The Temptation of Either/Or: Liturgy and Loving the World

HopeBoettner Hope ’15, Theology Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy         Recently, Elizabeth Scalia over at the Patheos Catholic blog wrote a piece about the need for the Church to be evangelical and missionary. She specifically highlighted what she called the “Incarnational” aspect of good evangelization. In the Incarnation, “the Word became flesh and dwelt” (“pitched His tent” as the translation sometimes reads) “among us.” And so she discusses the need for this Incarnational evangelization:

Incarnational Evangelization happens when Christian men and women leave the comfortable place of their own origin, just as the Word proceeded from the Father, to set a tent among the “others,” where they are at, and learns their names and their stories. It talks with them, eats with them, laughs and cries with them, helps to birth them and, if necessary, to bury them. It is first and foremost about service to the “other” and to Love. Which is God.

Talking about the need for the Church to be more evangelical is definitely on the forefront these days. Both Scott Hahn and George Weigel have recently written books about it and Pope Francis’ leadership style has further lead to the wider Church collectively thinking about this and acting on it in various ways. However, I’d like to make a bit of an addition to what Elizabeth Scalia is saying. When we talk about the Church as evangelical and missionary, about being present, about “serving,” we tend to set up a false dichotomy. We’ve got the “social justice” (“progressive,” as the media labels this) people on one side and those who want to teach or retain an understanding of the Church and the sacraments on the other (these folks usually get labeled the “Tradition and liturgy and sacraments,” the “conservative, Church-ey” kind of people). We see a classic example of this in how the Pope Benedict persona versus the Pope Francis persona gets played out in the media; Pope Benedict was a fuddy-duddy who cared about liturgy and translations of things, and Pope Francis really loves the people because he wants to hug and serve them. (This is also unfair to how Pope Benedict actually led as well, but that’s for another piece at another time.) The progressive versus conservative, reductionist lens of understanding what faith is and how faith works—especially when it comes to understanding how we ought to evangelize– does a disservice to the Church. I love the quote Scalia cited from Pope Benedict about thinking about what ought to be the goal in evangelization. Christianity is not about a concept or a cause. Christianity is about a Person:

“One doesn’t begin to be a Christian because of an ethical decision or a great idea, but rather because of an encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives new horizons to life, and with that, a decisive orientation. The evangelization of the person and of human communities depends totally on this encounter with Jesus Christ.” statue

The way to be an Incarnational and an evangelizing, missionary Church comes not in choosing one version of presence. In order to be “present in people’s lives,” and to walk with them, we don’t have to lose the chance to “understand the Real Presence” and the sacraments. Our evangelizing mission in this world, our seeking the face of Christ as we walk with with our brothers and sisters does not come from leaning on one over the other. Learning how to better be an incarnational Church comes in learning that we can hold the people and the Person in tandem. It comes in learning that we can and need to say social justice and liturgy. Relationships and worship. Community building and sacraments. Active action and deep lives of prayer. The two are not diametrically opposed. Far from it! They absolutely need each other. I think that we sometimes think of liturgies, of the Mass, and of the sacramental life of the Church as boring, as non-incarnational and as less helpful at building relationships with Christ and with others because the latter are old. For example: the Mass is a sleepy habit to most of us. It is an hour’s length worth of motions that we go through, that many of us have been doing as long as we can remember. This is why the new translation of the Roman Missal jerked us out of our complacency for a short while and made us think about what we were saying at Mass. What do I mean here by “old”? It’s time to turn to my good friend Gilbert Keith Chesterton.Gilbert_Chesterton

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is…. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (From the chapter “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy)

In order to fully restore the concept of how we can evangelize as a Church, how we can most deeply speak to the needs of this world, we have to remember both to be present to people in relationships and in walking with them through a liturgical life. To do that we have to realize that we have aged in sin and that the heart of our relationships have gotten a bit stony. Instead of beating excitedly with young love because we encounter Christ in a deeply Incarnational way through the sacraments, our hearts have old-married couple syndrome. So the action of the Church and the rooted nature of the Church need to be constantly feeding off of each other, for the betterment of both of them. I think this is why two of the most important documents from Vatican II were on the mission (Gaudium et Spes) and the nature (Lumen Gentium)of the Church. The AND is where we ought to be. Our Lord held this tension in mind better than anyone. In Matthew 28, the classic citation for evangelization, He said:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” BaptemeFotosearchsmall(1)

Because He is with us always and He has called us to be with others always, He has simultaneously commanded that we baptize and practice and fully live the sacramental life of the Church. The way we observe all that He has commanded us is to properly hold the tension between active, present love in the world that meets people where they are the way that Christ did, while simultaneously loving and being loved in the way He is present to us in the sacramental life of the Church.


Into the Way of Peace

DeniseDenise Azores-Gococo

Heartland Farm, KS

University of Notre Dame ’14

Proprioception is a physiological term for a body’s sense of self. The piriformis and the obturator externus, for example, are two muscles in the gluteal region that primarily carry a proprioceptive function: they keep track of where the hip is angled relative to the body weight and make certain we are able to continue putting one foot in front of another.   Their place in the human body is to ensure that, even with our eyes closed and ears covered, we are (by some miracle, or elegant mastery of design) able to walk in a straight line without losing our balance.  If our body’s sense of self fails, our ability to walk is impaired. We cannot move forward.

The same can be said of our psychological and, as it often follows, our spiritual sense of self. I’ll be the first to admit that I have fallen victim to an impairment of spiritual and psychological proprioception, particularly during my senior year of college. As the main determinants of my self-image, I relied on medical school rejection letters, my inability to enjoy myself in a social setting, and my friends’ virtually futile efforts to make me happy. These cues told me that I was failing; every time I fell down, I lost a bit of my already weakened will to go on. I gave up on myself and succumbed to despair, poisonous judgments, and an uncharacteristic misanthropy. I could not find the light in others, so I shut them out and hurt everyone around me.

I think it’s safe to say that my situation is not unique among college-age students, however much my own flaws contributed to the potency of my particular perfect storm. Universities demand excellence of one sort, parents another, and peers yet another, all of which is exacerbated by social media—a medium by which the success of others’ lives is forcefully exhibited. Although we’re often too proud to admit it, I think most can testify to experiencing that pang of envy and reflective disfavor when we see announcements of accomplishments that we have not received or pictures of “best-night-ever’s” that we have not enjoyed or cannot enjoy. We must be doing something wrong if we are not as happy as they are.

DominicanSistersofPeaceEach day during Morning Prayer, I join four Dominican Sisters in begging God to “guide our feet into the way of peace,” and each day, I realize more and more how God has done just that. Since moving out to middle-of-nowhere Kansas to indulge my country-girl sensibilities, I’ve discovered the proprioceptive mechanisms of the human spirit that so many people are wont to ignore. Previously unexpected raw materials now contribute to my sense of self. The chickens gaze in excited anticipation as I approach to bring them food at daybreak. The tomatoes blush and swell affirmatively to assure me I’ve done well in tending to them. My hands grow calloused and my muscles sore; I realize a surprising strength in my famously tiny frame. As I am daily nourished by the Eucharist, I am capable—in fact, I am charged with—nourishing the creation that the Father has allowed me to enjoy.

Our sense of self is accurately calibrated if we pay due respect to our Eucharistic mission. If we receive our daily bread graciously and embody the daily bread of those around us, we are beautiful in God’s eyes. We become aware of sins that have festered too long for us to pay attention to. We can be proud of the work that God has asked of us and peacefully carry out each task—regardless of what news feeds, transcripts, salaries, or quarterly reports might tell us we should be doing. Granted, the work God asks of us is not always the easiest thing to do; the Lord seems to demand from us both ridiculous feats and numbingly mundane tasks, both of which take a divine sort of strength to accomplish. But the trust involved in knowing I am doing God’s work has a remarkably freeing effect that’s worth all the suffering the world can throw at me.

In 1974, Philippe Petit fulfilled a life-long dream by stringing a tight rope between the World Trade Center buildings in New York City and crossing the wire not once, but eight times. Those who were there with him were astounded by the beauty of one man’s impossible accomplishment—they commented on his playfulness, his delight, his natural presence on the wire, how he could have done it with his eyes closed. He was, really, only putting one foot in frontdownload of another. But each step was a miraculous inspiration to others, all because Philippe Petit had almost psychotic faith in the clarity of his body’s proprioceptive communication.   He trusted his feet to know where to land, his hips to remain square, his body weight to stay center. He beautifully demonstrated the awesome ability of the human body. To be a saint, I think, is to have so much in faith in the way God’s guiding Spirit is telling us where to put one foot in front of another that the world can look on, be astounded by the beauty, and praise God in return.

May God bless us with His grace today.

There were leaves on the trees
And growth on the headrigs
You could confess
Everything to.
Even your fears
Of the night,
Of people
What was better then
Than to crush a leaf or a herb
Between your palms
Then wave it slowly, soothingly
Past your mouth and nose
And breathe?
If you know a bit
About the universe
It’s because you’ve taken it in
Like that,
Looked as hard
As you look into yourself,
Into the rat hole,
Through the vetch and dock
That mantled it.
Because you’ve laid your cheek
Against the rush clump
And known soft stone to break
On the quarry floor.
Between heather and marigold,
Between spaghnum and buttercup,
Between dandelion and broom,
Between forget-me-not and honeysuckle,
As between clear blue and cloud,
Between haystack and sunset sky,
Between oak tree and slated roof,
I had my existence. I was there.
Me in place and the place in me.

from “A Herbal” by Seamus Heaney


Living the Questions of Sacred Music

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M. Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Contact Author  


Beginning a week ago today, I attended several sessions of a two-day conference sponsored by Sacred Music at Notre Dame entitled “Learning from the Masters. Learning from the People.” According to its facilitators, the discussions of this conference would engage and be guided by the following questions:

What constitutes great sacred music? Should we prefer the historical repertories of chant, polyphony and baroque cantatas that have been recognized for their beauty and spiritual refinement? Or do we embrace the music of the people and of the times? Do we judge the quality of sacred music on the basis of its intrinsic beauty or for its capacity to promote congregational participation? Should liturgical music have a separate style than music for everyday life? Can we question the role of contemporary popular styles and of publishers’ anthologies if they appeal to the congregation?

To even begin to answer these questions is a huge undertaking, one people in the Church have struggled with for as long as music has been a part of the liturgical celebration. Anyone familiar with the conference format can tell you that the questions are not often answered so much as raised in new and creative ways that cause us to revisit how we even ask the questions in the first place. Learning from the MastersFor those in the field of liturgical music, the questions above are often the “hot-button” questions—and even as I read them for the first time, I struggled not to answer them in my head one by one, mentally checking off the questions to make sure my opinions on them were intact. These are the questions that send people scurrying to one side of the spectrum or the other, hunkering down in the trenches of their respective arguments, waiting for the other person to make the first claim so that they can fire back with a well-prepared counterargument. It’s a rarity to find someone who is actually willing to listen in these particular situations, who hasn’t settled intractably on one position over the other, who is open to the possibility that there might be a new way to approach an age-old question.

Several of the presenters in this conference addressed these questions in the way I’ve described above—hunkered down in the safety of an opinion honed by years of experiences of liturgical music good, bad, and ugly. One presenter (who self-identified as “very distant from the Catholic Church”) boiled the issue down to pre-Vatican II vs. post-Vatican II, stating that prior to the Council, there was beautiful music in the Church, but after the Council, music became “cheap.” The presenter even went so far as to state, “When you hear that music inside the chapel, I am sure that God left the chapel. There is no God inside. I am absolutely sure of that.” Granted, this person was speaking as a composer and not as a theologian, and while his assessment of much of the music utilized in liturgical celebration following the Second Vatican Council was misguided theologically (God doesn’t leave the chapel no matter how bad the music is), from a musical perspective, the speaker had a point. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, there were many poor decisions being made in terms of what was being considered “liturgical” music: James Taylor’s songs sometimes found their way into the Mass, for example. Yet, the struggles of the past 50 years have also brought perspective, and we as a Church are realizing more than ever that liturgical music ought not embody an “either-or” approach, but rather a “both-and” approach, in which the very best treasures of the repertoire past and present co-exist in a fruitful and beautiful way.


This is also not to say that all of the presenters expressed opinions like that of the speaker quoted above. On the contrary, several of them spoke eloquently about the challenges of addressing musical ministry in today’s Church: calling parishioners to discover the beauty and accessibility of chant, polyphony, and hymnody, while at the same time allowing for authenticity and newness of expression amid the ever-changing demographics of the American Catholic Church. Several presenters identified the polemical approach to liturgical music as not only deeply problematic, but also as divisive and potentially devastating to the Church. As Edward Foley, Capuchin stated, “The binary assessment [of liturgical music] is simplistic, inaccurate, and unhelpful.” Ultimately, the needs of the parish ought to be foremost in determining how to approach the ministry of liturgical music; however, the liturgical music minister must continuously strive for growth and insist on excellence, gently encouraging parishioners to venture beyond the familiar to discover new ways to offer sung praise to God (even if those “new ways” are in fact centuries old). As Director of the Sacred Music program at Notre Dame Professor Margot Fassler put it, “It’s up to us to be wise practitioners who put our best work forward and help our congregations draw closer to God.” If that goal lies at the heart of a liturgical musician’s ministry, then answers to the questions raised by the conference will gradually begin to emerge, and in each parish, these answers will emerge a little differently, according to the context and the spiritual needs present. Whatever the context, whatever the need, liturgical musician who embraces the goal of being a “wise practitioner” will continue to seek and to learn the best of the repertoire, guided by the wisdom of the Church and the needs of the parish, helping others to discover and enter into the “Beauty ever ancient and ever new”—the love of God that we celebrate in the liturgy.

Two More Authors: Denise Azores-Gococo and Meredith Holland

DeniseDenise Azores-Gococo is a home-grown South Carolinian hailing from the great city of Greenville.  She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2014 with degrees in Science Pre-Professional and Theology. During her much needed retreat year before entering the medical field,  Denise is working at Heartland Farm: a spiritual retreat center and organic farm in the heart of Kansas run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Her days are now spent tending to chickens, gardens, and lovely alpacas, getting lost during dirt-road runs, reading Wendell Berry, and trying to hear God’s voice in birdsong and the Kansas prairie wind.

MeredithHollandMeredith Holland is a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame, having received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Theology in May 2014. She is currently a Master of Theological Studies candidate at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, where she studies and serves as a graduate assistant. In addition to her interest in religion and literature, Meredith hopes to focus her studies on Catholic Higher Education, particularly considering institutional mission and ministry as well as student formation and vocational discernment.


Liturgy: A Love Story

rsz_1img_2732Anthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author


Having spent the past five years on a college campus (four as an undergraduate, one as a graduate student and Assistant Rector), I’ve witnessed the whole spectrum of romantic relationships.

  • There’s the couple that met during Freshman Orientation and have had their wedding date booked at Notre Dame’s Basilica ever since.
  • There’s the couple that “is going to be together forever” (or at least until they part ways a week later and never speak again).
  • There are the two seniors that seem to have spent the past four years stuck in the miserable “on-again-off-again” cycle, or the two freshmen who think every bench, lounge chair, or dining hall seat is their personal private cuddle zone.

Indeed, relationships and love stories are ever more visible – on college campuses and beyond – in the social media era, in which “public display of affection” has taken on a whole new meaning and flash-mob proposals have become all the rage. But what is a relationship, really? Perhaps “relationship” can almost be described as the external expression of an internal drama unfolding in the hearts of two people; or an ongoing attempt by two or more parties to find some way to express a kind of internal reality. But “the hearts of the people are fickle,” (Hosea 10:2) and thus we often find the unstable and unsustainable relationship models that often populate today’s college campus.

It’s been several years since I’ve picked up Joseph Ratzinger’s (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) The Spirit of the Liturgy, and most of it went over my head at the time anyways. But since I first read this book about four years ago, I haven’t been able to get one line in particular out of my head, and every now and then it resurfaces as I reflect on love and relationships. Ratzinger, writing of the connection between the formulaic Sabbath ordinances described in the Torah and the act of creation, states:

The Sabbath is the sign of the covenant between God and man; it sums up the inward essence of the covenant. If this is so, then […] creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God wants to make with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man. (Spirit of the Liturgy, 26)

I will return to this quotation in a moment; but first, think about your
Creation of Adam favorite love story. Whether it’s from a book, movie, television show, or real life, there are at least two certain elements it shares with other love stories: first, it is to some extent public, which is simply to say that it necessarily involves at least two people. It is public in the sense that in order for a relationship to unfold, for us to recognize that a love story is occurring, internal feelings, stirrings or desires must at some point emerge from the privacy of the heart and take on some form of externality.

This leads to the second element: namely, that there is always some element of risk involved in such a process. To allow internal stirrings, thoughts and feelings to venture outside of the heart and to take on external expression is a risky business, so to speak. One risks heartbreak,  pride, or the possibility that one’s feelings and expectations won’t be validated. We are ‘safe’ as long as these feelings and desires stay locked quietly in our hearts and heads, but to allow them any form of external expression is to necessarily step out of the comfort of abstractness and into the uncertainty and toil that accompanies any real declaration of love.

In part, what I think Ratzinger is suggesting above is that the act of creation is indeed such a declaration. The love of God is too enormous to remain hidden and enclosed within Himself, and thus in the act of creation we see a pouring out of this love into an external form. All of creation, then, comes to be the cosmic space in which the love story of God and man can unfold. And just as with any love story, there is no guarantee that the love will be returned, the feelings validated, the expectations fulfilled. The act of creation risked (and even resulted in) rebellion, rejection, and heartbreak. Creation made it possible for love to be spurned, its declaration ignored.

salvador-dali-the-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossYet this is the risk that the Creator took in order for the love for His Church to be outpoured and realized. Thus “the goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man.” If this is true, then might we say that liturgy – essentially God’s gift of Himself to man and man’s oblation of his whole life, lifted in gratitude to his creator and through his redeemer – is the relationship, the external expression of love par excellence? Liturgy “sums up” the covenant, the love between God and man. It reminds us that real love is not an emotion, feeling, or sentiment; and it cannot remain internal. Real love is Incarnational: it took on flesh, it hung on a cross and it says things like “This is my body, which is given up for you.” (Luke 22:19)

Much more of course can (and will) be said of liturgy, which I will leave to later blog posts. But whatever else can be said, I’d like to propose that, at its heart, liturgy is most fundamentally a love story: the love story.

Meet Our New Authors: Renée Roden and Laura Taylor

Oblation is happy to announce two new authors being added to our happy little community of authors:

ReneeOriginally from the quiet suburbs of Minneapolis, Renée Roden is now a resident of New York City’s bustling East Harlem neighborhood. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Theology from the University of Notre Dame in May 2014, she began work as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Cristo Rey New York High School. Renee has always been captivated by stories. She is particularly interested in the stories humans create in works of literature and art, and the story of salvation that we reenact with each liturgy we celebrate; and how those stories reveal the extraordinary beauty that lies within the ordinary events of daily life.

Oblation Pic LT

Laura Taylor, M.T.S. is a “Double Domer,” having received two degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She first graduated in 2012 with bachelor’s degrees in Honors Theology, Piano Performance and a minor in Liturgical Music Ministry, and graduated again in 2014 from the Master of Theological Studies program with a concentration in Liturgical Studies.  She is currently serving a two-year commitment in Ireland with the House of Brigid, an organization dedicated to reinvigorating the Catholic Church in Ireland through liturgical music ministry and catechesis, co-founded by Assistant Director of the NDCL, Carolyn Pirtle.


Worshiper Lighting Votive Candle on Altar

Vocation is Now

SamuelBellafiore Samuel Bellafiore Philosophy, Music ’15 Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

At Catholic Exchange, Benjamin Mann has written an insightful piece on how “Your Vocation is Not About You.” He perceives several misconceptions in the way people think about vocation today, including options and personal satisfaction. Especially for young people, these points can distract from an authentic understanding of vocation. Without a good understanding of vocation, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to discern one or pursue it well. Mann points out that vocational discernment has become like our consumerist culture. A few steps into any big-box store presents a trove of options. Regardless of whether one needs a new television, one can gaze at the wall-to-wall rows of gleaming, sharper-than-life screens. One can compare specs, sizes and resolution. There’s a similar proliferation of options for Christians today. Not only are there all the people you already know, there are also all the people on CatholicMatch.

There aren’t just the religious you happen to meet, now every single order has a website. Naturally, everyone freaks out. What if I my whole life is in one link and I don’t click it? If that’s not enough, every third blog post you read purports Wall-of-HDTVsto be good advice on how you’re really supposed to be spending your life. (Oh, the irony.) In another age, a young person who wanted to serve the Church made the trek to the local monastery or convent, knocked and entered. (Or a boy’s parents sent him there since there was nothing else to do with the third-born son.) Maybe not better times, but simpler. Today young people can suffer from a paralysis of the possible. Youth, while rarely clear or easy, often includes a joyous awareness there is an entire life ahead of us. There is so much that could happen. At our best we delight in this. But so often it simply arouses anxiety about will happen. This comes from a lack of perspective on the goal of human life. The goal of human life is to return where it began, in God. “He made us, we belong to him.” (Psalm 100:3) He made us, and therefore we belong to him. Our aim is to return.

The final human vocation is not to a spouse or parish or job, but to eternal union with the Trinity. On the way there, to get there at all, all our choices are to be ordered to beatitude, the lasting happiness of that union. Discerning a vocation starts at the end. Each person’s particular vocation is a means to that end. This doesn’t mean the particular vocation excludes other ends – in fact, loving with true eros means seeking your own end in another human being. But each particular call from God is a road map to help get people home to him. It is a sure method for returning to the origin and reaching the goal. With this in mind, discovering one’s particular vocation need not be a fraught process. But nothing good ever came without a cost. No surprise then if beatitude, the greatest happiness, comes at a great cost. Mann gets this:

“A vocation – any vocation – is a school of charity and a means of crucifixion. Your vocation is the means by which your self-serving ego will die in order to be resurrected as the servant and lover of God. This is all that we can expect; but this is everything – the meaning of life, all there really is.”

Whoever wishes to follow Christ must deny himself and carry his cross. Whoever wants life must give up self-interest in exchange for self-emptying, always at the service of others. Knowing your gifts can help reveal your vocation: it shows what it is you must pour out. But gifts don’t determine a vocation; they indicate it. God can call someone to a vocation that may not seem to use any of his or her gifts, a vocation of which that person may seem absolutely incapable. Like every other vocation, that vocation wGrunewald_03ould require trust. The Christian call is not to efficiently allocating resources, but to selflessness.

Mann is concerned that current discussions of vocational discernment are too caught up with resolving personal insecurities. He rightly asserts that one’s particular vocation will not do this. It will, he says, lead to being “mysteriously fulfilled even when I am not happy.” The self-emptying Christian mind can perceive happiness where the self-centered imagination cannot. One’s particular vocation may not always yield warm feelings or remarkable chirpiness (though both can be fruits of a well-lived vocation). The Crucifixion was part of Christ’s particular vocation. However, living one’s vocation bestows a new kind of perspective: the joy that comes from the Spirit and the peace that passes understanding. This perspective allows St. Thomas Aquinas to say Christ on the Cross is the true image of happiness.

Self-emptying readies the heart for the unfathomable treasure of Christ in heaven. It is to this kind of love each person is called in the present moment. If we’re ever to live a future calling well, we must live the present one well. Conveniently, the present call is often more obvious than the future one: being a son, daughter, student, employee, sibling, friend. Living the call now is the surest way to find the call later. If a person refuses to see the call now, how will he or she recognize another call when it arrives?

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the veteran demon Screwtape tutors his nephew in the art of deceiving humanity. On how to distract people from the importance of contentment with the present, Screwtape writes, “The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

A Pilgrimage to Walsingham

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

In November of my junior year in college, a sizable number of Notre Dame students studying abroad in London boarded a bus at the corner of Edgware Rd. and Harrowby St. to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Leaving behind the noisy streets of London, we found ourselves in the pastoral hamlet of Little Walsingham, walking into a small, empty church for Eucharistic adoration. Our normal trip to some bar or nightclub in the center of London replaced by the chanting of the Tantum Ergo.

In the midst of our gathering, perhaps for the first time, we began to reflect on how difficult it was to “practice” Catholicism in London. Our local parish church, Our Lady of the Rosary, was devoid of the energy found in the Sunday liturgies of our respective dorms. The pastor of the parish was often surprised to see fifty young adults walk into the church on a Sunday morning. The city of London itself OurLadyoftheRosarywas not exactly a place for silent contemplation (as one might find on the Grotto of our own campus), the noise of the city constantly breaking through (along with the bitter heat and cold) the rather thin windows of our flats. For many of us, it was the first time that we had lived in a city in which religious practice was an aberration rather than the norm.

Yet, here we were, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Before signing up for the trip, we were previously unaware of the existence of England’s Little Nazareth. We had not heard of the small home (modeled off of the house where the mystery of the Annunciation unfolded) that once existed on the site, built through the request of the Blessed Mother. We were unaware of the popularity of the site in the medieval period, such that the site was ranked alongside the great pilgrimage destinations of Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago da Compostella. We did not know of the destruction that took place in Walsinghamthe Reformation nor were we aware of the re-birth of the pilgrimage in the late nineteenth century. In some ways, we were unworthy to follow in the footsteps of pilgrims, who offered their entire selves, even their lives, to walk the way to Little Nazareth. 

Saturday morning, after a brief period of prayer, we began our pilgrimage to the Catholic shrine. We were told, as we found ourselves on a rough, gravel road, that pilgrims are invited to remove their shoes as they approached the shrine itself. Clumsily, we took off our shoes, placing our feet upon the cold rocky road, our feet chilled by the damp English day. As we walked upon the road, we were invited to say our Aves.

As my voice fell into the familiar grooves of this prayer, I began to consider what precisely I was doing on this pilgrimage. My own faith had been severely tested while studying in London, enough that I began to consider for the first time that God was merely a creation of my own imagination. I began to live as if there was no meaning in the world outside of the pursuit of pleasure through drinking and being in love with what I thought was love. Yet, here I was, barefoot and stumbling along the same pilgrim route that uncounted numbers before me had trod upon. My mouth uttered words that I no longer entirely believed; still, I could not help but be struck that I was participating in a long line of women and men who offered their own poor Aves upon this road to little Nazareth.

In the years since, I’ve learned to look back at this pilgrimage to Walsingham as the hidden salvation of my soul. The retreat and pilgrimage that weekend did not immediately shine light upon the darkness to which I had grown accustomed. But, it did remind me that Catholicism is not simply for those who practice their Aves and Paters with total surety. Along that road to little Nazareth, saints and sinners had sojourned before me. In the end, it was not the sheer intellectual heft of Catholicism, the surety of its moral vision, that kept me in the folds of the flock. Rather, it was my own deep OurLadyofWalsinghamawareness, as I painfully walked upon that gravel road, that I was not alone in the practice of this faith. That the road that I walked upon was not paved by me but marked by the prayers of those who went before me.

The weekend following the pilgrimage, I remember walking once again into the parish church of Our Lady of the Rosary, the meager choir severely out of tune. The back wall of the church marked by blacken ash (presumably from some fire). And as I looked around, at the old women and men who assembled at this parish church, I grew aware that it was not aesthetic grandeur, the delightful movement of my affect, or intellectual surety that would keep me saying my Aves and Paters. It was the communion of saints, of whom Mary herself is queen, that would keep me fumbling along on my own pilgrimage.

Since my time in London, I have found myself healed from the intellectual doubt and moral discord that marked my time abroad. I am married now with a young son. I teach and study theology at the University of Notre Dame. But, I remain perpetually grateful to Our Lady of Walsingham and that unpaved road full of the hidden prayers of pilgrims past and present. I pray now for those pilgrims, who journey along that way, hopeful that my prayers (however meager they might have been and still are) might lighten their load upon the road not simply to Little Nazareth but to the beatific vision.

The gift of Catholicism is not that we go it alone, enacting our personal religious conversion through the sheer force of individual intellect or will. The entire communion of saints intercedes for us in the midst of our paltry practices and impoverished prayer. Our fumbling and bumbling, the burnt out shells of churches that seem emptier than we remember, remain full of the prayers of those who have gone before us.

This does not mean that we can become complacent in our practice, happy to be a Church where everyone just shows us. But it does mean that we are a Church where showing up is the first step toward conversion. Where kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, all the while thinking about what one is going to do when one goes out tonight, is not a meaningless act. For each time that we take up well-worn words and gestures, we enter into the hidden mystery of Nazareth where we, like Mary, are invited to welcome the Word made flesh. Indeed, the Church needs pastoral programs and better catechesis and choirs that sometimes sing in tune. But it needs women and men, most of all, who show up letting the practice of faith become inscribed upon their bodies. Who, whether they are aware of it or not, join in the grammar of praise of those who belong to the company of the holy ones. Who are willing to join the saints along their sojourn, learning to perhaps hope one day, to join their very ranks.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us. Pray for me.

The Domestic Church at Prayer: The Renewal of the Church Takes Flesh

Tim-OMalley-e1375811311325-137x150Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author


Six months ago, after the O’Malley family finished their evening prayer, I had an idea. We passed by an icon–given to us by a dear friend and colleague–of the Blessed Virgin tenderly holding her infant son, Jesus. Bringing my son over to the icon, we each kissed the sacred image, transforming what had previously been decorative sacred art into liturgical object. My son, still learning to give a kiss, lowered his head to the icon–receiving an embrace from the Virgin and the Word made flesh. Then, commencing a ritual that ChristandtheChildholds to this day, we gave each other a hug. After carrying out this practice twice, my son began to demand this ritual action as integral to his bedtime practice.

When ministers  talk about the role of the domestic church in catechesis, I often think they complicate matters. Indeed, parents are the first catechists of their children. But this does not mean that parents are supposed to provide introductory courses in Christian doctrine while gathered around the dinner table. Rather, what makes the domestic church so “effective” is that Catholic practices are performed tenderly, in the course of daily life. Kissing an icon of the Virgin and her messianic son, Jesus Christ, is not a matter of great courage, demanding both supreme intellectual and moral virtue. It is not even that great of a commitment relative to other practices that could be performed (I spend 59 more minutes a day at the gym than I do kissing this icon). It is a mundane practice, a practice of seemingly non-heroic love, that slowly changes the person who performs it. It even changes what it means to dwell in our living room, since it is no longer a space merely where we hang out. Rather, in this space, we kiss and encounter the living God.

In fact, this formation has not simply been directed toward my son as I had originally hoped. The ten seconds I spend with my lips pressed against this icon have become my supreme act of offering each day. The sorrows and joys of my daily life come to mind. Yet, as I gaze upon this image, I cannot help but be renewed in my own faithful commitment to the tender mercy of the God who is love. I look anew with the tender love of God at my spouse, at my son, at each of my students. This practice, however small, seems to be forming me in loving the world as it was created to be loved.

The domestic church is effective in passing on the doctrine and practices of our faith precisely because in the context of family life, doctrines and practices are no longer ideas or burdens. The Incarnation of Christ is not some event in the distant past. Kissing an icon is not merely a historical, liturgical practice. Rather, the Incarnation is now the fullness of God’s tender embrace of humanity not simply as idea or possibility. The gift of divine mercy is perceived anew each evening as God’s loving embrace of humanity writes itself upon the life of our family. The Church is not a bureaucracy of ministers who make decisions. Rather, we see it now as those (like us) who gather around the Eucharistic altar because they also have encountered (or hope to encounter) the tenderness of this divine mercy.

It is these practices that write the “Good News” upon our bodies, which will have an effect upon the renewal of the Church and the world alike. As pragmatic and at times bureaucratic Americans, we may be more tempted to seek this renewal through episcopal appointments, through the right catechetical or liturgical program offered by a university or diocese, or through some other plan of action that involves extensive committee work.  Our fasting, our weekly and daily participation in the Eucharist, even the kissing of an icon by one small family as the sun descends each evening is what the renewal of the Church looks like in the concrete, in the flesh and blood.

Chicago Archbishop

The Liturgical Vision of Archbishop Blase Cupich

Chicago ArchbishopEditors’ note: The Notre Dame Center for Liturgy’s journal Assembly: A Journal of Liturgical Theology featured an article on the 2000 GIRM by then Bishop Cupich of Rapid City, South Dakota in July of 2007 (a volume of the journal that included a piece by Fr. Michael Joncas and yours truly as a doctoral student at the time). We’re re-posting this article on Oblation, because we believe it might contribute to assessing the liturgical vision of Archbishop Cupich. 

While much of the commentary on the appointment of Cupich has tended to focus on assessing the new archbishop’s position in the ecclesial political wars (is he a progressive conservative, a liberal progressive moderate, or a secret libertarian anarchist?), we see in his treatment of the 2000 GIRM a pastor who sees the liturgy as integral to the Church’s mission in the world. That is, he is not “moderate” in the sense of adding two positions together to get a beige middle.

We also think that the vision set forth by then Bishop Cupich has not been implemented by any stretch of the imagination. But, I guess that’s our job.   

Implementing the GIRM2000: Getting Back on Track

The Implemention of GIRM 2ooo Sidetracked

On Holy Thursday, 2000, Pope John Paul II approved the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM2000), replacing the 1975 edition (GIRM1975). The Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) made the text available in Latin under the title, Institutio  Generalis Missalis Romani, through the Web site of the Vatican Press Office.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) issued a provisional English translation for study purposes. Almost immediately, people on opposite sides of the liturgical spectrum weighed in. One camp described the revised Instruction as a return to clericalism and rubricism. In their view, its implementation represented a rollback of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The other side praised the new document as a welcomed and necessary correction of abuses. This was the set of “new rules” they had hoped for and urged the bishops to enforce them.

After reading the document, I became convinced that both sides were making the same mistake and misreading the GIRM2000. If left unaddressed, their shared mistaken approach, which in effect involves a very limited reading of the document, could sidetrack the liturgical renewal envisioned by the document and the Council. Succinctly put, both sides were reading the Instruction too narrowly, approaching it simply as a list of rubrical changes to be introduced in the celebration of the Eucharist. The only difference between the two sides was whether or not they agreed with the new rubrics.

It could be argued that the CDW anticipated the problem of a selective reading of the GIRM2000; i.e., scanning it only for variations. It took the deliberate step of informing the various bishops’ conferences that the provisional translation of the GIRM2000 could not appear in a form that highlighted the differences from the 1975 edition. The wisdom of this directive is now coming to light. Clearly, the Roman officials intend that the GIRM2000 should be read, interpreted, and implemented in its entirety.

Getting Back on Track

Getting back on track involves answering two questions: What do we learn about this document when we read it as a whole text? What does that suggest to us about how we implement it?

Reading the GIRM2000 as a whole text

In answering the first question we should begin with the title of the text. It is an institutio or instruction. Robert Cabié reminds us that, “according to the original meaning of the Latin title, Institutio (generalis), we are being given an ‘instruction’ inspired by an interpretative intention and a pedagogical purpose” (The Church at Prayer, vol.2,Liturgical Press, 1986). The General Instruction explains how the revised Mass relates to the authentic tradition and stands in continuity with it.[1] This means that it is primarily a teaching. It is a summary of the doctrinal and pastoral principles of that authentic tradition, most fully expressed in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL). These principles are pedagogically organized to help us grasp the nature and importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church.

Secondly, we should take note of the fact that the General Instruction as a form introducing the Roman Missal replaced the General Rubrics of the Missal of Pius V. This change represents the shift in the understanding of the liturgy, fostered in the Church since Pius X and especially by Pius XII in Mediator Dei[2] and which led to the reforms of the Council. The General Instruction codifies that shift by presenting the celebration of the Mass in a way that doctrinal and pastoral considerations take precedence over and give meaning to rubrical instructions. This does not mean that rubrics are unimportant but “to the extent that regulations are given, they are explained and related to a truly authentic tradition . . . [and they] serve the pastoral aspirations of the Church . . .” (The Church at Prayer).

Thirdly, the doctrinal and pastoral principles found in the Introduction and Chapter One: Importance and Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration of GIRM2000 are taken almost verbatim from GIRM1975. (The only changes are in #19, where priests are encouraged to celebrate Mass daily, andd #22, where the role of the diocesan bishop in fostering the liturgy is expanded.) The repetition of these same principles in a document called a “revision” speaks volumes. It means that the renewal of the liturgy called for by the Council is still at issue and it is unfinished business. The document is saying that we need to go back to the principles of the liturgical renewal. It also seems to indicate that the introduction of new rubrics or directions is not just a matter of giving us more rules. Rather, these changes are an attempt to highlight and reinforce one or another of these repeated principles, since experience (not just in our country, but in the universal Church) has indicated they may have been neglected over these past decades since the Council.

Implementing the GIRM2000

In view of all of this, it is clear that any implementation of the GIRM2000 must give priority to educating priests and people about the doctrinal and pastoral principles of liturgical renewal outlined by the Council. Specifically, that means bringing people to an authentic understanding of the Christian notion of the assembly. It means stressing the importance of liturgical signs. It also involves clearly defining worship as liturgical action, as dialogue between God and his people, and as a celebration of the mystery of salvation. These are all central principles. My years of teaching as a seminary professor, as a pastor offering adult education classes to lay people, and as a bishop speaking to groups of priests about liturgical renewal have led me to conclude that we have grossly underestimated the need to educate. It never fails that whenever I outline the principles of the Council’s liturgical renewal in an educational session, many people and priests tell me that they had never thought of approaching the renewal in this way or that the ritual changes were now beginning to make sense.

Secondly, in addition to introducing or reintroducing the principles, we also must help people see how the ritual directives are expressive of them. The task of implementation then cannot be reduced to merely informing people about the rubrical changes and making sure they are enforced. All evidence shows that this approach is doomed to fail, no matter how enticing it may be, given the fact that it is much easier and less complicated. Instead, we should see this new institutio as a challenge and opportunity to explain to our clergy and people how the changes are motivated by a concern for authentic liturgical principles that may have been ignored or maybe in need of reinforcement or encouragement.[3] Admittedly, this will take much more effort, time, and patience, but it has the promise of bringing about the kind of real and sustained liturgical renewal the Council and the GIRM2000 envisions, and that the Church needs and deserves.

Finally, we should not overlook the importance the GIRM2000 gives to the role of the Bishop who is portrayed as central to the implementation of liturgical renewal. Notice that the original description of the Bishop found in GIRM1975 has been expanded in this latest revision. Again describing the Bishop as the “chief steward of the mysteries, . .moderator, promoter and guardian” of the entire liturgical life of his diocese, GIRM2000 states that he must strive to assure that all “grasp interiorly a genuine sense of the liturgical texts and rites, and thereby are led to an active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist.” This last phrase recalls what the Council Fathers said in setting priorities for the ongoing restoration and renewal of the liturgy; namely, that it can only come through the promotion of the full, active, and conscious participation by all the people, which is the aim to be considered above all else (CSL, 14).

A Fresh Opportunity for Renewal

The GIRM2000 presents us with a fresh opportunity to interpret that priority more expansively. By investing time, resources, and energy into the education of our priests and people, we can bring about the kind of ownership and understanding of the liturgy that makes their full, active, and conscious participation a reality for everyone. Not only is that an investment worth making, it will also keep us on track and avoid having the renewal derailed by ideological extremes.

[1] It is for this reason that both the GIRM1975 and 2000 note that the Mass of Paul VI has benefited from the study of sources unavailable to the Tridentine liturgy, such that “it also becomes clear how outstandingly and felicitously the older Roman Missal is brought to fulfillment in the new.” The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) translation in the GIRM2000, #6 of Si autem huius traditionis ponderentur interiora elementa, intellegitur etiam, quam egregie ac feliciter prius perficiatur altero.

[2] “It is an error, consequently, and a mistake to think of the sacred liturgy as merely the outward and visible part of divine worship or as an ornamental ceremonial. No less erroneous is the notion that it consists solely in a list of laws and prescriptions according to which the ecclesiastical hierarchy orders the sacred rites to be performed.” Likewise, we read in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 11, “Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

[3] While some lesser changes seem to be getting all the attention, we should not overlook how the GIRM2000 reinforces principles and practices found in the original Instruction, because they are central to the ongoing renewal and have proven to be so in the intervening years. For instance, this new Instruction strengthens the norms on the homily, noting that it is an integral part of the liturgical action (29). While homilies are required on Sundays and holy days of obligation, they may be eliminated from a Mass with a congregation only for a grave reason (66). Greater stress is given to Communion under both kinds, and to the importance of having the faithful receive Communion consecrated at the Mass they attend. The GIRM2000 has removed any reference to the need for women to obtain permission to enter the sanctuary. These are but a few, but my point here is that these particular “changes,” while not receiving much attention in comparison to others, more easily remind us that all of the changes can only be understood within the framework of the principles of liturgical renewal. This may especially help to counter the criticisms that the GIRM2000 represents a return to rubricism and is a shift to clericalism, an unmerited assumption based on a narrow preoccupation with some of the changes at the expense of overlooking the entire framework of renewal offered in the Instruction.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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