Tag Archives: Catechesis

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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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.



Music and the Three Comings of Christ

b5a883d8-406e-4873-8f8a-d11e2c9fc267Sarah Karchunas, University of Notre Dame

BA ’15, MA in Theology ‘17

Echo Apprentice at Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Community (Houston, TX)

Christmas is coming: the decorations are out at the stores, the music has already started playing and the parish that I am serving at as a catechetical leader in Houston is following suit, preparing our Advent festivities for the Faith Formation program. Something that I am hoping to emphasize in my lessons with the kids in my Faith Formation classes as we approach Advent is the three-fold nature of Christ’s coming to our world. He came and was born to the Virgin Mary, laid in a manger in Bethlehem. He is coming again at the end of time. Yet he is also coming to us right now, in this very moment as an open invitation. This three-fold coming connects all time: past, present and future to the coming of Christ. One way that I think could be useful in conveying this concept in catechesis is through the use of music, which also has a way of connecting past, present and future. To exemplify this point, I will discuss five very different pieces of Christmastime music that I think could prove very useful in catechesis during Advent.

BegbieInterwoven in this discussion are the arguments made by Jeremy Begbie in his book Theology, Music and Time. Here, he argues that “far from abstracting us out of time, the vision opened up by music in this way is one in which to be ‘saved’ is, among other things, to be given new resources for living ‘peaceably’ with time” (152). This means that we can participate in music not just as a remembrance of the past but also as an effective act in the present that allows us to respond to the Incarnation within our time. Time is not the enemy that must be shed but is the reality in which we can engage with the Incarnate Word. This theme runs deep in each of these five selections of Christmas music.

In O Magnum Mysterium (Tomas Luis de Victoria), the rounds of voices bring the past to the present and the present to the future. The four voices come together and move apart again and again in rounds, reminding us that “to share in music is to find temporality in which- at least to some extent- past, present and future have been made to interweave fruitfully” (150). The rounds create the feeling that the past is never totally behind you nor the future too inaccessible because while one voice may end, another continues and then another begins again. The piece grows and grows to the Alleluia, which serves as a call to us to join in and as a reminder that this Alleluia is not just something for the angels to proclaim but for us now to proclaim. The Alleluia brings the piece to a fulfillment, however the voices break apart at the end and continue onward, anticipating that Christ entering this world to save us is not just something that occurred in the past and can be looked upon remotely but is a constant joy and celebration, a constant hope that we also need to join our voices to.

In In splendoribus (James MacMillan), the soft chant is interrupted at a frequent rate with trumpets, trumpets announcing Jesus’ arrival into our world. This announcement shows again the connection between past, present and future. The trumpets are not only recalling an announcement made far in the past to a world we would barely recognize but are also announcing to us this same news of Jesus’ Incarnation today. This announcement is not just a memory of how people in Jesus’ time were called to respond to his birth; it is a call to us to respond to the Incarnation. The calming contemplative chant that remains in the background gives us the opportunity between the trumpet calls to contemplate how we are called to respond to this announcement. Though the trumpets frequently come back, we do not know exactly when they will reenter and thus a sense of urgency to respond is built in us as we listen. The urgency here in MacMillian’s piece reminds us that “the Son of God inhabits this time with us as one of us” (148) and thus we are called to respond today, here within time.

In Today the Virgin, John Tavener takes a slightly different approach to the integration of time into music.  Tavener believes that “the more deeply we relate to God, the more we will need to abstract ourselves from time” (145). For him, then, the music is embracing Christ’s time, his entrance into the world and following the simple command put forth in the chorus to “Rejoice, O World: With the Angels and the Shepherds. Give glory to the Child! Alleluia!” The alternating male and female vocals of Mary and Joseph communicating allow a place for a community to insert themselves in this song of rejoice. The drone in the background reflects what Begbie refers to as Tavener’s intensification of a “contemplative ambience” by giving stability and repetition to the background so that the listener has a “simple space” (144) to shed off the cloak of time and enter into a simple shout of praise in response to the Incarnation.

In Gustav Holst’s, In the Bleak Midwinter, we are placed directly in the Nativity as Jesus enters our world in an environment that is imagined to be somewhat like the winters of South Bend that are not too far from my memory. The song’s slow progress leads to a contemplative atmosphere, a lack of urgency and a feeling that we too are caught in that snow-covered scene. We are not only called to bring ourselves out of this moment into that one in the past but rather are called to integrate the two and give our own response to Christ’s birth. This is reflected in the final lyrics of the piece:

“What can I give Him, Poor as I am?’

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

If I were a wiseman, I would do my part,

Yet what can I give Him, Give him my heart.”

In this way we are not called to simply insert ourselves in the past, but we are called to “a present through which past is directed towards future, in which a past occurrence does not retreat into an ever-receding and unreal ‘beyond’, and in which future occurrences are not totally unknowable or unreal but can, in various ways, be intuited now” (149).  We are invited here to participate in Christ’s arrival by answering now and in our time what we might bring to him at this scene in the cold winter.

Looking at Sufjan Steven’s, ‘Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming”, the piece most notably makes use of dramatic pauses throughout, building both a gentle anticipation and a constant hope. Whereas Begbie noted that a constant pulse “insists that all moments are the same, that the past, the present and the future are identifiable” (140), this piece and its lack of a constant continuous pulse provides the opposite experience. There is a clearly defined start and finish to thoughts and thus we experience time as a clear acting force. Though the past is not the same entity as the present or future here, Stevens traces the past, present and future in this song, truly interweaving the three. He references the coming of Christ, the prophecies of Isaiah and continues through Jesus’ birth before concluding with a foretelling of Christ’s death.  The piece speaks of Christ’s birth in past tense, telling the story, but ends in present tense, saying “He saves us, And lightens every load.” This calls us to share in this salvation that was and yet still is.  Begbie sees this taking place as a ‘looking back’ with thankfulness…but this is not a wistful longing, nor an attempt to transport what was into the now, but an act of gratitude flowing from a sense that the benefits of the past, remembered now, anticipate the future’ (151).

Through many of these pieces I have found that we can use music as a catechetical tool, especially as we approach Advent. Through music we can allow those in formation to participate in the coming of Christ not just as a remembrance of the past but as an effective act in the present that allows them to actively respond to the Incarnation within our time, a time that Christ himself entered.

‘Primetime’ and Pedagogy

unnamedScott Boyle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Vision

Coordinator, Notre Dame Catechist Academy

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I almost don’t remember the days I would wake up early to watch “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” before kindergarten. I’d usually wake up right at 7:00am and run to the TV with just enough time to catch him picking out his sweater.

Before the days of Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Go, I had one shot to catch the episode. Wake up too late, and I’d miss King Friday XIII presiding over the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

These days, almost any programming is available on demand. Plan your schedule around the most popular shows on prime time? No need. Want to watch all three seasons of House of Cards or Parks and Recreation? No problem. Now, any time is prime time.

Traditionally, prime time refers to the period when the most eyeballs are on the television, usually between 7:30 and 11:00pm. Prime time programming is designed not only to capture, but also to hold the attention and interest of the broadest section of viewership.

Advertisers have realized that more viewership and attention during prime time means greater exposure for their commercials. More attention increases the likelihood that they will have greater success educating (and convincing) us of the necessity of their latest products.Pedagogy experts have studied and applied the success of the “prime time concept” to classroom teaching. In the Notre Dame Catechist Academy, we have extended those insights to the task of catechesis.

In this piece, we explore how catechesis invites us to look at our fundamental identity as disciples, and how we train our catechists to grow in that identity using prayer in catechetical “prime time.” We have realized that prayer is the essential foundation that helps our students grow into disciples – both in the classroom and in the world.

The Concept of Prime Time

Like advertising, classroom prime time refers to the periods when the most students are paying attention and their capacity for retention is highest (normally at the beginning and end of each class session). Ideally, this is the time for teachers to share the day’s most important concepts. Catechesis, while seeking to make use of the “prime time concept,” differs from advertising and normal classroom prime time in that it moves beyond mere concept acquisition. St. John Paul addresses this in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, where he writes that “the primary and essential object of catechesis is…the mystery of Christ” (5).

Since our goal is to direct students toward mystery, catechetical prime time cannot (and does not) focus merely on a rote rehearsal of important concepts.

The Role of Mystery

St. John Paul II does not use mystery here in the normal sense of the word, that is, to refer to something that cannot (and maybe will not) be known.

Rather, he invites us to think of God as a being so “other” that we cannot think of him in terms of concepts that can traditionally be mastered or comprehended like 2 + 2 = 4 or a² +b² = c². Rather, when referring to the mystery of Christ in catechesis, St. John Paul II seems to be directing us to consider God as someone who can be “infinitely known” rather than “not known” at all.

To put it bluntly, seeking to know God does not end in a formula. It ends in discipleship.

The Model of Discipleship for Catechist Formation

In the Incarnation, Christ reveals himself to us as a human person. The truth of the fact that God comes to us as a human person demands different catechetical formation.

Let me illustrate this by means of example. No matter how well we might know another person  (our friends and family, for example), that person will always remain a mystery in some way to us. Try as we might, we will never be able to understand that person completely or know how that person will act in every given situation. Does that mean we turn away from our friends and family? No. People are not concepts to master. We would never say that we have “mastered” our friend John or our sister Stacey.

Proper catechetical formation in light of the mystery of Christ should follow in the same way, and the relationship between Jesus and his disciples can serve as a good example. Even though the disciples did not understand Jesus and his teachings all the time, they continued to walk with him. In walking with him, they gained strength for their own journey of faith.

As catechists, then, a relationship with the mystery of Christ looks like the journey of discipleship. Like those early Christians, we too should continue to place ourselves in Christ’s presence so that we can be open to the ways that we can grow in relationship and knowledge of him for our own journeys of faith.

St. John Paul II puts it this way, again in Catechesi Tradendae:

“The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ” (5).

In this way, we do not proclaim or merely rehearse a laundry list of Christ’s important qualities as we form our catechists in the Catechist Academy. Rather, we continue to invite them to grow as disciples, constantly inviting them deeper into intimacy with Christ, to probe the depths of his mystery in their lives and the life of the world.

Prayer in Prime Time

In the Catechist Academy, we turn to prayer most frequently as we invite catechists deeper into this life of discipleship. Pope Benedict XVI addresses the implications of this relationship during a General Audience address in 2011: “The main objective of prayer is conversion: the fire of God which transforms our hearts and makes us capable of seeing God and living for Him and for others.”

In the Catechist Academy, then, we follow this lead. Since prayer allows us to so consciously place ourselves in the midst of the presence and mystery of God, it is the focus of our catechetical prime time. We use intentions and Lectio Divina at the beginning and end of each class to help our students become more “capable of seeing God.” By meditating on the scriptures and inviting their deeper meaning into their lives, our catechists become more capable of speaking Christ’s truths not only in their classrooms, but as disciples in their everyday lives.

Without prayer, conversion toward discipleship becomes more difficult. If catechists don’t invite God’s truth into their hearts, they close themselves off from hearing the ways he wishes to use them to become disciples and to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

For all of us too, making time for prayer not only gives us the time to share our joys and concerns with God, but the opportunity to hear his voice speaking back to us. When we can most fully hear his Word, we can then be more capacitated to act upon it (c.f. James 1:22).

In the Catechist Academy, prayer will continue to be the foundation of our pedagogy and our prime time. We have seen that a renewed focus on prayer will serve not only as the foundation for better catechesis, but for discipleship. When our catechists are better able to hear the echoes of God’s Revelation in their hearts, they are better able to respond as disciples, forming their students and themselves to be better citizens of heaven.

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.


Augustine and the “Sacrament” of Teaching

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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At the beginning of the semester, I often consider what it means to teach theology to students. I know that my primary responsibility is to facilitate inquiry into the theological tradition of the Church. And I do this. But, after five years of teaching, I can’t help but notice that something more happens in the activity of teaching. That, I grow fond of the students. That both of us seem to get more out of being in one another’s presence, of studying together, than we would if we were to read the material alone. As we study these texts together, we encounter the great questions of existence, and we are often reduced to silence before the mystery of divine love that we discover. That I find myself uttering prayers for their needs, for their safety while traveling, for the angst that comes upon them as they change majors (once again), as their parents are overcome with illness, as they experience the pain of homesickness.

AugustineTeachingIn such moments, I often think of the gift of my vocation as a teacher. And perhaps no one had a more robust sense of the “sacramental” gift of teaching than Augustine of Hippo whose feast day we celebrate. In his Teaching Christianity, the doctor of grace writes:

“…the human condition would be wretched indeed if God appeared unwilling to minister his word to human beings through human agency. It has been said, ‘For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are (1 Cor. 3:17): how could that be true if God did not make divine utterances from his human temple but broadcast direct from heaven or through angels the learning that he wished to be passed on to mankind? Moreover, there would be no way for love, which ties people together in the bonds of unity, to make souls overflow and as it were intermingle with each other, if human beings learned nothing from other humans” (Prologue 6-7).

God has given the vocation of teaching to humanity not simply so that we can share information with one another. Rather, teaching is integral to the incarnation itself in which the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The theological classroom is the great space for this incarnation to unfold whereby students encounter anew divine love mediated through text and practice alike.

This fact, for Augustine, fundamentally changes what it means for the teacher at whatever level to exercise his or her ministry. Especially for those of us teaching in higher education, there is often a sense among us that the bestowal of basic knowledge is beneath us. That it is only doctoral or master’s students who are worth receiving our instruction. Yet, in his Instructing Beginners in Faith, Augustine speaks to the discouraged teacher and deacon Deogratias on this very point:

One reason for discouragement then may be that our hearer does not grasp our insight, and so we are compelled to come down as it were from the pinnacles of thought and delay over each slow syllable in the plains far below. And it worries us how what is imbibed by the mind in one swift draught takes long and convoluted by-ways as it comes to expression on our lips of flesh, and, because our utterance differs greatly from our insight, we find that speaking palls and we would rather remain silent (I.10.15).

DiscouragedStudentsThose of us who have taught theology at any level know this moment. In our office, we have assembled a remarkable lesson plan; we have drunk deeply of the wisdom of Hildegard, of Theresa, of Irenaeus, of Hans urs von Balthasar, of the book of Job. We enter class and instead of discovering the same delight in our students that occurred in us as we contemplated the texts we are teaching, we see only boredom. We see misunderstanding. We see an incapacity to grasp, to understand, perhaps even to care.

Yet, Augustine continues:

If this is the reason for our discouragement, then we should consider what has earlier been proposed to us by him who has shown us an example that we might follow in his steps (1 Pt 2:21). For, however far removed our spoken words are from the liveliness of our understanding, much greater still is the distance between our mortal flesh and his equality with God. And yet, even when he was in that state of equality, he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, and the words that follow, down to even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). What reason did he have for doing this other than to become weak for the weak in order to gain the weak (1 Cor 9:22)?

To teach Christianity is necessarily to take on a Christological shape to one’s pedagogy. The act of teaching the most basic material is itself an encounter with Christ’s self-emptying love. The teacher who does not know this, who fails to grasp his or her sacramental identity as imaging Christ’s self-giving love is not properly teaching the material. Christian love necessitates delighting in the difficult cases, in moments of misunderstanding. For, it is here that the teacher is invited to perform anew God’s love for the human person.

It is then particularly apt that we begin each semester together by celebrating the feast of Augustine. For this great doctor of the Church reminds us that the vocation of the theologian at whatever level is not merely sophisticated research. But, the activity of embodying in one’s very teaching the enfleshment of the Word. To teach the tradition of the Church in such a way that one sacramentally embodies the heart of God’s love for the human person.

To be a theological educator at whatever level is indeed a lofty vocation; one that requires us to descend and descend and descend into the way of love. Let us pray for the intercession of Augustine in this work as we commence our academic year.


Evangelization to the Children of God

Matt Miller
Director, Office of Worship,
Diocese of Evansville, Indiana

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Editorial Note: The following reflection was delivered as part of Morning Prayer during the Center for Liturgy’s recent Symposium, Liturgy and Vocation. We are grateful for the author’s permission to post it here.

You likewise know how we exhorted every one of you,
as a father does his children—
how we encouraged and pleaded with you
to make your lives worthy
of the God who calls you to his kingship and glory.
That is why we thank God constantly
that in receiving his message from us, you took it,
not as the word of men, but as it truly is,
the word of God at work within you who believe.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-13

To exhort, to encourage, to plead…

Saint Paul presents us with a very relatable, very human image in this passage—the comparison of his work with the people of Thessalonica to that of a father and his children. This “child-like” idea is one that we have heard other places in Scripture (I think Jesus may have mentioned something about it—“Let the children come to me. . .”), and perhaps the child is where our attention is first drawn in delving deeper into the reading. jesus-childrenIt is a scene all of us have witnessed and with which we can sympathize—the enthusiastic and/or petulant child who is asking questions, trying new things and testing boundaries, in need of some exhortation, encouragement, and even some pleading from a nearby father (or mother or grandparent or caregiver). In all honesty, we have all been that child at one point or another in our lives, and we probably still can be that child given the right circumstances. But hopefully, as we have grown in wisdom and stature, we have learned to put aside childish things while still retaining the appropriate child-like faith.

Let us turn now to the other character Paul gives us—the father. Like above, we have all had those moments in our lives to be as a parent or caregiver to someone: to exhort, to encourage, and to plead. I propose that we focus on the father and what we can learn from his actions. With Paul’s “father-figure,” there are three components on which I would like to reflect.

First, “we exhorted . . . we encouraged and pleaded. . . ” The father here is doing more than just asking nicely or offering some suggestions—“If you would not mind to do these things I’ve been talking about at some point, I’d really appreciate it. Or not. It’s up to you.” It is much more than that. There is urgency and passion to the actions of the father, as it should be between a parent and a child. Is not this urgency and especially passion what Pope Francis has been emphasizing?In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, the Holy Father remarks:

Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way. (Evangelii Guadium, §114)

Is that not what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians? In our own world, do we share the Gospel with urgency and passion? Do we exhort, encourage, and even plead when need be?2013111110joy_of_the_gospel_300Second, “we exhorted every one of you . . .” The father, the parent, does not get to pick and choose among the children whom to exhort, encourage, and plead—although some children may need more than others. Pope Francis quotes his predecessor Paul VI when he reminds us that “No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (Gaudete in Domino, §22). Are there people among us with whom we choose not to exhort, encourage or plead? Why do we exclude them? Why would we want to exclude them?

Which leads us to the last point: “in receiving the message from us you took it, not as the word of men, but as it truly is. . . .” Just as the parent does not get to pick and choose among the children, the parent also does not pick and choose the message,to make it up along the way (although it may feel that way to parents and children out there at times), or do it for their own benefit or merit (although you cannot beat a quality “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug).206ab038bb2f72ab607e35fdc4e5525d The exhortations, encouragements, and pleading have their source and roots in something bigger than the parent—they are hopefully rooted in love, in wanting the good for the other. Pope Francis reminds us that “If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good . . . and ‘life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others’.” (EG, §§9, 10). Christ came and offered up his life in order to give life to us, and his Gospel continues to exhort, to encourage, and plead with us today to do the same. That is where our dignity lies; that is where true fulfillment awaits us. And if we truly want this life for ourselves, are not we missing the point if we do not wish it for others as well?

As we spend the next few days in study, prayer and fellowship, let us take Saint Paul’s example to heart. May we never cease our exhortations, our encouragement and our pleading. May we open ourselves to be evangelizers to all without discrimination. And may we stay rooted in the Gospel of Christ, who is the source of all vocations.

Practicing Easter: Building the Church

Hope BoettnerHope Bethany ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

Springtime means a number of things. It means the smell of freshly cut grass, the return of thunderstorms, and the bane of allergies. But this springtime through this reflection brings together two of my favorite things in a new way. It brings together a) baseball and b) a concrete example of a way that theological thought—the way we think about and grow in our faith—truly does impact our daily lives.

field-of-dreams-poster-artwork-kevin-costner-amy-madigan-james-earl-jonesThe connection here is a little more subtle than a church softball league, so I will explain. In the baseball movie classic Field of Dreams, a down-on-his-luck Iowa farmer begins (without really understanding why) building a baseball diamond in his cornfields. He is prompted to do this by a few rather mystical experiences, including the whispered, repeated phrase, “If you build it, he will come.”

My home diocese, the Diocese of Knoxville in Tennessee,  isn’t building a baseball diamond. But she is embarking on a building adventure of her own. This past weekend, members from all corners of the diocese (along with leaders of the wider Church) came together to celebrate the groundbreaking of the building project for a new Cathedral. Originally, when Pope John Paul II created the Diocese of Knoxville in 1988 by splitting it from Nashville, the already existing Sacred Heart Parish was chosen because of its size and central location to serve as the Cathedral parish. But the diocese has grown and changed in the last twenty-five years, and with it, the Cathedral parish demographics have increased and changed dramatically. In deciding to build a Cathedral, Catholics of East Tennessee are coming together to build; we are remembering and honoring the past and (short) history of our diocese and we are getting ready for the future, for a new chapter in which we will stand more on our own feet as a maturing diocese.

From left, Father David Boettner Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam, Governor Bill Haslam, Bishop Richard Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Cardinal William Levada participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday, April 19, 2015.   (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)
From left, Father David Boettner Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam, Governor Bill Haslam, Bishop Richard Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Cardinal William Levada participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday, April 19, 2015.

Although I was privileged to go home for the weekend and participate in the events associated with the groundbreaking, I have mostly been watching this entire process unfold from afar. My home diocese has been my home in many ways for nearly my whole life. As a daughter of the Diocese who loves her home, while living (in happy exile) away from home and majoring in Theology at Notre Dame, I have been geeking out quite a bit as it all transpires.

I am watching my home Church come together, work together, and learn together about why and how we think about our sacred spaces in the way that we do. I am seeing tutorials on the meaning behind church architecture reach people; I am watching as people transition from hesitancy about the need for a new Cathedral to excitement, pride, and willingness to go the distance and to be a part of this effort. I am seeing a countless number of individuals devote their time, their talents, and their efforts in order to make all of this happen. And most importantly, I am seeing first-hand the way that physically building a new Cathedral church is teaching, forming, and building up the Body of Christ in East Tennessee.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, greets guests at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday, April 19, 2015.   (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, greets guests at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday, April 19, 2015.

This weekend, I saw hundreds and hundreds of people work together and come together for this moment. (Apparently the final count was 1200 local folks, 12 bishops, 3 cardinals, a governor, and two mayors.) This time in Knoxville diocesan history clearly has become a teaching and formational moment. It has taught and re-taught us about our need to worship God rightly so that we may live rightly, not just as the parish of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but as the entire diocese and all of her members. The tagline of the Cathedral campaign itself packs a theological punch about this rightly ordered way of looking at church building: “Home, Where We Worship, Teach, and Serve.”Home-Campaign-Logo_RGB

Thinking about building, thinking about the seasons of life, and deciding to build has helped all of us who call ourselves a part of the diocese of Knoxville to realize that the Mass, the liturgy, and the life of the Church (both local and universal) is not simply about “we the people.” The Church is actually about the Trinity; the Church only exists because the love of the Trinity overflowed and continues to overflow to creation. God’s overflowing, self-giving, and ever-expanding love explains the basic fact of why we are here. But reflecting on God’s love also helps us understand the fitting priority list for our lives and that if we don’t worship rightly we cannot live rightly—and this is why I’m so proud of the “Worship, Teach, Serve” tagline.

Reflecting on worship and on what it means to build a fitting space for the “home base” of the Diocese (the baseball jokes continue) also means something else. It means that we realize our lives of faith mean more than the sense of community or feeling of belonging that we encounter when we gather for the liturgy. In the Mass and in other liturgies, we (the people of God) participate and pray in hope and in confidence of the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.

But we ourselves, though we are the people and the assembly of God, are not actually the main focus of the liturgy. The Mass and the liturgical life of the Church is not meant to inspire and entertain us, so that we come back next time for more. The liturgical life of the Church is meant to take all of us up into the love of the Trinity, so that we glorify our Creator and are strengthened by the sacraments in order that we may then go out and participate in the work of the Trinity. We do this by helping to sanctify the world with Christ’s love and Christ’s beauty. Paraphrasing Mother Teresa, we make something beautiful for God by our lives and our loves.

Design of the interior of the Cathedral
Design of the interior of the Cathedral

There’s a pertinent phrase in liturgical theology “lex orandi, lex credendi” that can help us think about this. It means that the law of prayer is the law of belief, or more colloquially, what we say in prayer reflects what we truly believe. Building decisions with churches and with this cathedral extends this “lex orandi, lex credendi” to “lex aedificandi, lex credendi.”  Aedificandi means build, and so what we build and the way we build it reflects what we believe, too. In his book Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy, Denis McNamara says that “architecture is the built form of ideas; church architecture is the built form of theology. As go the ideas, so goes the architecture . . . all architectural decisions are theological decisions.”

Actually, the self-gift (kenosis) of Christ on the Cross forever changed the way that we see our lives and think about beauty. Because Christ’s gift of Himself to the point of death transformed even the worst suffering into the opportunity to give and in that giving to become something beautiful for God, everything in our lives can be transformed by Christ’s work on our behalf. Here and now, in our local churches, we have a chance to give of ourselves, in our daily life. This occurs for Christians all over the world in a significant way through the celebration of the liturgy. By investing prayer, thought, time, energy, and our own personal resources into the building of our local churches (both physically and metaphorically) we also participate in another way in that mystery of self-gift and self-emptying in order to help build the Kingdom of God in new ways.**

In the book Theology in Stone by Richard Kieckhefer, this theological understanding that what we build and the way we build it says something about what we believe is inferred from the title itself. Kieckhefer also makes the comment that

“art in a religious setting can serve as a sacrament of grace, and the capacity to see oneself as worthy of beauty is one dimension of recognizing oneself as by grace made worthy for grace—the sole condition for beginning to receive it” (99).

New Dome 041415(1)Our churches should be fitting, beautiful places for God to be housed, where we can enter more deeply into the mysteries of the Faith so that we can recognize that we are called to be where God is—because God is worthy of the beautiful. And since God is the author and source of all beauty, and since our ultimate call is to become more like God, we are worthy to sit and contemplate God’s love and God’s beauty in beautiful places so that in better understanding God’s beauty we can go into the world and share that beauty.

So how is a building project or thinking about building up and supporting a local church practicing Easter?

Many of our first readings in the Lectionary this time of the year are drawn from the Acts of the Apostles, where we hear the stories of the early Church growing and building, coming together to break bread and to hear the Word of God. In East Tennessee, we are building and re-building our growing local church, so that we may have a place to come together as an entire diocese. Like the members of the early Church, we do this so that we may hear the Word of God in the Scriptures and break bread together in the Eucharist. The book of Ecclesiastes helps us think about this in another way highlighting tbe seasonal, liturgical factor of life.  There is a season for everything. The season of spring is baseball season, like I mentioned earlier. But in East Tennessee this year, spring is also church-building season. It is a stone-moving season, and a planting season for the seeds of faith.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together” (Eccl 3:1–5a)

1397951614000-ghostfieldAt the end of his own season of building in Field of Dreams,  Ray Kinsella realizes that his baseball diamond building project was not about the baseball players who came, or the field for its own sake. Instead, it was actually about re-building his relationship with his own father, through a simple coming together in playing a game of catch.  At the end of Field of Dreams, Ray is asked by his father, “Is this heaven?” Ray responds by stammering out, “…This.. it’s… it’s Iowa…”

In the movie Field of Dreams, because of his building project, Ray experiences the healing and growth of relationships in his life, including his father. The comparison with the Cathedral project in Knoxville wasn’t meant to be trite. Because in the building and completion of a Cathedral for the Church in East Tennessee (or anywhere where the people of God continue to build) we see a closer glimpse into the call of our eternal relationships with our Heavenly Father and with each other.  Our Father in Heaven wants much more than the time spent in a game of catch with us; He wants time with us for  all of eternity. The glimpses of that heavenly call  show us little glances of the beauty of God’s image for the world in His new, restored creation made possible for us by Christ’s defeat of death and promise of eternal life.

East Tennessee isn’t heaven. But I swear,  sometimes, it is pretty close. And I do think that the new Cathedral, upon its completion, will be a little bit like a glimpse into heaven.




**We obviously do this too by the way we serve the wider people of God. The website for the campaign, http://www.sacredheartcampaign.org/, puts it this way: “While we aspire to glorify God through our worship, we plan to continue our work to help the poor. The Diocese of Knoxville provides over $6 million in ongoing charitable services to the poor and marginalized every year. Over the next 5 years, we will have spent more on charitable initiatives than we will have spent on the building of the cathedral.”


For more information, visit:

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus website: http://shcathedral.org

Diocescan Website: http://dioknox.org/ ; also http://dioknox.org/32538/ground-broken-for-new-sacred-heart-cathedral/

McCrery Architects: http://www.mccreryarchitects.com/


Performing Beauty: What is Liturgical Beauty?

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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As I mentioned earlier this week, I am teaching an undergraduate and graduate level course on liturgical aesthetics (Performing Beauty: Liturgy, Theology, and Aesthetics–see the link for the syllabus). One of the key requirements of the graduate course is that students are required to keep a blog as they go along, enabling their learning to extend beyond our little community. Each week, I hope to feature a short collection of some of the “bests” of these blogs for your own reading. In this way, I hope that the question guiding our class (what is liturgical beauty) generates commentary among our readers here.



Cathy Pearce

Religion Department

West Catholic, Grand Rapids, MI   

What is Beauty?  

What is beauty but a moment stopped in time

Standing in awe of the spectacular painted sky

In the early morning to gaze at the glow

Of God’s bidding a kissed color-filled hello

What is beauty but a whiff of a scent

That causes one to turn and bend

The scent of aromatic fragrant care

Of a lilac, God’s gift to sweeten the air

 What is beauty but the sound of a child

Stirring in the pew in front of you

Who coyly reaches out with innocent care

A soggy cracker, a treasure for you to share.

 What is beauty but a chorus of one voice

The old and the young, the rich and the poor

In full anthem singing God’s glory

In sacred space together reflecting on the Story

 What is beauty but a God who forgives

Sharing Christ’s life and love in eternal sacrament

The Son’s body and blood poured out for our salvation

An ever abundant gift, a blessing for every nation…

Continue reading Cathy’s blog.


image1Katie Yohe

Providence Christo Rey School

Echo 11

When learning a new topic in the classroom, it is important to differentiate instruction as much as possible to ensure total engagement. It’s obvious to every teacher that you can’t give up on confused students, but rather try different approaches to reach them. And when participating in different liturgies, it is important to engage as many feasible signs to be as present and transforming as possible. The ideal situation would be a liturgical celebration exploding with signs of beauty. But what if it’s not exploding at first glance or listen? Just as it is usually up to the teacher to differentiate instruction based on the learners in the classroom, it is up to the worshipper to find the beauty in the celebration.

When I was attending Mass in Ghana in a crumbling cinderblock structure with a partially rusted and deteriorating tin roof, convinced the old, warped wood benches would collapse beneath me, it would have been easy to drift off and get distracted because at first glance the beauty couldn’t be seen anywhere! My gaze and wonder may not have been on any statue or monstrance made of Gold. Instead, my focus was swooped up by Christ’s presence in the drumming and the bright kente cloth sewn into the priest’s vestments.Sacrosanctum Concilium explains, “…It is necessary for the faithful [to come to the liturgy] with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace…” (10). Being in the right frame of mind allows the worshipper to find the beauty that is always present.

It is essential to continue learning and continue finding and experiencing the most efficacious way to glorify God (10). As intelligence can be achieved differently, the mystery of Christ can be participated in differently as well. However, because we are discussing God and our innermost desire to be in a loving relationship with Him, we want to participate in the Paschal Mystery with our entire being. From our eyes contemplating the stained glass window to our ears being engulfed with the hymn, the more senses activated and the higher level of activation means the more present we are at the table of the Lord. The importance of experiencing the liturgy as beauty is even more vital than creating a classroom full of learners to a teacher. It may not be noticeable at first, but whether you are teaching or preaching, the beauty is present in the learner and the liturgy. The key is finding the beauty in all things.

Continue reading Katie’s blog.

CReuterCaroline Reuter

Roncalli High School

Echo 11

Why are there benches in art museums, upon which people may sit and stare? Why, when listening to Bedřich Smetana’s The Moldau do I desire to press “repeat” for days on end? Why, in encountering beauty, is there within me the desire to prolong the experience infinitely?

Beauty is that which draws one’s entire being towards contemplation, wonder and a deeper sense of reality. It leads a person beyond the confines of oneself. It provokes the desire to act on what has been seen or heard, to share the experience with another, and to transform one’s very self into something greater, into something more conformed to the beautiful itself. Beauty captivates not just the mind but the heart as well.

How might the beautiful be found in the liturgy? Certainly one might encounter beautiful music, architecture, artwork and stained glass. One may also experience more subtle expressions of beauty—in well-timed silence, in the careful unfolding and placement of a corporal on the altar, in the steady swaying of a thurible and the slow rise of smoke, and at the sight of masses of people simultaneously kneeling towards the elevation of one host.

However, although beauty in the liturgy is certainly possible and even desirable, is it necessary? How might beauty be an intrinsic element of the liturgy of the Church?

Liturgy may be defined as the official public prayer of the Church. The mystical Body of Christ, with Christ as its head and the Church as its members, unite as one flesh in the praise and worship of the Almighty God. Liturgy involves both God’s glorification and the sanctification of the members of Christ’s body (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10).

God’s very nature provides one answer to the question of beauty’s necessity. Encountering one of the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty points one towards He who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The presence of beauty in a liturgy can lead to a desire for the Infinite, as well as a desire to know the origin of this beauty. He who is the source of all beauty, the Creator of the universe, is the same He towards which all of liturgy is oriented. Hence, liturgy, which by its definition leads one towards God, ought to involve the true, good, and beautiful, and never their opposites.

One characteristic of beauty is that it draws a person outside of oneself. Liturgy, likewise, has this aim—of transforming self-centeredness into gratitude at the wonder of one’s being and thanksgiving directed towards God. Sacrosanctum Concilium mentions that part of the Church’s very essence is directing the visible to the invisible (2). What is beauty within the liturgy, if not that which, through tangible means, draws the mind and heart towards the invisible God?

The Church, itself a visible sign of God’s presence on earth, is rooted in an incarnational worldview. The externals of our world matter, for God himself became visible in this same world.Sacrosanctum Concilium emphasizes the faithful’s awareness of the liturgy and of their being led to “fully conscious, and active participation…which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (14). How might full awareness of one’s participation—rather than just a bystander’s simple observation—in the mysteries of Christ be promoted? If one’s environment is elevated, if one walks into a liturgy and finds the atmosphere different than a school board meeting or a play, and if one is somehow drawn in and transformed by what is seen and heard, will not observation itself be transformed into participation? A full awareness of what the liturgy is can be promoted through the externals, through one’s surroundings. An elevated environment—one of order and harmony—promotes the elevation of one’s entire being and spurs one to a deeper consciousness of that which is really real. Would not one then want to “actively engage” in this beauty that is directed toward the Beautiful? (SC 11).

Continue reading Caroline’s blog.



That ’00s Church: What Kaveny Gets Right and Wrong

Jess's Awesome Head ShotJessica Keating
Program Director,
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

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The 90th Anniversary edition of Commonweal Magazine, on newsstands today, features a piece by longtime contributor Cathleen Kaveny, cleverly entitled “That ‘70s Church.” As an occasional viewer of That ‘70s Show, I appreciated the pop culture homage. In her article, Kaveny calls attention to a problematic trend that has emerged among some Catholic intellectuals and commentators. For nearly a generation, catechetical programming in years following Vatican II have not only endured sustained and unsympathetic assessment, but also have often been the subject of cantankerous critique. These critiques often indiscriminately judge an entire generation, and whether it is a generation of Catholics specifically, or Americans more generally, such one-dimensional judgment often obfuscates a more complex reality. Indeed, as Kaveny points out, these critiques often also fail to account for the sweeping social change of the late ‘60s and ‘70s—the rise in divorce, the sexual revolution, the entry of middle-class women into the work force (it should be said thatAfrican American women and working class whites had long been members of the work force), the Vietnam War, and political scandals, etc. These changes accompanied upheaval specific to the Church—the loss of parish personnel, relocation from cities to suburbs, the decline in Catholic schools, etc. This was a era of dramatic social change.

51hor0rJ9OL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In his 2014 book, Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out Of, and Gone from the Church, sociologist Christian Smith offers a robust analysis of the socio-cultural realities that American Catholics coming of age in the late 1960s and ‘70s inhabited. His remarks are particularly helpful because he seeks not merely to describe the past as a historical phenomenon put to bed, but to appreciate the past in order to understand the ways today’s emerging adults have carried its effects forward. Why, for instance, do young adults in the 21st century leave the Church with so little regret and, contrary to popular wisdom, why do they not return at major milestones (ie marriage and children) (59)? Smith confirms Kaveny’s observation that the ‘60s and ‘70s were far more complex than catechetical critics often acknowledge. In fact, he describes the era in which Catholics of Kaveny’s generation came of age as a “perfect storm” of socio-cultural change (24). Summarizing its impact on American Catholicism, he writes:

[D]uring the very period that America Catholics became “structurally available” (through their entry into the mainstream) and “organizationally vulnerable” (due to the turbulence in the Church after Vatican II) to be highly influenced by the surrounding socio cultural forces, American society itself underwent a series of profound revolutions and movements that were in many ways at odds with received Catholic teachings, morality, and culture. All of this, in fact, “unleash[ed] a traumatic identity crisis for American Catholic by the end of the twentieth century.” (23)

In many ways Smith’s insight confirms Kaveny’s assessment of the cultural climate of American Catholicism in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and in fact helps explain why, according to Kaveny, in learning to “juggle secular and sacred responsibilities […] the former began to crowd out the latter,” and how the two came to occupy two entirely distinct spheres. Far from dismissing an entire generation, his work demonstrates the deep connections between the last three generations of Catholics in America. Noting that Catholics of the generation that came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s merely “rode the breaking wave” of their parents’ upward mobility, Smith observes that Catholics of my generation (millennials) are carrying forward the socio-cultural realities of their parents in new and complex ways (Smith, 24).

comune12The generation Kaveny describes was indeed, according to Smith, “submerged into the new, heady atmosphere of openness, experimentation, uncertainty, hesitation, disagreement, misunderstanding, and growing conflict and polarization that was set into motion unintentionally by the Second Vatican Council and its arguable less-than-ideal translation in the American Church” (24). She is thus right to reject flippant and uncritical assessments of catechesis in the period after the Second Vatican Council, particularly when those critiques fail to take adequate account of the enormity socio-cultural change at the time.

By the time I finished the essay, however, I found myself dissatisfied. I was particularly disappointed with the way her use of narrative foreclosed the possibility of a robust conversation regarding the uneven reality of catechesis in the American Church. Narrative can function in a number of registers. It can entertain. It can draw us more deeply into the poetics of truth. One need only read Brothers Karamazov or the Divine Comedy to experience the profound power of narrative to open new vistas of possibility. Narrative can also be used gloss over complexity and distract from substantive exchange.

Kaveny begins her essay with a descriptive account of her experience of “a demanding two-year [confirmation] program.” Though at first her use of narrative serves as a productive critique to the often-scathing narrative of 1970’s catechetical formation, a narrative that has served to reinforce polarization in the church, the narrative ends up advancing polarization.

It indeed sounds as though Kaveny had a rich and deep formational experience, one which integrated the objective realities of the faith with our affective and contingent lived experience of faith. While she correctly observes that her “generation wasn’t lost because of religious miseducation,” she fails to acknowledge that the inconsistency of religious education worked alongside a host of other socio-cultural changes to unleash an identity crisis among American Catholics. For every experience like the one Kaveny describes, there people who express sincere regret over the thinness of their catechetical experiences and sadness over the fact that they were not exposed to the richness of Church’s tradition in such a way as capacitate them to engage an unstable and changing world as Catholics.

CT_20070209_046Though Kaveny asserts that “the goal of post-Vatican II catechesis was to cultivate responsible men and women who were shaped by the Catholic Christian vision, sensitive to our debt to the Jewish people, and independent enough to stand up to injustice, even if sanctioned by the church or state,” its unclear how successful the American Church was in meeting these goals. According to sociologist Mark Mass, during this era many American Catholics become unrecognizable from non-Catholics by embracing “the liberal mainstream values of the postwar world with a fervor and devotion that were, if anything, far too uncritical and far too celebratory of American culture” (Massa as quoted by Smith, 24).

One can make such observations without condemning the young wives and mothers who took up the task of catechetical formation after the Second Vatican Council. This is precisely what I find most objectionable in Kaveny’s use of narrative: it is employed to back the reader into a corner. By failing to recognize that catechetical programs in the era after the Second Vatican Council were and continue to be uneven, she constructs a false dichotomy. Either the reader uncritically accepts catechesis as has been done for the past 50 years or the reader is afraid of history and desires a return to the Baltimore Catechism and the days of rote recitation.

Facilely critiquing the revised Catechism as presenting “Catholic belief in the manner of a tax code,” Kaveny implies that the hemorrhaging of young Catholics from the Church is due to a return to pre-Vatican II catechetical formation models. She does not substantiate this claim, nor does sociological research bear it out. In fact, Smith reports that “the single most important measurable factor determining the religious and spiritual lives of teenagers and young adults is the religious faith, commitments, and practices of their parents” and like their parents, Smith has found that many of today’s emerging adults are unable to articulate much about the God they pray to (which is usually when we want something), nor are they able, as Kaveny puts it, “to think within the context of a tradition” because many are not encountering the living tradition of the Church (Smith, 27).

In our parishes and dioceses we need to start thinking creatively about catechesis. The goal of catechetical formation is not to produce good citizens (though hopefully it does this); the purpose of catechesis is to invite people into a vital, living relationship with Christ and his Church through an encounter with a knowledge unlike any other, with a knowledge that transforms us. If we hope to stem the tide of young Catholics leaving the faith, the American Church must stop thinking of Kaveny’s generation as the “lost generation” and reach out to them with renewed charity and concern.

Synod 2014: The Danger Zone

Tim KenneyTimothy J. Kenney ’14 MTS Candidate, 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

As the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family closes its session, the Church will begin to look ahead to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family that will convene in 2015. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how we as a Church should approach the Synod in the interim and what we should expect to be produced from these discussions. This is in no uncertain terms a difficult task and so I will turn for help to my fellow Kenney (he spells it wrong), Mr. Kenny Loggins. Friends, prepare yourselves. highwayWe’re heading into the Danger Zone.

The debates around matters of Marriage and Family have long been heated and divisive. Early reports from the Synod have only added to this, as each side seems set on inserting its own perspective for what the bishops have actually said. If only we had a close-minded Church, then it would be very clear which side of the debate the Church is on and who can “claim” her authority. The Church’s detractors would closely study her teaching only to condemn it while her supporters would celebrate it without having any idea what it really says. But as it is, we have a Church that seeks dialogue and uses communication rather than brute force.

In this spirit, there is a real need to actually look at what the Synod is saying. There is an incredible danger in asserting that there has been a “seismic shift” in the faith proclaimed by the Church. Expecting some great departure from current teaching would be unrealistic, uncharacteristic, unprecedented, and contrary to the entire idea of faith built upon Tradition. 20141017-Churches-1The Church isn’t presenting a political platform that can change or dissolve when the voters don’t like it. It is seeking to interpret God’s revelation to humanity and put this into pastoral action. However, there would be an even greater danger in expecting that Church teaching will not be developed whatsoever following the Synod. While standing by its dogmatic claims, the Church can still address issues within its pastoral ministry. This is an opportunity for the bishops to consider those marginalized by its current approach marriage and family life and consider how it can better minister to them. Pope Francis called together the Extraordinary General Assembly precisely because he felt there were matters the Church needed to address. The Church is seeking a way to better respond without ignoring how these issues have been addressed in the past. We as a Church need the courage to look inward, say there is something in our pastoral mission that can be handled better, and then do it without feeling like we are overturning the Christian faith.

Any rash decisions or ill planned pastoral approaches from the Synod put the Church in serious danger of leading the faithful astray and further alienating the already marginalized from community and true self-expression. Careful reflection and well thought out responses are required for such hot topics. This is exactly the type of tough, imposing task that the Church was meant to embrace. let-the-discussions-beginRather than avoiding controversial issues because they are hard to talk about, the Church has a responsibility to fully engage those areas where it is most needed. This Synod is without a doubt, to quote the great Kenny Loggins, on a “highway to the Danger Zone.” It is an opportunity for the Church to talk about the tough issues and reminds us of two things to keep in mind throughout the Synod:

1) There is no obvious or easy solution to these questions being discussed by the Bishops. It is a challenging and serious matter that should not be taken lightly. 2) We as a Church need to embrace this challenge and confidently dive “right into the Danger Zone.” Only through real understanding and dialogue with the marginalized can we respond pastorally to their situation. There has been so much anticipation surrounding the Synod because it is addressing topics that are so controversial and important to present society, which is great news. The Church must always be presented in context to the faithful; otherwise the Bride of Christ is being received completely out of touch with the rest of the world. True, the Church does at times stand apart from the world. She is our ark in times of trouble, the refuge in which Christians can remain firm and confident in their faith. Jesus reminds us to take comfort in the fact that

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” (Jn 15:18)

The Church does not, however, ignore the world. We cannot stand firmly upon our faith without being fully aware of what we are standing for. 2194111_07e06541ba_mTo do so would be childish, not childlike. Ignorance of the world at large makes us like children huddled under the covers out of fear of what might be hiding under the bed. Rather, our mission as Church is to go outside of our Comfort Zone and headfirst into the Danger Zone in an effort to shine a light in the darkness. Only by shining the light of Christ throughout the world can the Church’s ministry be available where it is needed most. Vatican II, as stated in Gaudium et Spes, helps ground the concerns of the Church in the concerns of the world. The Church cannot be intentionally antagonistic to the world if it is to be a link between the world and the Kingdom. We cannot keep the Gospel message to ourselves, but neither can we proclaim it to those we do not understand. The role of the Church is to be a minister to the world. Plunging straight into the Danger Zone makes possible so much opportunity for the Church. For her detractors, if they are going to disagree with the faith she presents, at least they know that the Church has thoroughly discussed and thought out the beliefs in question. In turn, the Church asks that the detractors put as much thought into why they disagree. Open, honest, and helpful dialogue can only follow when both parties are informed. The most intense debates I have ever had were because someone didn’t really know what they were talking about. I know this because most of the time that someone was me. Pray for our bishops. They certainly do not have an easy task ahead of them and I certainly do not envy their position. It is the least we can do for them to pray that their mission and discussion, both now and in the future, will be guided by the Holy Spirit. Finally, if Kenny Loggins is reading this, what’s up. You’ve got a solid first name.