Conference explores uses of art in the liturgy

BOSTON—The priest who authored “On Eagles’ Wings” opened the Paulist Center’s Feb. 10-11 conference on creative arts and the Mass with a mystagogical reflection on the liturgy with orchestral and choral accompaniment.

“He is a wonderful gift,” said Father John B. Ardis, CSP, the center’s director, of composer and theology professor Father J. Michael Joncas, who in addition to his opening presentation gave the conference’s keynote address titled “Holy Communication: The language of our public prayer.”

Father Ardis said he was moved by Father Joncas’ reflection. “It was a prayerful and powerful opportunity to experience and understand the eucharistic celebration.”

Father Joncas’ reflection incorporated his readings from poetry and literature, as well as his discussion of paintings that were projected on the wall above the altar of the center’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit, where more than 300 ticket holders packed the pews.

“I am not ashamed of the songs I wrote in the folk-idiom, far from it, but I thought the classical style makes more room for the congregation,” he said.

It was a thrill to conduct the music of one of his mentors, said Timothy Westerhaus, who organized the conference and conducted the orchestra and choir.

Westerhaus said he studied under Joncas at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where the priest is a professor of Theology and Catholic Studies.

Planning for the conference began in April with the idea of bringing together Boston’s artists and other creative people to work on new ways to improve the liturgical experience, he said.

“It was a chance to celebrate the wide variety of all of the liturgical arts, both visual and in words, and deepen our own ministry,” he said.

Another theme of the conference was the bringing a spirit of reconciliation to the Boston Church, he said.

The Paulist Center has tried to become a local resource for Catholics who have felt distanced from the Church, said Father Ardis.

To echo that theme, Father Joncas said he chose to sing a composition that is his interpretation of the “Eucharistic Prayer II for Reconciliation.”

It is great that the Paulist Center was able to put together this conference at this time, said Catherine Minkiewicz, the assistant director of the archdiocese’s Office of Religious Education.

Before the conference began attendees broke out into their Saturday workshops, they were asked to stand up when their specific ministry was called, she said, and she was impressed by the diversity.

There were religious educators, musical directors, lectors and those involved in the arts in their parishes, she said.

Minkiewicz, who served as a family minister at the center before taking her current position, co-led a workshop with Father Sean M. McCarthy, pastor of Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted Parish in Waltham titled, “Liturgy: The source and summit of our catechesis.”

Her workshop focused on ways to match children’s religious education with religious practice in the families, she said. “Too often, parents drop off their kids at CCD and that is it.”

“Among religious education directors, the biggest difficulty is getting parents to understand that attending Mass as a family is just as important,” she said.

Children need to hear from their parents that going to church is not boring and stupid, she said.

Then on the way home, the family should talk about it, she said. “Parents can reinforce Mass and religious education participation with what we call ‘the conversation in the car.’”

One program that Minkiewicz and Father McCarthy promoted in the workshop is “Generations of Faith,” she said.

The program creates a framework in which grandparents, parents and children can grow in their faith in separate age-appropriate settings and intergenerational discussions, she said.

Other workshops at the conference were “Prayer in the midst of pain: Restoring the faithful to wholeness,” presented by Father Joncas and JoJo David, the music director of Newton’s Sacred Heart Church; and “Each one has a hymn,” presented by Karen Westerfield Tucker, an ordained Methodist presbyter and professor of worship at Boston University.

Westerhaus said given the conference’s success there is a chance it could become an annual event, but that decision has not been made yet.