This Week's Message from
How does this sound in regard to liturgy: “Those whose task it is to teach and educate will have to ask themselves - and this is all decisive - whether they themselves desire the liturgical act or, to put it plainly, whether they know of its existence and what exactly it consists of and that it is neither a luxury nor an oddity, but a matter of fundamental importance. Or does it basically, mean the same to them as to the parish priest of the late nineteenth century who said: ‘We must organize the procession better, we must see to it that the praying and the singing are done better.’ He did not realize that he should have asked himself quite a different question: How can the act of walking become a religious act, a retinue for the Lord progressing through the land, that an epiphany may take place.”
This quote strikes a major liturgical chord in regards to the approach of our liturgical celebrations. Roman Guardini, priest and scholar who died in 1968, offered this quote with the hope that people would better understand what takes place at Mass. With the changes from Vatican II came the challenge to call everyone involved at Mass to a more full, conscious, active participation. I believe Guardini understood this reality better than most Catholics. So often when we think of participation, we often look to how people are responding and singing. This is a good indication of participation but the question I pose is why do people respond and sing? Guardini, I believe, sheds light on this topic for us. It is not just about organizing the procession, even though that is important. It is not always about the singing and praying being done better. He gets to the very basic reality for us as human beings, and this is a great insight, “How can the act of walking become a religious act?” When you think about it, if this most basic act of walking into church becomes a religious act then everything we do throughout the liturgy takes on the tone of a religious act.
If we think of the sum total of liturgy as this kind of action, then it means that everything we do has its motivation and will lead us to a much bigger purpose. If my walking takes on the notion of a religious act, it is motivated by my relationship to Jesus Christ. His walking became a religious act throughout His ministry… processing through Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as well as His processing on to Calvary. When we walk into church can our very walking become a religious act? Only if we try to walk like Jesus Christ! I wonder if our walking would be different if we understood the deeper reality that our purpose at liturgy is to realize that Jesus is present among us. Walking, responding, singing, processing, eating, smelling, washing, talking greeting and leaving will all then become religious acts. So goes the nature of ritual… becoming what you celebrate!
This is just an introduction of what I hope to accomplish for this entire upcoming liturgical year over the next twelve months. I am hoping that through a course of educational formation, we will come to understand and better participate at Mass. I want to find out what your experience of the Mass is. From there, I hope to offer some words and reflections throughout the year that will help guide us to better understand what we are doing and why the Vatican II Council called us to a fuller, more active conscious sense of participation. For me, this goes way beyond just singing and responding. It will be to delve into the heart of the liturgy and realize the demands it places on us as participants. This should be a challenging moment for all of us involved. I have already put together focus groups that will examine the liturgy on a more intensive level. We will be conducting interviews with individuals at the beginning and end of this process. We will have surveys that will be completed at Mass in January and then again at the end of the liturgical year in 2014. This is all part of the project I have designed for my Doctorate of Ministry Program.
Advent always causes me to pause and think. The lesson then comes back to me of the enduring, persevering, all pervasive patience that so characterized Mary and Joseph in their anticipation of their child who would be born through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Think of all the obstacles in their way… Mary pregnant through the Spirit... Joseph’s rightful lack of understanding… Mary’s age and all the issues surrounding a teen mother… nine months of pondering how this child was conceived… Mary’s incredible faith to follow God’s will. All of these things help to call us to unwavering patience.
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