Thursday, March 05, 2009

Reader Request: L.A. REC Round-Up

A Concord Pastor has asked for a summary of my thoughts on the L.A. Religious Education Congress last week in sunny Anaheim, CA. I don't get many reader requests, so I'm happy to oblige now that I'm back in chilly NYC.

The good pastor's question is inside baseball -- the L.A. REC is sometimes controversial in the Catholic blogosphere for its speakers (sometimes thought of as "liberal" or "progressive") and its Masses (mostly upbeat with very dynamic music).

I cannot provide a truly thorough summary as I spent most of the L.A. REC helping to staff an exhibitor booth. I did not have the time to attend any of the sessions or workshops. This year's keynote speaker was Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners and a "liberal" or "progressive" evangelical to be sure.

This year, some Catholic bloggers were troubled by comments made by L.A.'s Cardinal Roger Mahoney in response to a question about the Tridentine Mass (a.k.a. "the Latin Mass") during an online chat. That's a complex issue that I apologize I cannot adequately address in this space.

I can say, however, that I had the chance to briefly watch Cardinal Mahoney in the exhibit hall as he chatted on-line. I think it was laudable that he granted such access. And, chatting online in a public place with your comments broadcast in real-time on nearby screens is not for the faint of heart.

I did have the opportunity to attend three Masses at this year's L.A. REC -- the Hawaiian liturgy on Friday evening, the young adult liturgy on Saturday evening and the closing liturgy on Sunday afternoon. (On Friday and Saturday evenings, the participants had several different liturgies from which to choose. Last year, in one of these time slots, I attended a "Celtic Mass." Two years ago, I attended a "Jazz Mass.")

I found all three Masses I attended at the L.A. REC last week to be spiritually uplifting. But, the young adult Mass on Saturday was likely the one I'll most remember. It was celebrated by Monsignor Ray East, the head of the Office of Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Monsignor East was engaging, humorous and appropriately solemn -- all at the right moments. In his memorable homily, he spoke of efforts to invite lapsed Catholics back to Church. He also spoke of how we prepare for Christ -- doing so after stirring thought by singing a few notes from "Single Ladies" by Beyonce. (Before giving the closing blessing, he reminded all to "put a ring on it.")

In the Hawaiian Mass, there were a few unexpected aspects that might have given some pause. For instance, a woman wearing native Hawaiian dress was seated in what at the other Masses in the arena was the presider's chair. Unconventional to be certain -- but she never functioned as the priest celebrant (who sat facing the altar from another direction in the center of the arena). Also, in the Hawaiian Mass, a song was substituted for the "Lamb of God" that (while quite good by itself) did not convey that same prayer of appeal to God for mercy and peace.

Experts in sacred liturgy likely would have issues with these aspects and other parts of the Masses at the L.A. REC. (I'm not even going to touch on the whole question of liturgical dance.) But, these Masses did bring the Word of God and the Eucharist to tens of thousands of the Faithful.

A word on the attendance at this year's L.A. REC, which was given as 38,000. At least in the exhibit hall, the numbers did seem to be down a bit from last year -- notably on the Saturday. But, considering the state of the economy, this was not unforeseen.

Speaking of the exhibit hall, I cannot end without this observation: At the end of the 600 aisle, there was a booth for "The Stories of Caesar Chavez" directly next to the booth for

Now, that's a pairing only brought to you by the Catholic Church.

The image above is from

1 comment:

ConcordPastor said...

Thanks, Paul! I've never had the opportunity to attend this LA event but I'm always taken both by the numbers participating and the inevitable critique it garners in the blogosphere. Your round-up seems eminently without bias or agenda - and for that alone I'm grateful! As a liturgist I suspect you're on target when you say that some of the liturgical innovations might have been provocative. But my history is that folks at such conferences go home with the best of what they experienced, realizing that you can't recreate at St. Joseph's in Podunk what took place in a huge venue - and that in the end, usually, good liturgical common sense will carry the day.

Thanks, Paul!