Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.
Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
1) Kerry Weber of America Magazine has the best response to Cardinal Burke’s recent interview at the New Emangelization that we’ve read thus far. Rather than respond with insults, she provides a rationale why female altar servers should not be excluded (it’s a rare gift for an author to expand the imagination in the midst of disagreement rather than simply respond with insult):
We are accountable to one another. The elderly ladies commended me or corrected me on my serving skills after Mass. My parents beamed each time I served with my two siblings on the altar. In short, I learned that our actions as servers affected how others experienced the Mass. And so I strove for flawless execution of the book-holding or cross-carrying. But I also made mistakes. One Holy Thursday I spilled the entirety of the foot-washing water across the altar. The sacristan pitched in to help clean up and her smile let me know that I was not the only person ever to make a mistake at Mass. On her knees beside me, she saw my mistake as an opportunity to demonstrate the spirit of service we prayed about that day, to pitch in and to teach me a lesson: Don’t place large bowls of water too close to the edge of the altar steps. And God’s grace is not easily thwarted by our own imperfections.
2) Another piece by Richard Becker at Crisis on the problematic age of confirmation (and why moving it back is a wise pastoral decision).
Yes, it’s a tricky business, raising teenagers—a balancing act of oversight and latitude—but then confirmation rolls around, and what do we do? We compel teens to undergo intense religious instruction—even if they’ve been away from CCD since second grade—and in effect force them to receive a sacrament they themselves might otherwise forego. Plus, many parents of confirmation candidates aren’t exactly living a sacramental life themselves, and so their teens might assimilate the message that faith primarily involves going through the motions. Besides, as the Catechism teaches, “one must be in a state of grace” to receive Confirmation—which includes conscientiously honoring the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. If confirmation candidates and their families haven’t been getting to Mass on a regular basis, and they have no intention of doing so once the sacrament is administered, then what’s the point?
I’m hoping that some of this rings true for you, and that it accords with observations you yourself have made. If so, then what I’d like to propose won’t sound so crazy.
It’s actually a bifurcated proposal that involves a radical shift of the sacrament either backwards or forwards. The preferable direction, at least according to tradition, is to move confirmation back to the age of reason, and to administer it prior to first communion. This would restore the ancient and proper order of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, then communion), and would accentuate the Eucharist as the most important of the three. As Pope Benedict pointed out, there are sound historical reasons for how the order (at least in the West) got mixed up, but “it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation.”
Current practice puts the accent on confirmation as a sacramental goal line, and so it is incorrectly perceived as the “source and summit of the Christian life” instead of theEucharist. And not only does confirmation come last in line, but it also generally involves a great deal of preparation—a full year or more of instruction and formation, for example, along with any number of obligatory service projects. All those mandates can give the misleading impression that confirmation is not only the most important sacrament, but also one that must be earned.
3) The Jesuit Post is constantly offering us the richness of narrative grounded in a theological vision. Here’s another to start your day off on the right to beautiful things:
Sister Patricia McLaughlin is an Irish Sister of Loreto. In 2001, when the community of Jicamarca applied to the Fe y Alegría Network, they needed a religious order to sponsor the new school. Sr. Patricia was running an all-girls prep school at the time and didn’t speak a word of Spanish. She said “yes” and became the founding principal of the school.
Her vision for the school has been simple since the beginning. “We need to believe one hundred percent in education as a means of transformation. It is the only thing that will give these children a fighting chance.”
But environmental factors can make this transformation difficult, if not impossible. Jicamarca is a place of extreme poverty where many people live in houses constructed of straw, wood or very basic brick. There is no running water or sewage facilities, and many people living near the school have no electricity. The men often work in the local brickyards or as drivers or conductors of the small local transport vans. Others go to Lima looking for work.
Sr. Patricia refuses to see this context as an impediment to offering an excellent education. She writes, “Our children may lack resources but they do not lack intelligence, talent, creativity and dreams. I would like each child to know that they too have a right to all things good and beautiful and that this isn’t only for the chosen few.”