OK, for starters, raise your hand if you’re tired of me writing in the Clarion. (Mom? Terry? REALLY?)
I came to Saint Anne in February of 1994, so I celebrated my 24th anniversary this past February, most of which I have served as both the Music and Liturgy Director of the parish. For the first few years, I worked with Courtney Murtaugh and Clem Aseron who did most of the liturgical heavy lifting and put on the liturgy hat when Courtney moved on to other work. Before coming to Saint Anne, I had been in a similar job at St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix, Arizona, near Peoria and I-17, for those of you who so intelligently spend your winters there. It was in Phoenix that I studied liturgy for two years under Fr. John Gallen, SJ, which is where I also met Gary Daigle and began that long relationship. Of course, I had studied liturgy in seminary, but Gallen’s approach was to teach a “pastoral liturgy” course in the sense that the Second Vatican Council has imagined one, and he brought in experts in all kinds of fields, many of whom were his colleagues at Notre Dame or, as he loved to point out, former students.
The idea was that, armed with this broad-based pastorally-oriented study of the liturgy of the church from its ecclesial and Christological sources through the whole range of sacraments, the divine office, sacred art and music and so on, a person could become a resource to his or her parish as a professional staff person (or a volunteer minister for that matter) and what amounted to a better liturgical background than most of our pastors had. For the most part, this worked, and with a handful of other cities, Phoenix became a place where, twenty years ago, there was a network of people who helped to cultivate the liturgical ministry in parishes.
Now, all of that sounds fine, and pastors were genuinely happy to have trained religious and laypersons around to help do this sort of thing. We ended up doing the sort of work that would let priests do priest things, like visiting the sick, counseling and playing golf. (KIDDING!)
What I want to get around to saying is, when it comes to liturgy, I don’t really direct anything. I mean, Georgene and I do our best to see that scripts are accurate, ministers are recruited, trained and prepared, music is good, the church is lovely and all that, but that’s not liturgy. In truth, the presider at each Mass directs the liturgy. You can argue about the pastor or the bishop or the pope doing it, but when the church gathers, the presider does the directing. The best accurate job title I can think of that describes what I do is “Director of Lay Liturgical Ministries,” though the choir might argue whether I’m the director or misdirector.
Then again … when it comes right down to it, the priest doesn’t “direct the liturgy” either. He can guide its flow. He presides over the chaotic humanity of the rite. But the one who is in charge, thank God, is, well, God. The liturgy is the work of people, yes, but people who have been incorporated into the cosmic worship of the Father by Christ. Or itʹs a ʺpublic work,ʺ done on behalf ofhoi polloi, by the church. It is Christ alone who knows the Father as an equal and can love in return with the same divine love that the Father is. Through Christ, united to him and to one anothersolely by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are, amazingly, privileged to join in the eternal liturgy which Isaiah and John the Divine fell over their words trying to describe from their visions.
When is the liturgy successful? When we listen to the command to “Go to love and serve the Lord,” and we do that by serving each other in our lives and in our community, especially those unable to really help themselves. God directs that journey to the reign of God, peacefully, patiently, with all the freedom that love demands. I want to, try to, enable that kind of response to the gospel. Or at least stay out of the way.
I’ll leave you with these words from Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, which say so poetically what needs to be said about liturgy:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. (page 45).