Sunday, November 29, 2009

Have we been experiencing a liturgical drought?

When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars. When peace guides the planets and love will steer the stars...

The year was 1969 and it was the Age of Aquarius. Dare I say the Church as well got caught up in the "Kum-ba-ya" of the day. It was on this day forty years ago, November 30, 1969, the 1st Sunday of Advent new liturgical reforms were implemented to the Mass. It was called the Novus Ordo, the 'new order' to the liturgy. The new reforms were implemented for several reasons, to foster an increase in the liturgical participation at the Mass and to try and encourage an ecumenical participation of those that had left the Church. I read a surprisingly spot-on article in the New York Times that addressed this exact issue. I then went and looked at some not too surprising statistics that reflect those changes in our liturgy today.

What caught my attention immediately was the number of years since the reform. For biblical scholars and those theologians attuned to the numbers, the number forty will not be lost. It was forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert and it was forty days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and praying before beginning His ministry. We spend forty days in Lent fasting and praying for our own spiritual conversion as we come out of the darkness of our sinfulness and into the light of Christ as an Easter people. Coincidence, I don't think so. I encourage everyone who reads this post to read some history on how the reform came to pass. It is sad in a way how a Pope of our faith can be taken advantage of and duped in such a way, yet duped he was. It was reported that after the reforms had been implemented he noticed his vestments that were laid out were the wrong color, when he questioned his Master of Ceremonies about this, the MC told him the week long celebration of Pentecost were no longer celebrated with the reform that he had signed and implemented. It was witnessed that when Paul VI heard this he broke down and wept, not realizing the impact and subsequent consequences the reform would incur.

Thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI has a few reforms up his sleeve and has been instrumental in bringing us out of our liturgical darkness and into the light once again. Why did he feel compelled to do this to begin with? The fact that he is a liturgist is a big part of it, whereas Paul VI was not. He recognized that with the loss of the Latin and other liturgical reforms this had done more harm than good and he planned to do something about it. Statistics have shown that before Vatican Council II and the reforms that were implemented 52 percent of all Catholics attended Mass on a weekly basis. Today only 21 percent of all Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis. Interestingly enough those protestants that the reformers were trying to bring back into the fold, attend a liturgy that is celebrated in the Latin and in the pre-Vatican format, that being with the priest facing the east and leading the people in the act of worship.

With the issue of Pope Benedict's Summorum Pontificate, he has lifted what was seen as a ban on the old Latin Mass. It was never banned to begin with but because of overzealous liturgical reformers the Latin in the Mass was considered outdated and the vernacular was the language of the day. It was felt that with the vernacular people would have a better understanding of the Mass and that this would foster a better and more fuller participation. The Blessed Eucharist was to be made so available to everyone it could be placed on anyone's hand while standing and the priest turned to the people so as to see and be seen. Pope Benedict has said that this immediately closed in a circle that just as immediately closed out God. The Pope has begun implementing receiving Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, and he has renewed a significant amount of Latin back into the prayers of the Mass.

Our Liturgy is getting ready to take on another reform soon. Recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to accept new translations for our Mass. You have heard the phrase "lost in translation". That is exactly what happened with the translation of the Mass after Vatican Council II implemented changes from the Latin to the vernacular. We lost so much of the richness to the prayers and the Scriptural translation. These changes will take some getting used to but the translations will be so much more accurate bringing a fuller meaning to what we are saying and witnessing. I hope as well more of the Latin will be used and the true meaning of liturgical east for priest and congregation alike will be implemented. My biggest hope is that once again we will kneel before our Lord and receive Him on our tongue. I firmly believe that with a more reverent appreciation of our Lord there will be a more reverent appreciation for the Mass and our liturgy in general.

A blog I follow by a very learned priest has as its motto, "Save the Liturgy, Save the World". I am beginning to see the point and find myself repeating that motto often as I attend some poorly celebrated liturgies. For I notice that with a poor liturgy there follows a poor and very lax following in the parish. There are many reasons for this and that will have to be a subject for another time. In the meantime, I encourage Catholics to embrace the changes and to also learn the meaning behind the reasons. It will all be worth it, all for the glory of God.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What are we waiting for?

Happy New Year! Yes it is a new year for us as Catholics. We begin our new Church liturgical year with the season of Advent. We are celebrating the expectation and anticipation of the coming of Jesus. For the Jewish people it was the waiting and expectation of the birth of a Savior, for us as Catholics we anticipate the second coming of Christ. We wait in joyful hope....

To be honest it was only recently I knew what those words actually signified. Like everyone I decorated for Christmas shortly after Thanksgiving and then Christmas was over right after the actual day. I related that time of preparation to the material, I didn't do anything for me personally, my interior preparation, so to speak. I never thought about the waiting and the getting ready and what that was supposed to mean to me as a Christian. I remember one time I gave all my 5th grade students a small wrapped box of candy and made them sit it on their desk and wait until after Christmas Day to open it. The wait was very hard for them, but wait they did. I think there might have been only one student that opened his present ahead of time, but the others waited and seemed very proud of themselves for doing so. I told them that Advent was a perfect time to practice the virtue of patience. It was a lesson I learned as well. I think trying to teach them about the Israelites and those Jews that waited for a lifetime for a Savior to be born was something difficult to grasp. I'm not sure I was able to understand what all the fuss was about at that age. But having to look at a wrapped gift for three weeks would have been excruciating, the wondering would have killed me. I hope that with that one particular lesson and the celebrating of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I gave them some insight into 'getting themselves ready' to receive Jesus into their hearts and lives and to the changes in themselves they can expect by doing so.

A few years ago, we began to put off decorating the tree until just before Christmas Day. Everyday or so, I would put up a few more decorations and we would 'travel' the Nativity set until all the pieces came together on the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Wise Men would appear kneeling next to baby Jesus. This would take place over several weeks, all the cast of characters in different rooms of the house and the kids would anticipate whose room the Holy Family would travel to next to get to Bethlehem, located in a prominent place under the Christmas tree. It has remained a tradition in our house for many years now. I hope they will continue the tradition in their own homes someday. Doing this has helped me to truly appreciate the gift of the Christmas season, that it doesn't end on Christmas Day, it lasts a full twelve days to celebrate the greatest gift we have ever been given.

Last year at Lent we were preparing for a visiting priest to celebrate a Traditional Latin Mass in our parish and he was running a few minutes late. As we all sat in the pews, waiting, quietly reflecting and anticipating, it struck me that this must have been what it felt like. This feeling of wondering and not quite knowing what was going to happen, this must have been what the Israelites felt, what Mary and Elizabeth and Joseph must have felt while waiting for the birth of the newborn King. Or even Anna and Simeon, waiting all their lives for a Savior so they might be redeemed. That is the feeling at Advent. What excitement that must have been.
So yes indeed get ready and get prepared for Christ is truly coming. Anticipate Him and wait for Him and then fully enjoy the season, all twelve days of them. And then...lucky us, we can celebrate the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist every time we receive Him in the Mass.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I love this time of the year. Maybe because it's my birthday month, but I have always been drawn to the season of Fall. The colors of the changing leaves are glorious and remind me of a perpetual sunset. It's that time of the day when you might sit and reflect on your day, think about all you did that day , or all you failed to half empty, glass half full kind of thing.

I am so thankful for so many things, but especially my faith and the gift God has given me in the Eucharist. I have been given so much and it's times like these I know God has given me an opportunity to give back. I hope I can reflect that in my daily life. My husband teases me about the little pity parties I have once in a while, I mean really we're all entitled, right? I look back on those whiny Israelites in the desert and realize we all fail to fully appreciate the bounty we have been given...until we lose it or it has been taken away.

I look at the richness that is my life and I wonder what I have to grouse about. Do you ever whine or complain and then, almost immediately, you hear a story that makes your situation look laughable? That happens to me all the time, and I realize God has just humbled me to my knees. He has such a way of hitting you upside the head at the most opportune moment, well of course He does, He is all that is. Thankfully I have the insight to recognize these moments for what they are, teaching moments. Sadly there are some who don't, or can't see God for who or what He is. It is most unfortunate.

I watched a video the other day with my 2nd graders, it was Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I realized as we were watching that they actually made a mention of thanking God at least four or five times during the show and of course little Linus, the youngest and most insightful, offered up this beautiful prayer for all the bounty and wonderful gift of friends. It made me wonder that if the video were made today would there be a mention of God, in particular, anywhere in the piece. It made me think about our founding history, the ethics our country was founded on, and I thought how sad that there is even a debate about the mention of God in our Pledge of Allegiance or whether the fact that we should trust in God should be on our currency. These thoughts lead to even deeper thoughts that eventually make me angry and today is not a day to be angry. That can be discussed on another blog.

So I will get ready to go to Mass and give thanks to the Lord for what is just and right. I am thankful my family is all together and I pray that you, too are with family and friends and know that you are loved dearly. God Bless! and ...Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Are we missionaries?

Today at Mass we had a visiting missionary from St. Lucia. We were reminded of our universal call to be missionaries to all. He reminded us that Jesus was first and foremost a missionary. He had been sent by the Father and he in turn sent the disciples out to all the nations to bring the 'good news' the end of the earth.

As I listened to him speak, I wondered how many people knew where St. Lucia was or considered the poverty of other countries. The deacon speaking to us said the children had to take their chairs with them from class to class because there was most likely not a chair in the next classroom. A mom sitting in front of me leaned over and asked her young daughter if she could imagine that. It was a wonderful teaching moment for them. Fortunately for our parish this talk of mission is not new to us. Our previous priest is now a missionary priest in Mexico and he made regularly trips with parishioners down to the mission prior to his leaving us. He made it a point to include missionary teaching in our school and parish. Our children learned to collect their pennies, toiletries, out-grown clothes, shoes and socks to be sent regularly to the mission. It was who we were as church and our families were very generous. Sadly because of flu and border violence our trips have been postponed but the generosity of our parish continues. We are truly blessed to have the opportunity to share our gifts with the missions.

This week before Thanksgiving our school begins their annual food drive for the needy of the parish. It always amazes me to see the donations overflowing the baskets. The students will also be filling the mission banks with their pennies to be sent down to the mission once again with a note wishing the parishioners of Saltillo a Happy Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for it just seems natural to share all we have. I'm sure we don't often stop to be thankful for the chair or desk we have in the classroom, things we take for granted. After listening to the missionary remind us once again that we are called by our Baptism to be missionaries to one another maybe we will look at all those material possessions in a new light.

..go in peace to love and serve the Lord and one another...Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is it Christmas yet?

I was walking through the mall a couple of weeks ago and lo and behold, there it was... the huge tree in the middle of the courtyard. It was decorated with lights, big red bows and large gold balls. Around the tree were animated reindeer and brightly colored packages, oh it was festive. What disturbed me was that it was 80 degrees outside and did I mention it was October?
Once again I was taken aback by the greed of the secular industry and the gullibility of the consumer. I was also saddened by the fact that by the time Jesus' birthday does roll around His followers will be so weary of the "holy-day" sights He will have been forgotten on day 2 of our Liturgical Christmas season if He hasn't been shoved to the back of the celebratory calendar already. Need I remind everyone this is a time of Thanksgiving, it's not Christmas yet!
I told the kids the other day we would be focusing on Thanksgiving the next few weeks, so everyday we would say or write about something we are thankful for. Interestingly a facebook friend posted this same thought on her page, to offer something everyday that one was thankful for. What a challenge.
Historicallly, the Israelites would go up to Jerusalem every year at the Fall Harvest and offer their first fruits and harvest to God in thanksgiving for all their gifts given them from God. They would live in tents to remind them of the time they lived in tents in the desert after leaving Egypt. This festival is called the Festival of Booths. This festival lasted seven days and culminated on the Sabbath. It was this festival that was going on when the disciples saw Jesus in the Transfiguration and they offered to build a booth for Elijah and Moses, remember?
The word eucharist means thanksgiving. In the Mass we give praise and thanksgiving to God for His Son given to us in Holy Eucharist. It is this breaking of bread that makes us one in Christ and we literally become the Body of Christ. As Church we have so much to be thankful for, first and foremost, Christ Himself. Let's not shortchange Him by not paying Him homage and giving Him his due at the true Christmas season. This season begins on December 25th and lasts until Jan 6th. Presently we are closing out our liturgical year with Ordinary Time. We will begin a new liturgical year on November 29th with Advent as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why does religion class focus so much on doctrine?

In one of my classes last semester we were discussing the oft times misconception regarding the teaching of the faith as opposed to teaching the children about having a personal relationship with Christ. I had shared a story about a parent who questioned the fact their child had a "D" in Religion when the child went to Mass every week and was an altar boy. I could not for the life of me get this person to understand the difference between teaching the doctrine of the faith and spending time in prayer with the Lord. They are not the same, as evidenced by the "D" in Religion class.
Religion as an academic subject can be difficult. There is a lot of "meat" to be learned. We have 2000+ years of tradition to live and learn. I mean tradition in the strictest sense of the word, the tradition with a capital "T". As a Catholic religion teacher I have great responsibility to help children come to understand why we as Catholics do the things we do and where it all comes from. I do stress the importance of knowing our faith in order to help them understand why it must be lived as well and this does include their prayer life.
I have mentioned before that we as Catholics are losing our identity as Catholics because we do not know the teaching of our faith. Our Catholic faith is rooted in Sacred Scripture and the Traditions of the Church. This deposit of faith has been passed down Apostolically, meaning apostle to apostle, pope to pope, bishop to bishop, for 2000+ years. That is incredible and it was meant to be because Jesus Christ meant for it to be. I tell my Confirmation class that when they go off to college the day will come, if it hasn't already, someone will ask them why they do such and such in the Catholic Church or why we don't do such and such. It is important for them to be able to defend the Faith, defend the teachings that have been safeguarded all these years. They are the future of our Church, hopefully there are some future priests and nuns in the mix as well.
I firmly believe, and this is where the faith and reason issue comes into play, that if a person knows and understands their faith, can reason and rationalize it, the faith will follow. To know this incredible faith of ours surely makes someone stop and contemplate the awesome wonder of what God has done for us. Some people have told me different, it is their faith and belief that keeps them rooted in the Church and they believe that it is this faith that will keep their kids in the Church. It is a personal relationship with Christ that will keep them Catholic. ummm I wonder....
The Catholic Church is so rich in Tradition and so rooted in Scripture. Other religions are Scripture based and encourage a personal relationship with Christ, but the Magisterial teaching that hands down that apostolic tradition is what keeps us grounded in truth. This is the reason the Catholic Church has been around all those 2000+ years. It is the truth and it is this truth that wells up in us to reach out for a personal relationship with Christ, the Truth.
As Catholics parents we have a responsibility to teach our children the prayers of the faith and to make sure they attend Mass regularly. The little "t" traditions of the Church come from the handing down the faith from parent to child. If a child sees a parent in prayer, or sees their parent genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, that speaks volumes for the development of that child's personal relationship with Christ. I had a lady fuss at me once because the second graders I was with didn't all genuflect before entering the pew and wanted to know if I was teaching them to do so. I assured her I could teach them and remind them to genuflect until the cows came home but if they didn't see their parents doing it then I didn't have a leg to stand on. My point is that this lady thought it was my responsibility to teach them this so it must be my fault they weren't doing it. I teach them why we do it and can show them how but this must be lived by all Catholics to make an impact on the faithful.
This week we as Catholics are being encouraged to contact our legislators to vote "no" regarding a health care reform bill that does not mandate the refusal of using funds for abortion. As Catholics the respect for life, unborn and elderly and disabled, is fundamental to the dignity of the human being as created in the image and likeness of God. Yet I wonder how many have done so and how many make this teaching a priority in their faith life. In order to have this personal relationship with Christ I would think that this understanding of the human person would ironically be the basis of what is "personal". We know Christ because He was a person, a human person. It doesn't get any more personal than that.