cultures young people are displaying a fear to make definitive commitments, including a commitment concerning a family. In general, an extreme individualism, increasingly becoming widespread, focuses uppermost on gratifying desires which do not lead to total personal fulfilment.

The development of a consumer society has separated sexuality from procreation. This fact is also one of the underlying causes of an increasing decline in the birth rate, which, in some places, is related to poverty or the inability to care for children; and in others, to the unwillingness to accept responsibility and to the idea that children might infringe on freely pursuing personal goals.

The Synod on the Family is concerned about ways of responding in mercy to those who have experienced divorce. But it is at least equally concerned about a crisis of commitment; about the separation of sexuality from self-gift; about the decline of marriage as a whole; and the poverty that makes family life difficult throughout the world. Bishops, though having teaching authority in the Church, can only do so much about the “crisis” of family life in this broader sense. For this reason, what is most needed is renewal from the ground-up.

Thus over the coming weeks, I will be introducing three things that a parish might do, which will in the end be more important for ecclesial renewal than the Synod itself. These three things include a renewal of marriage formation, seeing the family itself as agent of mission, and ministering to those on the margins in particular.

A Renewal of Marriage Formation

ChauvetLouis-Marie Chauvet notes that one of the consequences of the renewal of the rites of the Second Vatican Council is a clash between an anthropological reason for asking for a sacrament and the liturgical-sacramental reason presumed by the Church. He writes:

Whereas the ritual of baptism, for instance, proclaims that baptism is the sacrament of the faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, numerous people who ask for the sacraments are faraway from this faith that they have not just forgotten everything they learned in catechism but in many cases believe only in a vague deism, when they have not reached a sort of practical atheism. The least one can say is that the ‘system of the practice,’ the faith content which theoretically precedes the practice, is in disharmony, even in contradiction with the ‘practice of the system,’ the request addressed tot he church for the sacraments (The Sacraments: The Word of God At the Mercy of the Body, 175-76).

For example, it is likely that a couple approaches a parish looking to participate in the rite of marriage for reasons that include parents’ who insist that they be married in the Church; because the parish provides a proper aesthetic background for marking this occasion; because they have a vague sense that the Church should be part of this momentous occasion. And on and on. Yet, the Church’s own theology of marriage assumes (or hopes) that the couple comes to the sacrament out of faith–because the couple desires their union to become an image to the world of Christ’s love for the Church.

These are competing narratives, neither of which may be dismissed with ease. Catholicism has continually baptized “anthropological” reasons for receiving a sacrament. Still, it is ultimately dishonest to undervalue the Church’s robust sense of marriage for the sake of welcoming couples (with the vague hope that the rite will have its effect no matter what). Marriage formation requires acknowledging and purifying the anthropological reasons for approaching the sacrament, while also announcing the nuptial kerygma at the heart of the liturgical rite.

For this reason, marriage formation will have a three-fold character.

Social and Cultural Analysis of One’s Own Assumptions Around Marriage

RiteofMarriageMuch is presumed on the part of the marrying couple about the nature of the marriage that they are preparing to undertake. Their own cultural view of marriage may be informed by a nearly impossible standard of personal and social happiness that marriage brings about (“you complete me”). They may imagine that the universe has placed a single person in their lives whom they are destined to marry; and thus if they find themselves attracted to another person, then they must move on. On an individual level, they may not acknowledge how their own view of marriage is shaped (or misshaped) by their parents. They may imagine that their love is the most “unique” love in the world, such that there will be nothing in the world that would rip them apart (there is; it’s called sin).

For this reason, the first thing that marriage formation must do is to invite the couple to consider those assumptions that serve as potential obstacles to the sacrament of marriage. In fact, this cultural analysis should begin not when the couple has come for marriage but should be apart of the kind of formation for marriage that begins in adolescence. And should continue even after the marriage has taken place. Approaches to marriage formation that simply build communication skills around finance, child-rearing, etc. without dealing with these problematic assumptions is akin to building an earthquake proof structure on top of a rotten foundation.

Of course, the way to address these cultural assumptions is not to tell the couple how wrong they are. Rather, marriage formation at whatever stage should invite the couple to come to see marriage anew alongside the Church’s ministers. It must invite the couple or the adolescent into a form of apprenticeship in which well-formed families provide the counter-narrative that is ultimately healing.

In good parishes, this happens organically. When I think about the four years that we spent in Boston as a married couple, I cannot help but think about Peg and Bill LaRoche. During our first years of marriage, the LaRoche’s manifested to us what hospitality looked like; how to love one another in the midst of suffering; how to serve the poor as apart of one’s married life. These years of informal formation were integral to discerning what it meant for us to be infertile. How our infertility could become to the world as gift of love instead of a disease affecting only us. The assumptions that we had about the ease of marriage were transformed by the LaRoche’s who said little. But provided us an icon of sacrament love that was purifying.

Proclaiming the Kerygma

LoveAt present, one rarely hears the Church’s proclamation of the Good News of marriage, even in homilies for the Rite of Marriage itself. These homilies tend to devolve into a panegyric of the uniqueness of this couple’s love. That this marriage, above all others, will survive the test of time because this couple shares in common a love of hiking, of singing, of whatever was discerned during the preparation for the sacrament.

Yet, this kind of strategy is to place the focus of the rite of marriage not on God’s activity but upon the couple’s. The Good News of marriage (as in all the sacraments) is that this human relationship, this mundane reality of love, this particular history, is precisely one of the ways that God has chosen to save humanity.

O God, who consecrated the bond of Marriage

by so great a mystery

that in the wedding covenant you foreshadow

the Sacrament of Christ and the Church,

grant, we pray, to these your servants,

that what they receive in faith

they may live out in deeds.

The couple is to present to the world a sacrament of divine love not simply at the moment of their nuptial consecration. Rather, they mediate to the world the love of Christ and the Church in the context of their relationship, of their family life, of their vocation to serve one another.

The family created out of this union, present already before children are born (if they are to be born), is a blessing and responsibility to the Church. It is the entire Church, particularly at the parish level, that is responsible for assisting this couple in fulfilling their vocation. The kerygma of marriage, the proclamation of Good News, means that we are responsible for one another. That we must be in solidarity with all families, especially those on the margins (a topic to be dealt with later).

The kerygma of marriage is thus not an instrument to bludgeon the couple with. Rather, it is a reminder to the whole Church that the sacrament of marriage is a vocation that each of us is responsible for. Do we open new couples into our home? Do we provide a space in our parish that acknowledges the difficulty of this vocation, rather than holding up some idealized 50s vision of what family life consists of?

The Mission of Family Life

FamiliesservingPerhaps, the area where family formation is most impoverished around the sacrament of marriage is the dearth of attention paid to the responsibility of “mission” in married life, a theme that I will treat more fully in a later piece. Marriage, like all other sacraments, is not simply for those who receive sacramental grace. Rather, marriage is for the world. As the document preparing for the Synod notes, the mission of the family is one of tenderness:

Tenderness means to give joyfully and, in turn, to stir in another person the joy of feeling loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way in looking at another’s limitations in a loving way, especially when they clearly stand out. Dealing with delicacy and respect means attending to wounds and restoring hope in such a way as to revitalize trust in the other. Tenderness in family relationships is the virtue which helps people overcome the everyday conflicts within a person and in relations with others. In this regard, Pope Francis invites everyone to reflect on his words: “Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.”(Homily for the Midnight Mass on the Solemnity of Christmas, 24 December 2014).

The virtue of tenderness cultivated among spouses, among siblings is very same virtue that incarnates Christ’s love for the world. A family whose tenderness moves out to the margins, to the unloved, is perhaps the most effective agent of evangelization in the modern world.

I have seen this in my own recent vocation to adopted fatherhood. In spending time with my son, I have learned the virtue of tenderness in a way that I have never known before. I have learned of the smallness of my own heart, how quickly I am annoyed by my son’s cry for attention. I have discovered how I am opened ever more deeply to prayer by watching my son kiss an icon. I am now far more cognizant of the needs of my undergraduate students, fatherhood making me more deeply attuned to the care I must offer to the sorrows and joys that make up their life.

Family life has formed me anew for Christian mission in a way that nothing else could. The pastoral care of all families, for this reason, is not simply one aspect of the Church’s mission. Rather, it is the privileged way of renewing the Church in the vocation toward self-gift, which is at the heart of evangelization. If marriage formation does not begin with this sense of mission as the end goal, then it is impoverished from the beginning.