- Steve Addazio's inaugural press conference as Boston College head football coach (pg. 9)
- Wake Forest University president Nathan Hatch's keynote address at the Sesquicentennial symposium "Religion and the Liberal Aims of Higher Education" (pg. 34)
- David B. Couturier, OFM Cap., on "New Evangelization for Today's Parish" (pg. 42)
- Guerilla Orchestra: the Callithumpian Consort and student musicians rehearse John Zorn's Cobra (pg. 10)
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A lesson plan for when no priest is available
Late on a Sunday night in February, Anne Marie Mahoney got a call from her pastor, who had been felled by the flu and who told her she had to “do something for the Mass tomorrow morning.” Mahoney didn’t get his drift until he added, “You’ve been doing that class.”
“That class” is “Advanced Lay Presiding and Preaching,” which Mahoney is taking this semester through Boston College’s Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (IREPM). Her pastor, Fr. Albert M. Faretra of St. Joseph Parish in Belmont, Massachusetts, wanted her to preside at what is normally the morning Mass but which would now become a communion service, something Mahoney had never performed but that she had practiced in front of her fellow students and instructor, Fr. James A. Mongelluzzo.
The next morning, Mahoney appeared before the congregation and explained the service she was about to lead, which includes some familiar elements of a Mass, such as the penitential rite, Scripture readings, a reflection on the readings, and prayers of the faithful, but which is not actually a Mass. A key difference is that instead of consecrating the hosts, which laypeople are not ordained to do, Mahoney would walk over to the tabernacle and bring out consecrated hosts left over from Sunday Mass.
“I was a little apprehensive, obviously, and a little unsure about where [to] stand” on the altar, recalled Mahoney, a former schoolteacher who is St. Joseph’s coordinator of religious education. “But nobody walked out. Everybody pretty much went away happy.”
In her remarks before the start of the service, Mahoney also told the congregation that by virtue of their baptism, all Catholics are called to offer leadership in the Church and that lay Catholics will likely be doing so more visibly in the future as the ranks of priests continue to thin.
That reality is the inspiration behind Mongelluzzo’s class, which meets twice a week in Trinity Chapel on the Newton Campus and is limited to 10 lay Catholics per semester. During the advanced course as well as the basic version offered in the fall, Mongelluzzo devotes a large share of time to communion services, which are intended primarily for nursing homes and hospitals, but which laypeople may also be called on to perform in parishes that are understaffed by priests.
“Increasingly, we expect [lay] people to find themselves in the same position as Anne Marie” when she got that late-night call, says Mongelluzzo, a priest of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, who serves as IREPM’s coordinator of liturgical life. Besides communion services, the rituals reviewed in Mongelluzzo’s introductory and advanced classes have included Evening Prayer, commonly known as Vespers; Vigil for the Deceased, for wakes; the Rite of Committal, for burials; imposition of the ashes, on Ash Wednesday; and the Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in which the sacred host is removed from the tabernacle and exposed on the altar for periods of quiet devotion. The students this semester are evenly divided between men and women, and range from young adult to retiree.
With his ready smile and a soothing voice, Mongelluzzo has a way of putting people instantly at ease, which is no small feat in a format that requires students, some with little or no pastoral training, to perform well-known liturgical rites and then face the critiques of their classmates. On a recent Thursday afternoon, nearly two weeks before the start of Lent, Richard Chasse was one of two students assigned to walk through an Ash Wednesday service.
Chasse, who coordinates youth ministry at the parish where Mahoney works, donned a white liturgical robe he had brought with him in a garment bag and took his place at a lectern in front of the altar. He explained who he was and what he was doing, because many worshippers would expect to see a priest on such an occasion, and as the presiding minister, he stepped aside to let others in the class read the Scriptural passages and lead the prayers of the faithful.
When it came time to preach, Chasse told of an Ash Wednesday 10 years earlier when, as a youth minister in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he led 25 young people and parents on a parish trip to Disney World. Speaking in a soft monotone and making occasional eye contact, Chasse recalled that he had found out beforehand there would be no place nearby for the group to receive ashes—and that he would have to perform the rite in Orlando himself, using ashes blessed ahead of time by his pastor. The rest of his reflection echoed advice he’d gotten from the pastor before leaving for Florida: “You’re not just giving ashes, you’re marking them on the journey of faith.” The youth minister stirred images of teenagers on a spiritual journey in the unlikely setting of Disney World, telling of one young parishioner who found himself explaining the meaning of Lent to a tourist who had asked him why they all had “dirty faces.”
After delivering his reflection, Chasse practiced the imposition of the ashes. Holding in one hand a small glass tray (empty now, it normally would contain blessed ashes), he traced the cross on the foreheads of his fellow students. Chasse, who later joked in an interview that he’s on the 20-year plan for getting his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and is taking Mongelluzzo’s class while holding down his parish job, has no plans to offer an actual Ash Wednesday service. But he did have to leave class a little early that afternoon because his pastor had asked him to perform a Vigil for the Deceased.
Before slipping out of the chapel, though, he faced a liturgical jury of his peers.
“I just got the idea that you really valued these kids. I could picture them, and the ashes,” said one of his classmates as they all sat in a circle at the front of the chapel.
“I felt this time you were more uptight than last time, more scripted,” said another student, alluding to Chasse’s past performances.
“You brought so much of your spirit to [the reflection],” said a third student.
“I think it would help to highlight the more important things with a different voice tone,” said yet another.
Another student that day was a pastoral associate at a Boston church who presided in a blue blazer and tie. He wove into his reflection the recent headlines about rural churches in the South burnt to ashes, telling of pastors who remained hopeful, nevertheless, and arriving at the appropriate theological kicker that “through the ashes we get to the glory of the Resurrection.” The group thought his presentation was polished, though some students said they were distracted by his busy hand motions and quick steps between the lectern and pews.
For the most part, Mongelluzzo played the facilitator’s role and gave his feedback to the presiding students one-on-one, during brief breaks. He did offer general observations, advising the class, at one point, “Don’t be afraid of silence. Silence after a reading or a homily gives us time to take it all in.”
William Bole is a writer based in Andover, Massachusetts.
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