Discussing the rituals of life and the rituals of the Catholic Church – a little something for everyone!

Archive for the ‘Rituals’ Category

Are YOU ready for Triduum?

I know I shouldn’t ask this question out loud because every good liturgist, musician and pastor that I know has already completed or is just finishing up their Triduum planning for this year… ūüėČ

However, there are those who wait until about Lent 5 before they crack open their Roman Missal and start looking it over. This year, with the 3rd Edition firmly in place, it might be a wise idea for those who put off the inevitalbe to wait no longer and start looking for any and all changes NOW! Just reading over the new language for those prayers that only come around once a year is worth an earlier start but if a celebrant is planning on singing the Exsultet the words are VERY different than what most of us are used to hearing. Fitting them to the slightly altered chant tune may take a little work so better to start working on that now than the week before. Performance pressure is not pretty any time but during Triduum it’s just down right ugly.

Since I am serving in the role of MC this year I’m just waiting to sit down with my Pastor and finalize our plans. Haven’t been the “liturgical guidepost” for a few years so I’ll be sure to check over everything twice before I put the servers through their paces. I believe that a good liturgist is like a good chef – it’s all in the preparations!

May the Spirit be with all of us as we prepare our parishes and our hearts to once again enter this important season. I’m ready…are you?

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We interrupt this missal preparation for an important message… Prepare ye the way for ADVENT!

Yes, friends, it’s true! I have returned from the sidelines of blogging, thanks to some God-incidences of the past week (and a challenge I couldn’t refuse), and I’m raring to go with a very timely topic. ¬†Now, it will remain to be seen if I can keep up the weekly correspondence this blog and its great readers deserve but know that I will give it the best I can as I juggle my crazy life. ‘Nuf said – let’s get to it!

As all of us in liturgy have been dealing with the past year, the Revised Roman Missal is just about ready to become part of our liturgical DNA on Sunday, November 27th, which is the 1st Sunday of Advent. Choirs have practiced new or revised mass parts,¬†missals and pew¬†cards¬†have¬†been¬†bought¬†and are ready¬†to¬†be¬†used; workshops, coffee¬†‘n¬†chats and small¬†groups¬†sessions¬†have met, learned, pondered and practiced the new words with various degrees of comfort. ¬†While it is true we humans don’t like change, I believe that most of the folks I’ve encountered through the workshops I’ve conducted are willing to give this new translation a chance. ¬†Hopefully that will be the case throughout the English-speaking world once all is said and done.

However, amid the hubbub and preparations for the introduction of the new missal, I feel that something is getting lost in the shuffle Рmainly, the beginning of the new liturgical year and the upcoming Season of Advent itself.  Now, I realize that the translation change has been in the works for many years and that we as a church are trying not to repeat history (and histrionics) from a time gone by but Рthink about it Рwith all the rehearsing and preparation going into the missal, most of those who prepare for these seasonal changes might probably be jumping right from this to Christmas with nary a thought about the season which starts it all off.  We could be giving Advent the short-shift this year without really knowing or thinking about it!

It’s bad enough that the secular world starts the day after Halloween (and sometimes even before that) to prepare for Christmas and gives no thought whatsoever to Advent or Christmas as separate and distinct seasons. While carols and songs permeate the airwaves from now until 6pm on Christmas Day (at least in my neck of the woods) stores are decked out in all their red and green finery, just calling to us to get an early start on finding that “perfect” gift for the one we love – as if retail therapy is the real reason for the season. ¬†Where’s the emphasis on the CHRIST part of Christmas? Won’t find that out in a world that continually erases God from it’s collective speech and thought. That type of awareness needs to come from us as Church and we need to be consistent in our thoughts and actions.

Now, if we have been too busy in preparations for both the revised missal and Christmas, are we going to be able to give the upcoming Season of Advent its proper due? ¬†Those four weeks – which are a full four this year! – are crucial to bringing folks to a full understanding of the Incarnation (one of the new words in our Creed, by the way). From the first moments of the First Sunday of Advent, we need to be fully engaged in presenting and unfolding the mysteries of the first and second coming of Christ through Isaiah’s rich imagery and Mark’s “just the facts” gospel in this Cycle B year. ¬†According to local custom, Advent wreaths get blessed and lit for the first time but doing this ritual after the homily (as prescribed in our¬†Book of Blessings)¬†shows both its proper place and importance in the liturgy (remember, the wreath is a worthy¬†home¬†activity for the season).

I feel very strongly that placing other rituals – from Rites of Acceptance to blessing the new parish missal – does not constitute smart liturgical practice and truly have no place in the opening liturgy of the Advent season. There will be those who will disagree with me on the premise of “new year, new things” but those extras truly dull the focus and impact the season deserves. Include in that misstep those who feel that decorating their Churches for the next season around the 3rd Sunday of Advent is a good thing! It is bad enough that rest of the world jumps Advent out of sheer ignorance – if we as a church join in and treat Advent in much the same manner, we are no better than our secular friends whose trees are put up on Veteran’s Day and are tossed to the curb on December 26th. ¬†The temptation to jump ahead to the “more important” season is there for sure and the distraction of the implementation is dividing our attentions further. ¬†I pray that most liturgists, musician, pastors and other planners of Liturgy have seen to it that missal preparations end on the Feast of Christ the King – that’s a great time to bless the new missals and say farewell to the old (even though we’ll still be using our beloved Sacramentary through Thanksgiving) and are planning their “deck the church” activities for full week for December 25th (a Sunday this year).

On paper, our Church does extremely well in keeping the spirit and focus of our various seasons – in pastoral practice, lines get so blurred at times that the pew folks really notice that all is not well, yet can’t always articulate their observations properly. ¬†Let all of us responsible for planning and executing our sacred rituals take the advent of the coming new liturgical year to brush up on our understanding of the different seasons and what we should be about in celebrating them to the full. ¬†In other words, before using that shiny new missal, take time to read the¬†General Instruction¬†at the beginning of the book. ¬†Brush up on¬†Sing to the Lord¬†if you are a musician. ¬†Even dust off the old¬†Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy¬†to¬†help renew your weary spirit. ¬†If you’re responsible for helping others prepare, then prepare yourself as well. ¬†Be a wise and not foolish virgin (hope you listened to today’s gospel!) as you prepare for the coming of the first season of the new year. ¬†May we all in humility continue to work to help all our parishes and assemblies transition from season to season, year to year the best we possibly can. Good liturgy IS the work of all the Church! Our God deserves no less from His people.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” – The Liturgies of Holy Week and Triduum: The Chrism Mass

For the first ten years of my ministry in the Church, I functioned as a Cantor at Cathedral liturgies and learned early on to appreciate and love those rituals that are particular to the diocesan Mother Church. The yearly Chrism Mass is one of those forgotten or unseen by most regular Catholics because it it is only celebrated at a Cathedral and usually at a time deemed most inconvenient for working folks.  Originally meant for the morning of Holy Thursday, at least in the United States it is usually moved to an early time during Holy Week to allow all clergy in a diocese to attend without having to hurry back to their parishes for the evening start of Triduum.  Of the six Dioceses that are within an hour of my home, two of them (Providence & Springfield) celebrated this ancient rite on Monday evening while the other four (Boston, Fall River, Norwich and Worcester) chose various times on Tuesday for their rituals.  This year, due to my work schedule, I was unable to attend in person but thanks to those wonderful folks at CatholicTV (you really should sign their petition to bring that great channel to your cable system or, better yet, watch them on the web) I was able to record and playback the Mass yesterday while I was home practicing for the three days ahead.

The Chrism Mass serves a dual purpose in the life of the Catholic Church – to renew the promises made by priests at their ordination and to bless and consecrate the Holy Oils (Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism – the latter from which is ritual takes its name) used by parishes during the year. Unfortunately, because it is probably the largest clergy gathering of the year (in my estimations it usually surpasses most ordinations – your mileage may vary) it has and continues to become a lightening rod for supporters of women’s ordination.¬†¬†Ok, here’s my rant of the day (please feel free to scroll down if you’re not interested – thanks) –> Ladies, as one of you who can understand your pain, let’s be rational here – the Church is not going to change its mind on this issue any time soon so picketing, shouting and processing down the middle aisle at any point during this celebration just serves to make things worse.¬†¬†I learned early on that no one – male or female – has a RIGHT to ordination.¬†¬†It is a CALL to service and while it is not open to us at this time we as women ARE called to service in this Church and in more areas now than ever before in its history.¬†¬†Let us focus on that, do our very best at what God is calling each of us to do and wait upon the Spirit to move in its time, not ours.¬†¬†This is a time in our Church where we need to be united with our clergy, not heaping more coal upon their heads as they try to do what they are called to do. (“Have I said too much? There’s nothing more I can think of to say to you…”) Rant complete for today.
Back to the ritual РAfter the Homily, the Bishop asks the priests to stand and renew their priestly commitment before the assembly, who he then asks to support himself and these priests in their ministry.  This exchange takes the place of both the Creed and the General Intercession.  After this, the Procession of the Oils and the Gifts of Bread and Wine takes place so that the oils may be blessed and consecrated at this time.  There is a little known (and hardly ever used in these parts) tradition that has the Oil of the Sick blessed at the end of the Eucharist Prayer while the others are blessed and consecrated after Communion but I believe most dioceses in this country prefer the ritual after the Liturgy of the Word and before the Eucharistic Prayer.  So, once the procession reaches the sanctuary, those who are carrying the vessels with oil Рand there are usually two bearers for each container because they are usually large, ornate and decently heavy once filled Рwait to be called forward to place their vessel on the table setup somewhere appropriate in the space.  Both the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumens are blessed, while the Sacred Chrism is first mixed with balsam which gives it its distinctly sweet smell and then breathed upon by the Bishop in a calling down of the Holy Spirit. Then all the priests extend their right hands toward the Chrism in solidarity to finish the prayer yet it is the Bishop who actually consecrates this most sacred of oils.  Once this is done, the Mass continues as usual.
Of all the Masses I’ve ministered or attended in my adult years, this one is up there as one of my favorites and I try my best to attend when I can. ¬†Since this blog appears on Thursday afternoon, I hope my humble musings will make you think about possibly attending your own diocese’s ritual next year. Put a reminder in your iDevice now with an alarm set for the beginning of Lent so that you can give yourself a chance to visit your Cathedral and experience this sacred tradition.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” – The Liturgies of Holy Week and Triduum: Passion/Palm Sunday

First off, thanks to all those who contacted me offline to see how I was feeling after my tussle with the stomach bug.¬† I am now fully recovered (except for diminished appetite, which is good for losing some weight) and fully involved in my most favorite time of the liturgical year.¬† Never mind Christmas with its heavy commercial promotion – Holy Week, Triduum and Easter are more off of the pop culture radar and less controversial (unless you’re from my area where some have outlawed the “Easter Bunny” for, well, you can guess why…).¬† I’ll trade evergreens, carols and poinsettias for palms, chants and lilies any day!¬† In honor of my love for this holiest week of the Church’s year, I’ve also set out to redeem myself with my online readers and present a series of explanations on these complicated, once-a-year rituals.

Too ambitious a project for an overworked DRE & Liturgist?  Perhaps.  Am I certifiably crazy for trying this my first week back on the blog?  You betcha!

Anyway, I’m willing to give it a shot if you’re willing to read and comment.¬† I need your feedback to make this work so let’s begin with today special celebrations:

Holy Week begins with the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem on what is to be titled in the forthcoming new translation as Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.¬† There are three different movements that can begin this ritual journey:
1) a full procession from a place distinct from the church of celebration before the principal Mass
2) a solemn entrance from the door or inside the church
3) a simple entrance like any other Sunday

Now, the first two would include not only movement around the church by those assembled but also the proclamation of the Gospel from either Matthew (year A) Mark or John (year B) or Luke (year C) on Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. I have discovered in the last 20-30 years that American Catholics either do not like to process or don’t know how to do so in a reverent way. Inviting them to start in a different place than their regular seat at Mass is met with indifference, indignation or the request is just plain ignored.¬† I grew up in a Azorean (Portuguese) American culture where processions (even out in the streets of my hometown) were a way of church life so one learned early how to do so with respect and precision.¬† That’s why I have a hard time comprehending why it takes so much coaxing and prodding to get folks to leave their seats and move around or from one liturgical space to another.¬† Processions are not done simply to move Bishops, liturgical ministers or sacramental candidates from point A to point B – they serve to remind us of the pilgrimages of old, when folks would take a trip to a holy place in order to learn something about themselves and their faith.¬† When that type of travel was made easier over the centuries, processions outside of our churches evolved into a reflection of our own spiritual journey that sometimes need to be publicly demonstrated.¬† Ritually, there are only three real processions in our church year that begs for everyone in the pew to become a part of – the one that opens Palm Sunday, the one that takes the reserved Eucharist to its place of repose on Holy Thursday and the one at the start of the Easter Vigil.¬† Some traditions include one on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ but those become ethnically driven, much like what I experienced as a child when we processed the “dead body” of Jesus after the Good Friday ritual or took to the streets in honor of the Holy Spirit around Pentecost.¬† In any case, I guess my hope is that if you are asked to move from your comfortable pew and “take a stroll” around the church this year, give it a sincere try – ritual movement is not just for priests, deacons and altar servers!

**gets down off her liturgical soap box now – that will happen occasionally**¬† Back to the subject at hand –

Once the palms are blessed and the Gospel is read, the rubrics suggest that a brief homily may be given – I believe the only time in our year that two different homilies can happen in one celebration. My pastor/boss chooses this time to speak on the importance of this day as the gateway to the Triduum and then, after the Passion, he encourages us to reflect on what we have just heard in silence.¬† As Hosannas are sung to accompany the procession, we move from the Hall to the Church where most folks have left something at their usual seat to tell others that it is occupied.¬† That works most of the time.¬† Now, if we begin with a solemn entrance, folks gather usually inside at the doors of the church while others are in their seats.¬† All of what happens during the first option happens here as well.¬† This is usually the choice if the weather outside is “frightful” or can be chosen at other parish Masses not considered the “Principal” Mass.¬† These days most pastors in my neck of the woods would not make that distinction outside of the 7 or 8am Masses in the morning, where they also would use the shorter version of the Passion.¬† FInally, the simple entrance is just that – simply how we begin Mass at any other time during the year without hearing the entrance Gospel.¬† I would hope this third option is used very sparingly because this Sunday and its pageantry sets the tone of the entire week and sets it apart from the rest of the liturgical year.

After the opening Mass continues in the usual way until the reading of the Passion, which this year is taken from Matthew’s Gospel (this being Year A in our three year cycle).¬† Traditionally, it is meant to be chanted by three readers, but how many pastors, deacons and lectors do YOU know that can pull this off well and do it multiple times over the weekend?¬† While this is a lofty goal, it is usually not even attempted.¬† Rubrics in the new translation do not stay far from the old ones, which state that the Gospel can be “read by read by (lay) readers, with the part of Christ, if possible, reserved to the Priest.” (Instruction from Passion Sunday Mass – 1986 Sacramentary).¬† While I’m good with dividing this up between readers and even adding a musical refrain to have the an acclamation from the assembly now and then, I have never been a fan of the missalette or hymnal publishers who insist on having the pew folks read, mostly in a drone and with the flipping of pages, parts of the scripture in an attempt to “get them involved” in this long proclamation, especially if they are standing the entire time (I won’t touch upon the “pastoral” practice of sitting at this time – maybe in my Good Friday tome but not today).¬† In the Liturgy of the Word, scripture is supposed to be LISTENED to by proclamation of the Lector, Deacon or Priest.¬† It is NOT a participatory action at any other time of the year and I believe that doing so on these holy days doesn’t help Mass goers absorb any better than if they were listening attentively and singing an acclamation at appropriate intervals.¬† Three good proclaimers, rehearsed and engaged in their task, makes a much better impact and is more reverent to the task.

If there is one thing you will learn about me, it is that no matter what, I am faithfully to the liturgy and its movements.  It is a living entity which, while static on paper, is fluid and spirit-driven in practice, never experienced the same way twice by those who participate in it. Again, more on that at a later date Рjust giving you more insight into how I look at and respect what I do.

I’d like to know what your Passion/Palm Sunday experiences were this weekend in your part of the planet so please leave a comment or two for myself and¬† others to learn from.¬† I’ll be back in a day or two to talk about the one liturgy of Holy Week that few people get a chance to participate in — that is, unless you are part of the clergy – The Chrism Mass.