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New direction on liturgy in Chicago

NCR Staff

In a move with potentially far-reaching consequences for the direction of liturgical renewal in the United States, Cardinal Francis George has created a new academic institute on liturgy in the Chicago archdiocese.

The institute will be located at the archdiocese’s University of St. Mary of the Lake -- Mundelein Seminary. Designed to attract students from across the country and overseas, it will have teaching, research and publishing components, and will be staffed by three to five professors of liturgy and the sacraments.

Though rumors have circulated about the institute for months, those involved in planning say a formal announcement is still a few weeks away.

George has also relocated Chicago’s diaconate and lay ministry programs to Mundelein, in what several sources described as an attempt to ensure that everyone involved in training ministers “is on the same page.”

Fr. John F. Canary, the rector at Mundelein, told NCR the liturgy institute responds to a need expressed by students and dioceses for a greater emphasis in liturgical studies on sacramental theology -- not just rituals and their history, but the theological meaning of the sacraments.

Other sources in Chicago, however, told NCR that another aim is to reorient the archdiocese’s liturgical institutions, which have a reputation for a generally progressive approach to the reforms decreed by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Most pointedly, Chicago’s Liturgy Training Publications appears set be tied to the institute. The publishing house, whose materials are widely used in parishes and dioceses across the country, is known for its progressive editorial stance; in 1995, for example, it published the Psalter (collection of Old Testament psalms) stripped of most masculine pronouns for God. Catholic conservatives have long criticized that text.

In a letter in this issue of NCR, George raises questions about that Psalter.

In part, the decision on Liturgy Training Publications reflects George’s sense that a publishing arm is more naturally connected to an academic institute than to a diocesan liturgy office. Sources involved in the planning, however, said that steering the publishing operation in a somewhat different direction is also part of the plan.

Gabe Huck, director of the publishing house, said that in early November George told him no decision had been made about a connection between Liturgy Training Publications and the institute, and that none would be made without consulting the staff. He said he has had no communication from George on the subject since.

Canary, however, said it is certain that there will be “some structural relationship” between the institute and Liturgy Training Publications.

Both the creation of the institute and the relocation of the ministry programs have drawn fire for a lack of consultation.

Others wonder why George is creating his own liturgy institute rather than supporting existing programs at facilities such as the University of Notre Dame or The Catholic University of America.

George did not respond to requests for comment or to a faxed list of questions from NCR.

George has hired Msgr. Francis Mannion as the liturgy institute’s director. Mannion is the founder of the Society for Catholic Liturgy and the editor of its journal, Antiphon. For the past 13 years, he has served as the rector of the cathedral parish in Salt Lake City.

In a 1994 article in America, Mannion described his position on liturgical issues as “recatholicizing the reform,” in distinction to the “official reform” that has dominated implementation of Vatican II in the United States. He wrote that he wants to “restore a Catholic ethos” to places of worship and cited Hans urs von Balthasar, a favorite theologian of John Paul II, as “notably important” to his outlook.

He told NCR, however, that he does not have a “restorationist” agenda. “In Salt Lake we have altar girls, we have women eucharistic ministers, we offer the chalice to the people,” he said. “I’m not on some kind of far-right trip.”

Canary said Mannion was hired less for his specific liturgical views than for his experience as a pastor. “We’re going to be preparing people for diocesan work, and Mannion has a good working knowledge of diocesan ministries,” Canary said.

Canary said the institute will have three tracks: a formation program for men and women involved with liturgy at the diocesan level; studies leading to a formal ecclesiastical degree in liturgy, called a licentiate; and a master’s program in liturgy extending across a full academic year plus two summers of academic work. Students will have to be sponsored by a diocese.

Both Canary and Mannion said that many bishops want their liturgical personnel to have an academic background but don’t feel they can wait the two years it might take them to acquire a degree at other institutions. The Mundelein institute, they said, will offer an alternative.

The institute will act as a resource for the liturgical agencies of the archdiocese, Mannion said. “I don’t want to usurp or replace existing operations. I want to be a help to them,” he said.

“The model to use for this is not Hitler invading Poland,” Mannion said.

Given that the United States already has a number of graduate-level liturgy programs, including one in Chicago at the Chicago Theological Union, some observers have expressed doubts about the need for a new institute.

“It will be interesting to see who is attracted to it,” said Michael Driscoll, professor of liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. “It’s not clear there’s a huge demand out there.”

Canary and others said that George believes the institute is needed because existing programs do not stress sacramental theology.

“That’s basically not true,” said Fr. Raymond Collins, former chair of the School of Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America. “Our program has always tried to keep the systematic theology together with the liturgical concerns.”

In the years before Vatican II, Collins said, most scholars teaching the sacraments were “book theologians” with little knowledge of the rituals or their history. After the council, he said, the pendulum swung the other way. “Both Catholic University and Notre Dame are making efforts to bring them back together,” he said.

Collins said the new institute comes on the scene when there is a limited supply of both students and faculty.

“With limited resources, the church would be better served if it picked a few institutions and built them up, instead of multiplying institutions and competing for a limited pool of talent,” Collins said.

Driscoll said Notre Dame is also seeking to strengthen its approach to sacramental theology. “We’re in the process of doing some hiring in this area,” he said. “We’re committed to yoking systematic theology to liturgy.”

Fr. Gilbert Ostdiek, professor of liturgy at the Chicago Theological Union, said sacramental theology is integrated into various courses. “We don’t teach it in the classical seminary style of 40 years ago, but sacramental theology is part of the curriculum,” he said.

Since the Mundelein institute may compete with liturgy programs in the United States and overseas, some observers claimed, a degree of skepticism from these programs is to be expected.

Canary said he did not foresee the institute competing with Notre Dame or Catholic University. He added, however, that he “cannot anticipate how attractive this may be.”

Several sources in Chicago criticized George for a lack of consultation.

“I find it strange and offensive that a matter of this magnitude could have come this far along without serious consultation with the people involved with trying to bring liturgical renewal to the people of the archdiocese of Chicago and beyond,” Huck said.

A source involved in liturgical affairs in the archdiocese also expressed frustration. “Every liturgist in Chicago is miffed,” the source said. “George has no sense of how offensive this is to people who have given their lives to liturgy here.”

Canary said that consultations were going on with the bishops who feed students to Mundelein. The seminary draws students from 46 U.S. dioceses.

Canary said that while he had “heard interpretations” that the creation of the institute signals a philosophical shift, he feels it “addresses a real need” and “will come to be seen as a good thing.”

Others are less optimistic.

“I think what’s happening will be seen as George’s indictment of the liturgical operation in Chicago, whether he intends that or not,” Huck said.

“I think that the attitude of many in Chicago, pastors and others, will be that while there are things in the diocese that need fixing, this is not one of them.”

Personnel in the diaconate and lay ministry programs also expressed frustration over what they perceive as a lack of consultation. “There was a process, but it was in George’s head,” said a source in the diaconate program.

With 573 active deacons in 378 parishes, Chicago’s diaconate program is the largest in the world.

“The cardinal wants everyone to have the same ecclesiology. He’s worried that in some parishes today, you might have three or four different visions,” the source said.

“Personally, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.”

National Catholic Reporter, January 28, 2000