November 27, 2011

And also with your spirit.

Today's transition to the revised texts made for some very interesting vocal happenings at Mass this morning. The most common being the confusion over the new response "And with your spirit."  I had a feeling this would be the most difficult. First off, it is repeated five times during the Mass. Secondly, no one, not even the most diehard missalette reader, follows in the book for this response. And finally, by the time we got to the end of Mass many forgot that these words changed.  But all in all it went quite well.  The longer prayers, the Confetior and the Creed, were read perfectly although I did hear a bit of stumbling at the word "consubstantial."  Also at the Invitation to Communion there were quite a few who continued to use the old words.  The presider, a priest from Ghana, prayed Eucharistic Prayer III slowly and deliberatly with only a stumble or two.  I do know that our priests have been practicing and it showed.

I think we have to give it a few weeks and it will be as natural as if we have be saying these prayers for years. But then come Christmas Eve there will be more confusion than ever as those who only come to Mass for majoy Holy Days find that the prayers they are familiar with have been revised.  It should be interesting to say the least.

November 26, 2011

Happy Advent

I mentioned in a previous post that the family calls me Mama Scrooge.  Unlike Ebenezer, it is not that I dislike Christmas. Quite the contrary I love Christmas. What I don't like is celebrating the "Holidays," which seem to get more and more commercial every year.  I also do not like celebrating Christmas in November. Since before Thanksgiving one local radio station has been playing Christmas music 24/7.  There are quite a number of homes in my neighborhood that are already fully decorated and lit and this week, on December 1st, I am going to a Christmas Dinner. Even my home parish has Christmas trees up in the sanctuary.

The thing is I like celebrating Advent. It is probably my most favorite liturgical season. I am what I call an Advent purist. I even have an Advent wreath hanging on my front door (with purple and pink decorations) and purple and pink bows on my windows.  Advent is a time of joyful anticipation for not only the commemoration of the birth of Jesus but in anticipation of His coming again. It is a time that I refer to as a "pregnant pause" from our busy lives to focus on preparing ourselves for the Lord's coming.  But the truth is, that for most people, this time of year are busier than ever. They rush around, anxiety levels are high as they rush around looking for the best bargains, writing out cards, decorating, cooking, baking, going to parties. No wonder that the day after Christmas most people have had enough of the "season."

Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent van Gogh
For me Advent is a time of introspection. It is a time to take a look at my life and to focus on my own preparedness for the Lord and to find moments of peace, time to pray and meditate on the mysteries we celebrate this Advent season. Most of all I love Advent hymns.  The sad thing is that most people are not familiar with them. They speak of hope and of the coming Savior. Over the coming weeks I will share some of them. My favorite is Creator of the Stars of Night.  This ninth century hymn reminds me of the clear, cold night sky of winter and the beauty of God's creation.  No one can look at a night sky and not ponder the vastness of the universe, and the realization of how tiny we are. Yet despite our obvious insignificance, God chose to come to us, to be one of us, and we wait in patience for when He will come again.  

November 25, 2011

More on the Missal Launch

Having eaten my fill yesterday afternoon, which is probably why I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 AM,  I opened my e-mail to read some more doomsday articles and comments regarding the launch of the revised English texts of the Roman Missal. At Thanksgiving Mass yesterday, our pastor mentioned that this would be the last time most of us would be praying the texts we have been so used to praying for close to forty years.  Some might see it as a sad ending to a Mass that has brought joy and comfort to many, but I see it as a new beginning.  My early years were spent with what we now call the Extraordinary Form, the "Latin Mass," but the dialogue Mass was what I was used to, so we at least prayed the responses from our personal missals. I still have mine from 1963.  As we transitioned into English, it was an exciting time, but I am sure there were many who bemoaned what they grew up with and who didn't like the change.  So too with the revised texts we will begin praying Saturday evening.  But I really don't anticipate the uproar that others predict.

I have presented twelve Missal workshops over the last year. I honestly have to say that I have heard objections from less than a handful of people.  Some may object to a word or two but overall the reaction has been good.  They like the idea that the language will sound more formal and more theologically accurate.  I had sixth graders, anxious to run home and share with their parents the meaning of the words consubstantial, incarnate and oblation.  Are we so used to texting and tweeting shorthand that we can't open ourselves to learning words that are more than four or five letters long?  Are the words that I learned early on in my formal study of theology really going to turn away people?

I am looking forward to the changes.  In fact, even though I rarely attend the Saturday anticipated Mass, I just might go tomorrow evening to be among the first to hear the new texts prayed. But today and tomorrow morning I will be praying the texts that I know so well. I will miss the familiarity of them, but I anticipate that very soon these new texts will become just as familiar.  Will it renew the liturgy and bring people back to church?  Probably not, for that I believe, will take more than new words, but a real change of heart that comes not from the formal words we pray, but from a personal encounter with Jesus.

November 23, 2011

Here we go again.

It’s that time of year again!  No I am not thinking of the Christmas season, although my family has referred to me as Mama Scrooge since I don’t believe in celebrating Christmas until the evening of December 24, but that is for another day.  I am referring to the time of year when the 7th and 8th grade students in our school and faith formation program must hand in the first part of their  “Confirmation Workbooks.”  In our diocese there is a two-year preparation program for Confirmation which requires students in those two grades to complete a workbook reflecting on things such as their baptism, our Blessed Mother, saints, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the dreaded “Gospel reflections.”  Why are they dreaded?  Well for one thing it requires them to go to Mass on Sunday, which a large number of them do not do. Then, since they do not go to Mass, they have to find out which Gospel was read on a particular Sunday, give the chapter and verse, write a brief summary, the name of the priest who celebrated the Mass, and write about what the Gospel meant to them.  They, or should I say their parents, get very creative in finding out about the Gospels.

So why do I like this? It's because I am one of the "readers" of these workbooks, and I see some very interesting reflections. Also, the women in the parish office have designated me, the Pastoral Associate, as the one they transfer phone call to from mothers who are seeking information about the Gospel that their children didn't hear because they didn't go to Mass.  Workbooks are due on Monday so the phone calls have started to come in.  I get kind of a sick enjoyment in giving the parents a difficult time of it.  Most of the callers are inquiring the name of the priest who celebrated a given Mass. They tell me that they arrived late to Mass and didn't hear the name of the priest.  Rather than just give them the name I ask them to describe what the priest looked like.  After asking this question there is usually a long pause and the parent then tells me that they personally didn't attend that Mass  and they will have to wait until their child comes home from school to ask what the priest looked like.  Or they say he looked average. Now in our parish we have a tall young priest with a shaved head, a priest from Ghana with a heavy accent, a short very gentle priest from India, a gray haired priest in his mid sixties, and our pastor who is in his early seventies. They usually don't call back with the child's description.

The other question they ask is what the Gospel was because they didn't write it down from the missalette (As if I believe that). Usually they just go to the church during the week to check the missalette. Yesterday however was the day our maintenance crew switched the seasonal missalettes.  Two moms called asking if we had any left over missalettes, most likely to look up the Gospel. Even though I probably could have found some, I told the callers they were thrown out already.

I also can't wait to read the workbooks, which will arrive on my desk next week. In addition to scripture references which don't match up with the Gospel, there are reflections that are exactly the same as other students and ones that obviously were written by the parents or taken off the Internet. There are also discrepancies with regard to the name of the priest who celebrated a particular Mass.  My all time favorite was the student who put down the name of a former pastor as the celebrant. The problem was that he had passed away several years earlier.

I also get a few laughs out of some of the other reflections. The best was the student who explained the Immaculate Conception as Jesus leaping out of Elizabeth's womb into Mary's womb.  I must have missed that class in my graduate course on the New Testament.  Their explanations of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are also amusing. The gift of Knowledge always has to do with doing well in school and somehow all the other Gifts relate to earning money and being successful. The Gift of Fortitude (Courage in their book) usually has to do with standing up to bullies. Descriptions on service projects often speak of helping Mom wash the dishes or helping little sister with homework. Gee, I thought those types of activities were part and parcel of being a member of a family.

While I do find this all amusing, it is also very sad. Parents are teaching their children that aside from it being OK not to go to Mass,  it is fine to basically cheat on their Confirmation assignments and to not put effort into to reflecting on the questions. Not a good way to prepare to receive a Sacrament.  I understand the reason they do this, because it has to be done. It is a cultural necessity (really) to receive Confirmation but not to practice the faith that goes along with being spiritually prepared to receive the Sacrament and to live the Christian life.  I look forward to reading the workbooks and I pray that this year will be different.  There are  those students whose reflections are truly insightful and I enjoy reading them because it shows me there are still kids out there who care about their faith and a relationship with Jesus.  I hope I see more of those types of reflections on my desk next week.

November 20, 2011

Seven Days Till Missal Launch

It is now one week before the revised English translation is implemented in dioceses throughout the United States. I for one say, "OK let's get this going."  I have refrained from writing about the revised texts basically because I have been heavily involved with these texts for a long time. I have working on them on the parish and diocesan level for a few years. Since Advent of 2009 I have been writing articles and blurbs in our bulletin about the texts. I will, as of this coming Tuesday, have presented twelve sessions on the Missal in several parishes, certainly not as many as some of my colleagues but it was a significant number. I have written two brief articles on the revision published by Liturgy Training Publication. I have traveled around the country attending workshops conducted by the Bishops Committee on Divine Worship and the Federation of Diocesan Federation of Liturgy Commission. You could say I have been immersed in the Missal.

The workshops I attended were fun and I learned a lot from some of those who were on the ground level of preparing the texts. Presenting workshops was fun as well and I did not hear many objections to the texts from those in attendance, which is a good thing.  I must admit that when I first saw the "green book," the original texts that the bishops had to work with, I did not care for the texts at all. But over the years in following the debates, reading revisions and more revisions, studying them, and most of all, praying with the texts, I have come to appreciate the beauty in them. They are poetic, sacred, and express important theological terms and concepts much better than the current text.

Today at Mass, our priests briefly spoke about the texts. The pastor even practiced "And with your spirit" with the people. I am excited!  I confess I have already been saying the new texts softly for the past few months, but I am sure I too will need to glance at the laminated pew cards we will have tucked in with the missallettes.  As I wrote in our bulletin this week, and as our priests mentioned at Mass, we will need to be patient with our priests, for while in reality only a few words in the prayers  we in the assembly will pray are changing, for the priests there are significant changes, and they will have to have their eyes glued to the texts for awhile.  Also there are less instances where they could use "these or similar words." My pastor also informed us that there are slight differences in the layout of the new Missal compared with the present one. 

With seven days to go, I think it is important this week to keep our priests in prayer and to pray that these first few weeks of transition to the new texts goes smoothly so that these revisions will enhance our appreciation of the sacrifice of the Mass, lead us to reflect on the texts we pray, and most of all, to worship the Lord with our whole hearts and minds so that having been nourished by God's Word and His Eucharist we may "go in peace, glorifying the Lord with (our) lives."

November 10, 2011

A Big Move and a New Beginning

Today the long awaited announcement was made regarding the fate of Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, Long Island.  The seminary has educated and formed priests for the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre since 1930.   It has also educated hundreds of lay men and women in its MA and D.Min programs as well as formed deacons for the diocese of Rockville Centre.  Beginning with the fall 2012 semester, seminarians from Brooklyn and RVC will be formed and educated at the New York Archdiocesan seminary, St. Joseph's in Yonkers.

Adoration at the Seminary Chapel
It wasn't a complete surprise to those of us who keep up with these things. Discussions have been going on for at least two years now. While it is probably a good move to consolidate the two seminaries since both  have low enrollments, it comes with a lot of sadness. I earned my MA in Theology, post graduate certificate in Pastoral Ministry, and Doctor of Ministry degrees at the seminary.  I have enjoyed studying with the seminarians and getting to know the professors and working with some of them in my ministry.  I am on the Graduate Association Board, and the board of their online journal, Seat of Wisdom, have taught a summer workshop there, and was part of the diaconate formation faculty for two years. I often find myself up in Huntington for different events, workshops, lectures, retreats, convocations, days of recollection, or to use their excellent theological library when researching for articles or a class.   It holds a special place in my heart.

The building is not closing however. The graduate program will still continue so that many more lay people will be able to earn their degrees and better serve in ministry in Rockville Centre and Brooklyn.  The building will also be open for retreats and other programs that will serve the priests, deacons and laity of the Metropolitian area, and especially our young people. New programs associated with the New Evangelization will be housed on campus.

Things change, and as as we are discovering with the transition to the revised English texts of the Roman Missal, some will find it difficult, some will miss what we have now, but many are looking forward to the good that these changes will bring to our celebration of the Mass. So too with the changes to our beloved seminary. We will miss being part of the seminarians experience, for I do believe that the presence of the laity in classes and in the building was beneficial to their formation. Hopefully the changes will bring new opportunities to interact with priests and deacons and to gather with those in lay ministry. I am sure it will bring a new springtime to the old building, new people in the halls, new programs to be part of, new ways to educate and form good men and women to work in the vineyard of the Lord.

I pray that the transition will be a smooth one.  I know one priest on the faculty who is excited to pack his bags and head across the Throgs Neck Bridge and search out the golf courses and eateries in Westchester in addition to the new experiences that will await him in Dunwoodie if he is asked by our bishop to accompany the seminarians there.  The seminarians too are probably looking at this move as something bittersweet.  Some are leaving a place that has been home for several years.  It will be a good thing for all three dioceses and the people of of Rockville Centre, Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of NY will benefit in many ways.  New programs and new opportunities to grow in our faith. But for now, it's bit sad...

November 8, 2011

We are Unprofitable Servants

Today I went to a meeting of a diocesan committee that I am part of. As part of our prayer to open the meeting we read and reflected on today's Gospel from Luke (17:7-10).  After the reading, one of the committee members sighed, stating that the last sentence seemed to speak her ministry. "We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do." We all agreed. 

I know sometimes in my own ministry I feel like an unprofitable servant.  It is not that I look for recognition (an occasional "thank you" is sufficient), but lately it seems that some of us in parish ministry are looked at as nothing more than someone who is only there to meet the particular needs of parishioners, at their time, and the way they want it. This is especially true when it comes to sacraments and sacramental preparation.  It seems the consumer mentality has taken over and what we can offer parishioners is just one of many services that are on their list of needs and wants, but only when  it is  convenient or not too demanding. When we try to do what we are trained and required to do, people sometimes get hostile with us for "denying them" or making things difficult.  When we try to speak the truth at meetings or in courses and workshops, we are met with arguments that the Church is out of touch or that the teachings are singling out people who do not live according to our moral laws. 

We keep plugging along, doing what we are obliged to do because we truly believe we are doing God's work, doing God's will.  But it does get frustrating.  I don't think anyone in ministry is immune from this frustration.  I know the answer lies with prayer, and lots of it. It also helps to know that even on those days when it seems our efforts are for naught we don't really know if what we say or do will at  some point make a difference in someone's relationship with God.  It is still difficult, still frustrating. Sometimes I think it might be a call from the Lord to take a good look at what I am doing in my ministry and to adjust or make changes.

We are hearing a lot about New Evangelization.  I just see being presented with new programs that will only add to the frustration when the only people who show up are the same faith-filled people who probably have a better relationship with Christ than I do. However I do believe in having Hope. So I will embrace the new programs, and work tirelessly to reach out to those Catholics whose faith has grown cool or those who faith really hasn't developed, those who haven't come to a relationship with Christ.  And through it all, I'll remember that I have done what I am obliged to do as a disciple of Christ the Lord. 

November 7, 2011

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

One June evening in 1972, Donna Mundy, MaryJo Lapkowski, Rosalie Binetti and I stood in the sanctuary of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre and sang Day By Day from the musical Godspell as a meditation song at our high school graduation Mass.  As a liturgist, looking back I would say it did not meet all three judgments for appropriate liturgical music as put forth in the document Music in Catholic Worship. But that document only came out in 1972, (maybe even after our rocking performance) and I never knew it existed until I began studying theology over a decade later. It was the seventies, and things were kind of in the experimental stage at Mass back then (and in some places still are). But this is not a commentary on liturgical music.  

In 1971 the off-Broadway play Godspell opened. Now this was a big deal for those of us in Catholic high schools. The music of Godspell along with the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar that came out a year earlier, made what we were learning in theology classes come alive.  While both musicals focused on Jesus and stories from the Gospels, Godspell's focus was more on the parables of Jesus, and it was fun. 

Last night I had the opportunity to see the revival of Godspell that is currently playing at Circle on the Square theatre on Broadway.  It has been forty years since I was first introduced to Stephen Schwart's wonderful musical score and I did everything I could to keep from singing along to the songs that I know so well.  The theatre was perfect for the performance as every seat was an orchestra seat and you truly felt as if the actors were speaking directly to the audience, even engaging them as part of the performance.

Sometimes revivals disappoint, but I have seen productions of Godspell many times and have never been disappointed.  This production was very up to date and seems to include a bit more improvisation and references to current events than I recall from other productions. They even made a comment about Steve Jobs introducing the iPad to the man at the Pearly Gates to make keeping records of good deeds easier. They even included a "rap" number and a line dance. 

The one thing I did miss from this production was the putting on and removal of clown make-up. I also missed the funky barnyard sounds in "We Beseech Thee," but the trampolines made up for it.  I figure I have to be nostalgic about something.  The production however did not disappoint.  It brought be back to high school to that personal loving relationship that I developed with Jesus.  I think Godspell was one of those things that kept me Catholic in the tumultuous seventies as I graduated high school and began college.  

So all can do now is leave you with a bit of what I experienced last night and recommend that, if you are in the New York City area try to catch the show. Remember Advent is coming, and the readings for these weeks are all telling us to get ready and prepare for the Lord's coming.

November 3, 2011

Kids and the Missal Launch

I find it difficult to believe that I have been writing this blog for eight months and still have not written a post about the Roman Missal.  In twenty-four days we will be praying with the revised English texts and I have been preparing for its implementation for quite a number of years. As a pastoral associate, one of my responsibilities is parish liturgy. I also serve on the diocesan liturgy commission and have been facilitating and teaching courses, workshops and training sessions for liturgical ministers for over ten years. Before that I served in liturgical ministry since 1967 being part of our parish's first folk group and the youngest member of the first liturgy committee in 1971.  So when I first heard of the revised English texts of the Missal I began keeping up to date with what was going on and as time got closer I became more and more involved by attending national workshops and conferences and eventually presenting workshops on the revised texts.

Today I presented a workshop to the sixth grade at our parish school. I haven't been in in front of a class of children since I gave up my teaching job over fifteen years ago, but I have worked with children and looked forward to introducing the revised texts to them.  It was a wonderful experience.  I gave the kids copies of the revised texts and we had a lively conversation on the differences between the current text and the one we will be using on the first Sunday of Advent.  They were so interested, especially when I introduced words and concepts that might have been strange to them.  I was also very happily surprised at how much the kids did know about what we pray and do at Mass.

The most interesting conversation occurred when we look at the Creed. They were very surprised to learn how old the Nicene Creed was and the various reasons why it was so important to even have a definitive statement of our beliefs.  We talked about those beliefs and the discussion really went well when we came to the words "consubstantial" and "incarnate."  They were eager to offer their thoughts and I think following our discussion they understood the meanings quite well. I gave them the assignment to bring up these words at the dinner table and see if their parents knew what the words meant.  The teacher found this part of our discussion so interesting that she is putting those two words as bonus questions on their next religion quiz.

They had lots of questions but I chuckled that one of the questions was one that I heard at almost all the workshops I have done with adults.   "Will Mass be longer?"  What I didn't hear was any complaints about the words being used, their difficulty or how it wasn't the way we might normally speak. They seemed excited and I think they are looking forward to it. I hope that they will pass on this excitement to their parents.  The teacher even said she was going to let the other teachers know that would gladly do a presentation for their classes as well.

So, it seems that after my minor meltdown last week when I had to cancel some of my adult programs, God has shown me that He still can use my talents to reach people, even if they are little ones. Perhaps what God is telling me is that the way to reach the parents is to go through the kids, get them excited about being in relationship with God and worshiping Him in the sacrifice of the Mass.  Then maybe we will have more families in church on Sunday and we can begin the work of New Evangelization.