home events current issue resources
  around the church archive marketplace subscribe
Step One: Assess Strengths  
Stan Zerkowski  

We Catholics are good at identifying our faults and failings and asking the Lord's help to "live lives worthy of the calling [we] have received" (Ephesians 4:1). We must become as proficient at identifying our strengths, both individually and as a community of faith. Identifying strengths and opportunities as well as identifying our weaknesses is imperative to growth—communal and personal. Especially important is this self-examination and assessment as we begin the journey of welcoming and embracing the third edition of The Roman Missal.

Change is usually accompanied by challenges. Changing the language used in our communal expression of our faith can be particularly challenging; emotional attachment notwithstanding, change is difficult. To meet effectively the challenges associated with growing into accepting the revisions in the Missal, it is imperative that we examine our particular faith community and its leaders in an effort to understand ourselves better before we undertake catechesis and design strategies for implementation.

Weaknesses can become strengths (cf. Corinthians 12:10). Identifying our areas of weakness is the first step in knowing where to direct our efforts in order to achieve the goal of educating staff and congregation concerning the revised translation of the Mass. Does the parish staff understand the theology of, and reasons for, the revisions in the liturgy? Can they engage in conversation pursuant to it with reasonable clarity? Is the ministerial staff resistant to the changes? These inherent weaknesses are easily turned into strengths by providing educational materials and creating venues for discussion with parish staff and clergy. If the staff is educated and feels empowered to enter into meaningful discussion about the changes, a fertile milieu will be established wherein the leadership can invite parishioners to begin their journey of understanding and embracing the revisions.

Many in our assemblies have only known the Mass we celebrate today; familiar responses and prayers will need to be relearned. Others remember the changes that occurred during the 1960s and wonder if we are taking a step backward. Understanding that parishioners are coming from so many places in their faith journey is imperative to reaching them. Do we need to do initial catechesis regarding the liturgy and its development and then delve into the changes? Should we use the events of the 1960s as a frame of reference for those who face a second change in their worship? Our approach and models of education must flow from our understanding of those to whom we minister. Ministry flows from mission, and mission is established by understanding the needs of those to whom we minister.

Has your parish had ongoing catechesis and/or discussion regarding the Mass? If not, you have a blank canvas for establishing a new way to deepen the experience of worship through education and theological reflection. If your parish has had a history of liturgical catechesis, placing the revised translation of the Mass within an existing framework will ensure that your community continues to not only worship well, but understand worship more deeply.

Some will ask "do we have to?" The answer to the question—which may be perceived as a weakness, but is really a strength—is that the revision is mandated. In other words, "yes!" The catholicity of the rite goes far beyond local parishes and personal choices. Appropriately conveying that the local community is part of a larger Church is a key element in countering particular resistance. The inherent strength of the revised translation of the Mass is in knowing there is no cavalier decision or personal taste that is driving the implementation, but rather a universal faithfulness to the Latin Roman-rite texts and a sincere attempt to convey theological truths in words that always fall short. Understanding that sincerity and good will is the basis for the generation of the new texts is foundational.

Maximizing opportunities means we must look at our weaknesses. Therein we can often identify ways to strengthen our communities. Presbyters will no doubt need to relearn texts; this could pose a weakness inasmuch as the presider will have to concentrate more heavily on praying the texts. However, together with the assembly who face the same challenge, there emerges an opportunity to pray texts more deliberately, concentrating on words and meaning. A new opportunity for minister and congregation exists to enter more deeply into words designed to create a journey into the mystery of salvation. What could be perceived as a stumbling block is, in fact, the cornerstone of a deeper experience of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:22–25).

An unprecedented opportunity exists pursuant to education and catechesis. More materials exist than ever that, put into the hands of congregants and used effectively by parish leaders, will serve as a foundation for graced discussion, spirited learning and entering more deeply into faith's realm. In Preparing Your Parish for the Revised Roman Missal, Part I (LTP, Chicago), I spoke about the need to plan for the temporal needs associated with the period of implementation and catechesis preceding the use of the revised translation of the Mass. Using the findings of the worksheet, there should have emerged a snapshot of what your parish needs to effectively prepare for this moment in the life of the universal and particular churches. Taking your particular findings pursuant to your needs and budget and using materials particularly developed for the education of assemblies and leaders will be the tools that will invite the Spirit to open hearts and minds, ultimately leading to a deeper encounter with Christ. A haphazard approach will yield questionable results; a strategic approach based on solid planning, particular need, and available resources will ensure a graced result.

Polls indicate that people are hungry for spirituality. Empty ritual never fulfills the hunger for spirituality. The opportunity that is before us, a Church whose ritual defines our identity, is one that will help make certain our ritual is not empty. Within our communities, we must build venues for discussion wherein those seeking deeper spirituality can find it in the Mass. Being curious spectators at a revised ritual in Advent 2011 will never satisfy those hungry for spirituality; essential to the people of God entering fully into the Mass is an accurate understanding of how those entrusted to our pastoral care can be fed sumptuously, understanding more fully and deeply the mystery into which they have become incorporated through Baptism (cf. Christian Initiation, General Introduction, 2).

Debate regarding the value, necessity, and usefulness of the revised translation of the Mass is certainly a strength; never confuse it with a weakness. If your parishioners or staff have openly debated the revisions, it is a sign that they value their sacramental ritual; they love their prayer. People do not discuss with passion matters that are unimportant. Viewpoints may be diverse and reasons for debate myriad; however, even out of chaos the Spirit of God creates unimaginable beauty (cf. Genesis 1:2). Despite the diverse voices, the Spirit will bring unity and light. Harnessing the vital energy that propels passionate debate is crucial. Listening and then engaging in thoughtful, faith-filled, respect-imbued conversation and education are building-blocks of strong, passionate, empowered congregations. Again, congregations and clergy alike must be more than curious spectators at Eucharist. Passion must not be confused with rebellion or dissent. Indeed, passion indicates people care. Knowing that people care passionately is a strength that should be leveraged in countless positive ways. Leadership in impassioned discussion is essential; it is imperative that passion leads to light, not heat!

Piero Marini, former master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, states in his paper "Returning to the Sources:"

It is above all in the Liturgy that renewal cannot do without a sincere and profound return to the sources: sources of that which is celebrated and sources of that which is believed (lex orandi, lex credendi). Digging deep into the sources, the theologian and the liturgist aim simply to penetrate the profundity of the mystery of the faith as it has shown itself in the concrete life of the Church all through her history.

One particular portion of Marini's statement that is of particular use to our discussion is the Latin maxim lex orandi, lex credendi. Whether stating lex orandi, lex credendi or lex credendi, lex orandi, the meaning in Latin is the same. Now, when applying English syntax to the maxim, we can face a particular difficulty in having both phrases mean the same thing. Translated, "We pray what we believe" and "We believe what we pray" are not exactly the same in meaning. Thus, we see an example of the significant challenge to the revised translation of Mass and perhaps a good starting point for the discussion of understanding the translations. Translations and syntax—words—are meaningless unless they are understood in the frame of reference of our worship and experience. History is part and parcel to our experience. Within this basic foundation—the example of the Latin linguistic ambiguity of a simple phrase—is a place to begin the work of leveraging the strength that lies in the challenge of understanding why and how the revised translation is expressing central and foundational beliefs. If we engage our communities in this discussion, we extend to them the opportunity to delve more deeply into understanding the mechanics and theological nuances of the liturgy—the work of the people of God. "And with your Spirit" can be a throwback or a profound statement of belief that goes far deeper in recognizing the Spirit of God in the person of the presider who stands at the head of the community, leading the assembly in prayer. The discussion within our faith communities of this and the entire scope of the revised translations is germane to communities becoming energized and open to discovering theological depth and meaning in words that otherwise might be viewed as a nostalgic return to fanciful language. The strength of this particular discussion lies in understanding the difficulty language has and has always had to articulate theological concepts with succinct clarity.

Assessing our particular challenges and finding our strengths is a critical step in the process of community selfactualization and the implementation of the revised translation of the Mass. In every age, the liturgy has been the vehicle that passes the faith on to the next generation. While the translation might not be open for debate, the conversation about the revised translation—a matter so important to our faith and identity—is imperative. Understanding where a community is in every step of this process will turn weaknesses into strengths and create avenues for passionate discussion and unprecedented education leading us closer to Christ who comes under our roof to speak to us and touch us in a most passionate way to heal and feed, gather and save.

Stan Zerkowski, SFO,
is the director of liturgy at St. Brendan the Navigator Church in Ormond, Florida. He is a graduate of the Villanova University School of Business' Center for the Study of Church Management.

© Copyright 2006-2013
privacy  contact us  www.LTP.org