Societas Liturgica at Maynooth

“Within the first 30 minutes of my arrival on the campus I was greeting friends from Norway, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, and England,” a friend of mine commented; “I think heaven will be like that.”

The Societas Congress held at St. Patrick College in Maynooth, Ireland, from August 7 – 10, was truly a grand experience. It felt even more powerful because it had been such a while since our last in-person gathering. (The pandemic had caused the previous congress to be held virtually.)  Pray Tell contributor Neil Xavier O’Donoghue did a fine job hosting, ably assisted by an excellent local team. The campus itself holds historic interest. Established in the eighteenth century, it includes the ruins of a castle and is home to the oldest tree in Ireland, the Yew of Silken Thomas, which is 800 years old.

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We are living in “The Era of the Holy Spirit”

The following reflection on Pentecost comes from Fr. Gerard Austin, OP, scholar in residence at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Father Austin was one of the co-founders of the liturgy program at Catholic University; he is a teacher of countless students, and an esteemed scholar of the liturgy. His writings continue to inspire and enlighten those who seek to understand the liturgy’s history and its meaning today for the life of faith. This passage first appeared in the newsletter of the Dominican province of St. Martin de Porres, New Orleans, LA. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.


For the first generations of Christians of the early Church, the liturgical year consisted of only a weekly celebration of the Resurrection: the Day of the Lord, the Sunday. At this celebration all the various elements of the Paschal Mystery were recalled. God was blessed, thanked, and praised for all the wonderful works of creation and redemption – especially for the wonder-of-God par excellence, God’s only-begotten Son, who gave of himself for us.

By the end of the second century, we see attestations of an annual celebration as well. It was modelled upon the weekly celebration, but it lasted for a period of fifty days, thus being referred to by St. Athanasius as the “Great Sunday.” Thus our present “Norms Governing Liturgical Celebrations” state: “The fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are celebrated in joyful expectation as one feast day, or better, as one ‘Great Sunday’.” This fifty-day period has its roots in Jewish tradition, sharing for example, in the notion of being a “seal,” a completion.

At first, no particular day or days of the fifty-day period was privileged; rather, during the entire period was celebrated: the death, the resurrection, the later appearances, the ascension, the sending of the Spirit, and the waiting for the final coming of Christ. Nevertheless, before the second half of the fourth century, certain churches and certain Fathers of the Church did emphasize different aspects of the Paschal Mystery on particular days (as the Ascension on the fortieth day, the sending of the Spirit on the fiftieth day), but never destroying the notion of whole as whole. This approach was called the “global view of the Great Sunday,” and during this time the notion of “Pentecost” extended to the entire fifty days. The entire period was a “period of the Spirit.” Jesus had promised his followers that he would not leave them orphans; he would stay with them but in a new way: through his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, which he would leave to them as his departing Gift.

Thus, one can well argue that the entire period from the Ascension of Christ to his Final Coming at the end of time is the “Era of the Holy Spirit.” This era, in which we are now living, is an era where Jesus is no longer with us in bodily form, but in a new way— in the presence of his Spirit. We have been assured the Gift of that Holy Spirit, but still down through the ages the Church never ceases to cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit, come”- not just on Pentecost but each and every day.

I think my favorite book on the Holy Spirit is I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT by Fr. Yves Congar, O.P.  I find it significant that the final chapter of that highly respected three-volume work is entitled “The Life of the Church as One Long Epiclesis” (the Greek word meaning ‘invocation’ of the Spirit). We know that Jesus ‘promise not to leave us orphans is true, but still we pray each day that the Holy Spirit who already abides within us (and among us), might penetrate even more deeply into every fiber of our being! Yes, Pentecost is not just a once-for-all event of history; it is an ONGOING MYSTERY OF FAITH.

Let us allow the global view of the Great Sunday, the view that contains all the multiple aspects of the ‘Paschal Mystery’ to be reflected in our own private prayer as well. In conclusion, may I suggest your praying slowly the following trilogy of mantras:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

“Lord Jesus, Crucified and Risen Lord, send me your Spirit.”

“Come, Holy Spirit, come!”

Together in Christ: Remembering Bishop Patrick McGrath

It is always gratifying to hear stories of pastoral bishops who support good liturgy in their dioceses, and who develop a real sense of trust and collaboration with their diocesan liturgy personnel.

Bishop Patrick McGrath late of the Diocese of San Jose, California, who died this past week, was one such bishop. I asked Diana Macalintal, who worked closely with him for many years as liturgy director for the diocese, and who is a former contributor to the Pray Tell Blog, to reflect on Bishop McGrath’s life and ministry. What follows is her tribute.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.


Together in Christ: Remembering Bishop Patrick J. McGrath
Diana Macalintal

The Diocese of San Jose, California, mourns the loss of its retired Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, a beloved shepherd, visionary leader, and advocate for the radical inclusivity and love of Jesus for all people. Bishop McGrath passed away at the age of 77 on May 7, 2023, from pneumonia that developed after a recent surgery.

Bishop McGrath’s dedication to the Diocese of San Jose was evident in his actions, words, and unwavering commitment to fostering a welcoming and compassionate church. His acceptance of others and his support for both the ministerial and the baptismal priesthood of the diocese was remarkable. Known for his genuine kindness and openness, he showed gracious hospitality and good humor as he presided over both altar and dinner tables throughout Santa Clara County during his twenty years as San Jose’s second bishop. He leaves behind a profound impact on the Catholic community he served so faithfully.

But for those, like me, who worked with him closely for most of those twenty years, his death marks the loss of a mentor, friend, and tangible sign of hope for the church we both loved.

In 2001, Bishop McGrath (pronounced “McGraw” but who liked to be called “PJ”) hired me, a 32-year-old, lay woman of color, just beginning graduate studies, to be his diocesan liturgist. I found myself working not only with clergy but also with colleagues who were mostly women, lay, from all across the Americas and Asia, and over the years, growing ever younger. Bishop McGrath did not simply continue the work of his predecessor, Bishop R. Pierre DuMaine, who had instituted diocesan programs preparing lay women and men for leadership roles and placing women in key positions throughout the chancery and diocese, including his team of liturgical Masters of Ceremonies. Bishop McGrath built upon the good work handed down to him and forged more ways to implement the principles of the Second Vatican Council he believed in so deeply.

Having become a seminarian in 1964, the vision of Vatican II was his compass; though he himself was not present there, he faithfully wore the pastoral ring given to bishops at the Council. He believed that the baptismal priesthood was foundational to the mission of Christ. So he consulted regularly not only with his clergy but with lay leaders, parishioners, and youth. The diocesan pastoral plan he initiated was radically synodal in its development long before Pope Francis came on the scene.

Though Irish through and through, he wholeheartedly desired that the liturgy foster the gifts of the various cultures of those who lived in the multicultural Valley of Heart’s Delight, as Silicon Valley was called. Our diocesan liturgies were both solemn and filled with the lively sounds, colors, voices, gestures, and rituals of the people of the diocese he so loved and who loved him.

His greatest hallmark, however, was his compassion and concern for those pushed closer and closer to the margins of the church and for those growing more invisible at the peripheries of society. At a time when the fidelity of religious sisters in the U.S. was being questioned, Bishop McGrath rallied to show spiritual and concrete support of their life and work in our diocese.

When Catholic theologians were being investigated and judged by the U.S. Bishops without any dialogue, Bishop McGrath offered an unflinching apology in his opening address to the 300+ theologians gathered in his diocese for the Catholic Theological Society of America’s annual meeting in 2011, and he encouraged them to keep doing their work because the bishops desperately needed them. The theologians responded with a standing ovation, something I doubt most bishops get these days from such an audience. A week later, I was in Bishop McGrath’s office and thanked him for his remarks, which meant so much to the theologians there, many of whom were my friends. He said to me, putting his hand on his heart, “Diana, the way we have treated them…that’s not how you treat family.”

Whether it was addressing unjust policies toward immigrants, standing with students protesting gun violence in our schools, dialoguing and praying with our Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities, working to reunite families torn apart at our borders, advocating for structural inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church, making sure they knew they belonged, were loved, and were needed, Bishop McGrath was consistently striving to live his motto: “Together in Christ.”

He was prophetic in a gentle way, and in his words and actions he expressed the things that we wish so many more bishops would say: you are loved, all are welcome, I am sorry, we need you. In a 2015 interview with America, Bishop McGrath said this:

“I love the church, I love the people. I wish there were some relief that could be given to
the people in difficult situations, a tangible welcome, not a perfunctory ‘You’re not all
bad.’ You’re not just part of the periphery of the family; you’re a part of the family and
you’re welcome to the table.”

Not many bishops would have embraced me and the gifts I had to share with the church as readily and kindly as Bishop McGrath did, and how I loved him for that. As our diocese continues to mourn and I hear stories from many other colleagues here, I realize that he made everyone feel this way, like we all had something necessary to give and share, that we all belonged, together in Christ.

Our diocese has lost a good shepherd, and the church, a needed voice in our divisive times. May we honor his legacy by remembering that we are all family in the body of Christ.

Read Bishop McGrath’s full obituary here.

Instituted Ministries: What are we waiting for?

I haven’t heard of any movement in the United States toward implementing Pope Francis’s reform of opening the instituted ministries to include women. I know these things take time, and some preparations may be underway but not well-publicized. Still, I wonder: Is anything happening?

The bishop’s role in the instituted ministries is essential. It cannot be done simply at the parish level. Yet without active interest from pastors and parishes, Pope Francis’s initiative will probably languish here and perhaps never be implemented. So actually, given the way things operate, a grassroots engagement with this frontier of ministry development might truly make a difference between doing this — or not.

Some people question the necessity of having instituted ministries. Why bother to institute these ministries, if volunteers are doing the work already? We have become accustomed to seeing the ministries of lector, acolyte, and catechist as limited to their practical function, forgetting that there is a symbolic dimension to ministry too, one that should be acknowledged and lifted up by the church through a formal ritual.

Liturgists as well as pastors may or may not be conscious of this symbolic dimension. It is easy to take for granted the many years that women have worked to provide service in these roles. They brought their love and dignity to the ministries in which they serve — without any notice or recognition that what they give has value. But this begs the question. Don’t women deserve the recognition of institution and prayers of blessing and empowerment that go along with it, just as men do? Now  it is available to them. What are we waiting for?

Inertia on this front will miss a significant moment. This is an opportunity for healthy growth and development in our ministerial practice and discernment.

One factor causing inertia is simply that a lot of people still have not heard of the instituted ministries, and don’t understand what they are about. Therefore, here are a few suggestions might help to move this topic forward.

  • Form study groups in dioceses and parishes. Find out what the issues are. Dream about future possibilities with others. Discuss how your diocese or parish could benefit from bringing the instituted ministries to light in a fuller way. Here are a couple of articles you can read to help you understand the background and context: My article in Commonweal, “A Wonderful Complexity”; and Father Cesare Giraudo SJ’s article from La Civilta Cattolica, available here in English: “The Ministry of Women in the Liturgy: ‘Sound Tradition’ and ‘Legitimate Progress.'”
  • Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Empower your bishop by bringing this issue to the priests’ council or to the diocesan pastoral council as a positive step that you would be happy to support. If parish folk all wait for the pastor to initiate, and the pastors all wait for the bishop, and the bishops waits for the conference… it will never happen.
  • Get it on the calendar. Planning ahead is essential. Pope Francis has done these institution ceremonies on the Sunday of the Word of God. Find out what your cathedral is planning for that Sunday and raise the possibility of including a rite of institution on that day. There may be a separate day suitable for each ministry — such determinations can be made locally.

If any of our readers have news of dioceses in which the instituted ministries of lector and acolyte are currently being implemented to include women, and where the instituted ministry of catechist has been implemented, kindly share this in the comment box so that our information can be updated.



Original footage from Vatican II enlivens film from CNS

In honor of the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a free version of a 2015 documentary devoted to the Council. Pray Tell is pleased to share this as part of our own continuing remembrance of the Council and its effects on the life of the Church.

The video, produced by Catholic News Service and entitled “Voices of Vatican II,” includes fantastic footage from the Council itself, along with narrative commentary by individuals who were themselves present at the Council. I found it particularly interesting to hear the voices of Pope Saint John XXII and Pope Saint Paul VI from the historical footage — the clip taken from John XXIII’s “moonlight speech” alone makes the film worth watching. We also get to hear each of them singing!

Some caveats are in order. First of all, we do need to remember it is somewhat dated. Released in 2015, it was obviously in the works beforehand. Seven of the speakers in the film have died since the filming. When it comes to liturgy, the dating shows. The presentation is skewed to Pope Benedict’s unique perspective: an emphasis on reading the Council documents, a basic affirmation of the Council alongside a fundamentally critical view of the reform’s implementation, and asserting that “we’ve only just begun” to realize the reform (really?).

Pope Francis appears only briefly, at the end, and in a non-speaking role. Clearly his appearance is an afterthought. Historians of our era will undoubtedly revise this picture considerably, as Pope Francis has become an important figure in the reception of the Council. Under Francis, the Council has more than ever been a visible influence — on everything from liturgy, to dialogue and discernment, to ecumenism and “opening to the world.”

This points us to the pivotal issue: How are we to view Vatican II today? The question is how shall we move from Vatican II as “lived history” (of which there are fewer and fewer witnesses) to Vatican II as “living legacy”? Pope Francis exemplifies the latter, as someone who was not present at the Council, but for whom the Council has become a lasting inspiration and lodestar of guidance for the future.

So, by all means let us enjoy the original footage, and listen to the words of those who took part in the event itself. But if we do nothing more than take a walk down memory lane — if the content of the Council does not live on, in us — we will have missed the great opportunity of our time.