"New Translation Thursday" greetings from Southern California.
It is early here, mind you, not "bright and early," but my body clock is still in the Midwest. For those of you unfamiliar with the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, this annual gathering of Catholics from the Unites States, Canada, and from other countries around the world, is one of the largest annual gatherings of Catholics on the planet. I have been offering workshops here at Congress for about ten years. My focus is always on the RCIA. This weekend, I am offering two workshops: "RCIA: Back to the Basics," and "RCIA and the Roman Missal: A Model for Liturgical Catechesis."
The latter workshop focuses on the possibilities that the advent of the new translation of The Roman Missal, Third Edition offers for RCIA catechists. Basically, I am urging RCIA ministers to help develop a mystagogical way of living the liturgy in the hearts and minds of the catechumens and candidates entrusted to their care. As many of us know, catechumens attend the Liturgy of the Word at Sunday Mass with the rest of the parish community. Following the ancient tradition of the Church, they are then dismissed from the Sunday assembly and sent with a catechist to reflect on their experience of having prayed with the community and listened to the word proclaimed, sung, and preached. In the vast majority of parishes, that reflection session focuses on the Sunday's scripture readings. Later, doctrinal formation can flow from the content of those scriptures. I, and others, are advocating a wider approach to these reflection sessions. I am urging RCIA ministers to use the other "texts" of the Introductory Rites and Liturgy of the Word as fodder for the discussion and reflection. For instance, the praying and singing of the Gloria provides a rich experience from which the truths of our faith can be drawn and expanded during the reflection sessions. Here at the Congress, in addition to the text of the Gloria, I am using two Collects as examples of how we can use these particular texts to show ways that our faith is expressed when we celebrate the liturgy. I have deliberately chosen one of the more challenging collects, which employs the term "abasement." I am hoping that this will offer an opportunity for these ministers to delve more deeply into trying to get to the heart of words in the new translation which,at first glance or hearing, might seem quite odd.
My hope is that these ministers can train catechumens and candidates in a mystagogical way of life. In other words, form new Catholics who will learn to pay much closer attention to the singing and praying of these texts so that the rest of their Catholic lives can be enriched week after week after their initiation. High hopes? Some might think so. Another motive here, of course, is that I would want the RCIA ministers themselves to see the richness of the faith that is expressed in these texts. I am employing Pope Benedict XVI's straightforward method of mystagogical catechesis as he expresses in Sacramentum Caritatis. This method is well worth reading. I know this is a long quote, but please take the time to read it and reflect on ways that you employ this method in your own life or in your own ministry:
64. The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one's life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops asked that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words. Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate. Given the vital importance of this personal and conscious participatio, what methods of formation are needed? The Synod Fathers unanimously indicated, in this regard, a mystagogical approach to catechesis, which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated. (186) In particular, given the close relationship between the ars celebrandi and an actuosa participatio, it must first be said that "the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well." (187) By its nature, the liturgy can be pedagogically effective in helping the faithful to enter more deeply into the mystery being celebrated. That is why, in the Church's most ancient tradition, the process of Christian formation always had an experiential character. While not neglecting a systematic understanding of the content of the faith, it centred on a vital and convincing encounter with Christ, as proclaimed by authentic witnesses. It is first and foremost the witness who introduces others to the mysteries. Naturally, this initial encounter gains depth through catechesis and finds its source and summit in the celebration of the Eucharist. This basic structure of the Christian experience calls for a process of mystagogy which should always respect three elements:
a) It interprets the rites in the light of the events of our salvation, in accordance with the Church's living tradition. The celebration of the Eucharist, in its infinite richness, makes constant reference to salvation history. In Christ crucified and risen, we truly celebrate the one who has united all things in himself (cf. Eph 1:10). From the beginning, the Christian community has interpreted the events of Jesus' life, and the Paschal Mystery in particular, in relation to the entire history of the Old Testament.
b) A mystagogical catechesis must also be concerned with presenting the meaning of the signs contained in the rites. This is particularly important in a highly technological age like our own, which risks losing the ability to appreciate signs and symbols. More than simply conveying information, a mystagogical catechesis should be capable of making the faithful more sensitive to the language of signs and gestures which, together with the word, make up the rite.
c) Finally, a mystagogical catechesis must be concerned with bringing out the significance of the rites for the Christian life in all its dimensions – work and responsibility, thoughts and emotions, activity and repose. Part of the mystagogical process is to demonstrate how the mysteries celebrated in the rite are linked to the missionary responsibility of the faithful. The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated. The aim of all Christian education, moreover, is to train the believer in an adult faith that can make him a "new creation", capable of bearing witness in his surroundings to the Christian hope that inspires him.
Please pray for those who are here in Anaheim for this Congress. I will do my best to share my experience here with you over the next several days.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.