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Monday, March 19, 2012

Helping People Understand Sunday Mass

This is the second of four blogs that will be posted throughout this year, focused on the main issues the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council provided recommendations for, at the request of Cardinal George.

During its meeting on Saturday, January 21, 2012, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC) discussed Cardinal George’s second issue for 2011-2012, “List some specific things that parishes can do to help people better understand the Sunday Mass”.  This issue was prompted by the upcoming Year of the Sunday Mass (beginning July 1, 2012), which is a part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Strategic Pastoral Plan.  Forty-five delegates to the APC, representing parishes across the entire Archdiocese, participated in this discussion with Monsignor John Canary, who presided over the meeting in place of Cardinal George, who was in Washington, D.C. at a national conference.

Based on feedback collected from parishes across the Archdiocese and the written reports from the APC Archdiocesan Life Committee and the APC Catholic Education Committee, three recommended areas of priority emerged to enhance a better understanding of the Sunday Mass: (1)  an in-depth exploration of the Mass structure, commonly referred to as a “teaching Mass”; (2) increased reference to the weekly readings and homilies,  both in the Parish bulletin and other Parish technologies; and (3) the coordination of outside resources to enhance worship at the Sunday Mass.  An additional recommendation was for the Bishops of the Archdiocese to celebrate a Mass, other than during Confirmation, at least once a year in every Parish in the Archdiocese.

Many specific examples were offered.  As the Mass is a celebration and not a seminar, the APC was reminded that the Priest is the celebrant and not a lecturer.  Expanding a worshiper’s understanding of the Mass structure and meaning might best be accomplished before or after the Mass celebration, and can include explanations from someone other than the Presider.  Needs and circumstances of individual Parishes will determine the optimum program to be planned.

The regular use of the Parish bulletin for posting of the following Sunday’s readings was encouraged.  Asking reflective questions about the readings should stimulate prior contemplation.  Use of all available communication technologies should be promoted.  After the week-end Masses, all homilies presented at every Mass could be posted in writing on the Parish’s website.  In addition to the written word, some Parishes currently post an oral record of all homilies on their websites.  Incorporating social networks of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in the Parish communication stream, as the Archdiocese does, was also suggested.  The opportunity to engage in an “interactive homily” between the Presider and the congregation during Mass was suggested, but not encouraged.   Regrouping after Mass and meeting with the Presider for interactive homiletic discourse could be an enlightening alternative.  In practical terms, interaction after the last Sunday morning Mass would permit a more flexible timeframe because of any space or parking constraints.

A wide variety of resources to enhance an attendee’s understanding of the Mass should be made available.  Source materials include but are not limited to:  the Archdiocesan website; the Office for Divine Worship (ODW); Liturgy Training Publications (LTP); Father Robert Baron’s epic Catholicism documentary, and the works of Dr. Edmund Sri.  Coordinating resources with those offered by a Parish's Religious Education and School programs would reinforce and expand the presentations made to the general parish community.

In his remarks, Monsignor Canary pointed out that the Archdiocese's Strategic Pastoral Planning Committee has already started to explore educational programs regarding the Sunday Mass. He believes that such education will lead to a widespread hunger for and deeper understanding and appreciation of the Mass.  He said that the changes in the third edition of the Roman Missal will encourage a deeper appreciation for the Mass in the congregations and the priests.  The Mass will help us to discern grace and sin and how we live our lives.  Monsignor Canary stated that the motivation for attending Mass must be addressed. He called on all of us to identify the differences that the Mass makes in our lives and whether we will rearrange our priorities to attend Sunday Mass. Monsignor Canary noted that in one Parish of the Archdiocese, Matthew Kelly’s book Rediscovering Catholicism was handed out to every family.  The pastor promised that after reading the book and attending Mass every Sunday for the upcoming year, the recipients would be happier and would discover more meaning in their lives. Monsignor Canary described this process as part of an increasing awareness of the "human ecology"-- recognition that we must take care of our spiritual lives or else destructive things will happen to us.

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