The beauty of Christ continues to draw men and women to the Church today just as much as it has at any other period in the history of the Church. This dynamism of the Lord remains the most vital means to connect with people today and preach the Gospel anew -- not only to those who have not heard it, but also to those who have heard it, but not yet entered into a personal encounter with the Lord. This beauty is most fully disclosed in the liturgy of the Church when the whole Body of Christ gathers for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.
Archbishop Jose Gomez, Bishop Elias Zaidan and other lecturers introduced and developed this idea in presentations that explored the Liturgy and the New Evangelization. The audience was a group of theologians, artists, liturgists, architects, musicians, students and seminarians from around the world and throughout the United States. The gathering at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on September 29, 30 and October 1 was for the 21st annual conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy. Yet, what happened went beyond simply the scholarly presentation of academic papers -- instead, in the liturgies and the fellowship, the personal encounters and the conversations, a renewed sense of mission and purpose was born.
The weekend started with Archbishop Gomez celebrating a pontifical mass for the feast of the archangels. Surrounded by saints on tapestries, led by wonderful choir (thanks to Dr. Paul Ford) and served by seminarians from Saint John's Seminary, mass started with a wonderful procession of priest members of the society and other concelebrants from the Archdiocese. His homily, about how we should be mindful of just how present the angels are to us, was complemented by the angel motif decorating the Cathedral. After mass, he provided the opening address of the conference in which he spoke of the pastoral importance of popular piety as a means of drawing individuals and families into the beauty of the liturgy.
In particular, the Archbishop presented his ideas within the context of creating a atmosphere of encounter and relationship through our awareness and appreciation of cultures. He observed that a growing plurality of cultures is the actual pastoral situation of the Church in the United States. Rather than ignoring cultural diversity, the Church has always treasured it and today, in the New Evangelization, this is now our effort too. This means, in particular, a generous attentiveness to and respect for the various forms and expressions of devotion that live in the culture of the people we serve, especially as these are observed in families. Living in each expression of genuine devotion is a grace that can create a relationship between those who do not otherwise practice their faith and the life of the Church. Holding up and joyfully celebrating the piety of the people can become a threshold for those looking for answers and hungry for the truth, a threshold to Christ in the Eucharist.
Bishop Elias Zaidan also spoke of the need for a deeper connection in the Church, especially a connection with Christians who live where the Church is persecuted. After celebrating the first Maronite Liturgy ever offered in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, he explored how we live in a time with religious rights are under attack around the world in every nation and society. He insisted however that as Christians we believe in something, in Someone, that no political or military power can ultimately overcome. In this context, he introduced the Maronite liturgy as a celebration of hope -- recounting that his Church has known religious persecution in a particular way even since the first days of its founding. Yet the hope and joy of his people have not been diminished -- instead, through worship, they have found strength to be faithful witnesses to the Lord.
Friday evening, participants were treated to the powerful documentary by Lannette Turicchi "John Paul II: Prophet for our Time." With original footage and first person witness accounts, the witness of the saint who initiated the New Evangelization was brought to life for participants. Afterward, a powerful silence filled the room that helped us think about greatness of what God is calling us to do today. While it is easy to become discouraged with some of the cultural struggles we face today, the voice of John Paul II echoed, "Do not be afraid to open wide the doors of Christ."
The Society also helped host a solemn high mass in the extraordinary form at Our Savior Parish at the USC Caruso Catholic Center for students and others throughout the area. When we arrived, a wonderful choir led by Jeff Ostrowski was practicing outside while priests from the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter were preparing to offer the mass. The liturgy was truly beautiful in every way and a couple of USC students I spoke to afterwards were deeply touched -- amazed by the beauty that they had just experienced. The homily itself offered a powerful catechesis on the Roman Canon as a fence around the truly holy, setting apart the sacred actions of the Mass for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.
Several concurrent sessions explored many other powerful ideas. These hopefully will be published by Antiphon, recently as a publication of CUA Press. The texts for the presentations by Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Zaidan will also be available through the USCCB soon.