Johan van Parys

Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts
Liturgy

Johan van Parys, a native of Belgium, has been The Basilica’s Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts since 1995. He holds graduate degrees in art history and comparative religious studies from the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. 

Johan enjoys writing for Basilica publications as well as for other outlets. Since 1997 he has been the managing editor for Basilica, the award winning Basilica Magazine. His book Symbols That Surround Us was published in 2012. Johan teaches in the School of Theology at St. John’s University. He is the current chair and founding member of the MN chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums and is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgists and Societas Liturgica.

(612) 317-3434

Recent Posts by Johan van Parys

Nativity of Our Lord

Emmanuel, God-with-us

Every Christmas I marvel at God’s surprising choices. Who would have ever expected a young unwed girl to become the Mother of God? Who could have guessed that uneducated and poor shepherds would hear the songs of angels? Who would have imagined a poor infant born in a stable to be Emmanuel, God-with-us? And yet, it is precisely in the unexpected that God chose to be revealed to us. 

This year as we approach Christmas I have been wondering how God might be present to us today, given everything that is happening in our world, our nation, our cities and our personal lives. I found comfort in a cherished song we sing during Lent: O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This song makes clear that the simple and profound answer we received 2000 years ago holds even today: Emmanuel, God is with us here and now, always and forever even and most especially in these most extra-ordinary times. 

We are all wondering how we might celebrate Christmas this year. Surely it will not be the same as in years past. However we can and must make it meaningful and memorable, both in church and at home, because Christmas is such an important reminder of the fact that God is with us. That is the very essence of Christmas. It is the message we so desperately need to hear and embrace today.

Our goal, at The Basilica of Saint Mary is to make sure that those of you who will be with us for Mass in-person as well as those who join us via livestream will have a great Basilica Christmas experience. To that end we have creatively re-imagined our Christmas décor, our musical offerings and we came up with some new initiatives that hopefully will lift us up as we contemplate the promise of a better world brought to us by the Christ Child. 

One of the new initiatives is our drive-by Blessing of the Bambinelli. As you prepare your nativity scene in your home, please join us for a drive by blessing of the Christ Child from your home nativity on Sunday, December 20 between 12:30-1:30pm. At that time you will also receive a Home Blessing Kit to be used on Epiphany for the traditional Epiphany blessing of your home. 

This kit will include Holy water, a prayer and a piece of chalk. As part of the blessing you are to draw the following on the lintel above the main door into your home: 
+ 20 C B M 21 + .  C M B stands for Christus Benedicat Mansionem or May Christ Bless this Home. Of note is that the letters C M B are the initials of the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar whose visit to the Baby Jesus we celebrate on epiphany.

I know this Christmas will not be the same, but I am convinced that we can still celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus in meaningful and moving ways. We, the staff at The Basilica of Saint Mary are committed do to our part to make it so.

May the Christ Child bring you many blessings, even and especially during these extra-ordinary times. And may you discover Emmanuel, God-with-us in the most unexpected places.

 

In 1925 Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) established the feast of Christ the King in response to growing nationalism and secularism in Europe after WWI. With this new feast, Pope Pius XI desired to return Catholics to Christ and to unite all people in Christ, the supreme ruler whose reign knows neither borders nor boundaries.

Originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, Pope Paul VI moved this feast to the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and raised it to the level of a Solemnity. In addition to its celebratory character, the placement on this Solemnity at the end of the liturgical year also gives it an apocalyptic and sobering character. 

The readings for the day speak about God’s mercy but also of God’s justice. The first reading from Ezekiel presents God as the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep but who also judges between the rams and the goats. Matthew 25 offers a vision of the end of times when Christ, the Judge, will separate those who saw him hungry and fed him, thirsty and clothed him, a stranger and welcomed him, naked and clothed him, in prison and visited him from those who did not.

The notion of Jesus as King is not new. This is as old as Christianity itself and as profound as the mystery of our faith. Throughout Scripture many royal titles are given to Jesus. First and most frequent is the title of Christ or Anointed One, the Savior of Israel. Second, is the title Kyrios or Lord which came to be interpreted as Jesus being the Lord of the Universe. Third is that of King as e.g. in St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy where Jesus is referred to as “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).

When we hear these titles we are quick to impose our earthly understanding onto them and to be sure, that is where they originated. However, Jesus is in no way like earthly kings or earthly rulers. When questioned by Pilate Jesus responds that his “kingdom is not of this earth”. Surely, had he been an earthly king, his armies would have defended him and prevented his arrest. Rather, Jesus tells Peter to put down his sword so he may be arrested to fulfill the prophecies.

We hail Jesus as the Anointed One not because he commands mighty armies, wields earthly powers, or displays great wealth. Rather, because he is the Good Shepherd and Suffering Servant who eats and drinks with sinners; who feeds the hungry; who heels the sick; who brings the dead back to life; and who accepted suffering and death so we might live. In sum, we profess him as anointed because he is the perfect image and embodiment of God’s boundless love and endless mercy.

On the Solemnity of Christ the King we honor Christ as the Ruler of the Universe and as the Savior of the World. As King he will judge us at the end of time and he will separate the goats from the sheep. As Savior he will do this with justice and love. Thankfully, as our Savior he has also given us a roadmap to ensure that we end up with the sheep by recognizing and serving Christ in everyone, especially in those who are most in need.

In these times of rising nationalism and rampant secularism worldwide, let us celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King with great fervor and let us meditate on the true Ruler of the Universe whose reign knows neither borders nor boundaries and whose desire is for all us to be one in Him.

We have a beautiful stained glass window of Christ the King in our sacristy. It was created by Gaytee Glass Studios in 1928, just three years after the proclamation of the Solemnity of Christ the King.

In this window we see Christ seated on a royal throne. He is wearing the regalia typical for an earthly king: he has a crown on his head, a scepter in his right hand and the Globus Cruciger or the orb crowned with a cross in his left hand.

The globe with the cross is of particular interest. The image of a ruler holding an orb suggests that the ruler holds the world in his hand. Christian rulers had a cross added to the orb indicating that they were governing the world for God. Placing the globus cruciger in Christ’s hands affirms that Christ is the Ruler of the Universe but also the Salvator Mundi or Savior of the World.

 

Who is my neighbor?

This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of the two most important commandments which summarize Jesus’ teachings: love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor like yourself. 
 
Most of us embrace this, at least to a point. The important question is, who do we believe to be our neighbor? Sure, it is easy to love those we interact with on a daily basis and those we are comfortable with. It is, however, clear that Jesus does not want us to stop there, neither does the Church. 
 
Today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus clarifies who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the poor person. This reading also makes it quite clear how God feels about failure to do so. God’s punishment for those who oppress a stranger, wrong a widow or orphan, or extort a poor neighbor is quite simple: “I will kill you with the sword.” Even if we do not take this literally, the message is clear: this kind of behavior is unacceptable to God.
 
The biggest temptation and greatest danger to Christianity is the ease with which we water down its meaning and white-wash its message. History clearly teaches how this has led to the abuse and high jacking of Christianity by outside interests. History also confirms how Christians at times have been manipulated to support ideologies that are paradoxical to Christianity. 
 
A very poignant example is the Holocaust. The holocaust is the antithesis of the first and second commandment. The Holocaust was able to happen because people were made to believe that Jews, Roma, people with disabilities, and homosexuals are not our neighbor. This very thought still supports the discrimination of these and many other people, even today. 
 
Another horrific example is the justification and support of slavery by Christians which led to unconscionable atrocities in this and many other countries. The erroneous and evil thought that allowed slavery to exist is still reverberating in the deeply rooted sin of racism that rears it ugly head over and over again in our society and in our institutions. 
If we are indeed followers of Christ we are to love ALL people as our neighbors and we are to love them as ourselves. That is exactly what Christ asks us to do. 
 
Our mission as Christians is to protect and support unborn children, but also those children who have been born. Our mission is to make sure all children have access to education. Our mission is to make sure everyone has housing, clothing, food. Our mission is to eradicate all discrimination and to work for justice and equality for all regardless of race, gender, creed or way of life. Our mission is to welcome the stranger rather than to put them in cages or to build walls to keep them out. Our mission is to provide healthcare for everyone especially those suffering due to COVID 19 during this current pandemic. Our mission is to make sure that our planet is safe from human exploitation and destruction and is preserved for future generations. Our mission is to end and prevent wars. Our mission is to abolish the death penalty. 
 
In sum, our mission as Christians is to love our neighbor; every neighbor; all neighbors, without exception, no matter how different they are from us, for it is what God commands us to do, no more, no less. That is true Christianity.
 

 

 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. This week's installment, in honor of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14, features information about our processional Icon Cross, created by our iconographer Deb Korluka.

 

 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. This week's installment begins a series on our beloved church building, and the people who made the building possible. On August 15, 1915, on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, The Basilica of Saint Mary was solemnly dedicated. Each year since we have celebrated this dedication and now we know it as Basilica Day.

 

 

 

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