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

Throughout history humans have pondered the meaning of life and tried to find answers for the many difficult problems we have faced. Today’s experience prompts many questions as we are confronted with the devastating effects of COVID-19; the destructive powers of the numerous wars around the world, most recently the invasion of Ukraine by Russia; the damaging breakdown of civil interaction between people; the distressing divide between rich and poor, white and BIPOC, conservative and liberal; to name but a few.

 

Christians have turned to the Bible in their quest for answers and meaning, especially when facing trials and tribulations. Such questions as “Where is God?” and “Why did God let this happen?” are frequently asked. And yet, as Metropolitan Kallistos Warre, Orthodox theologian and archbishop holds: “it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not as much the object of our knowledge, as the cause of our wonder.”

 

Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, KY challenged those attending his installation Mass not to let “what we are facing” distract us from “where we should be looking” or “for whom we should be looking:” Jesus Christ. In other words, we should not let ourselves be absorbed by all the things that are going wrong, rather we should look at Jesus and heed his voice no matter the gravity of the situation because Jesus, Immanuel, is God-with-us, always.

 

Admittedly, this is easier said than done but we are about to begin the greatest celebration and practice of our faith in this mystery. Today we commence the celebration of Holy Week, the most important week of the entire liturgical year. During this week we celebrate the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the mystery of Immanuel, God-is-with-us. It is during this week above all other weeks that we become “progressively aware” of the “cause of our wonder” and behold the one “we are looking for,” Jesus the Christ.

 

To be sure, it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the mystery of our faith, the cause of our wonder. That will only happen when we see God face-to-face at the end of time. For now, mere portals to this mystery are opened during the celebration of the liturgy when the veil of the mystery is lifted just enough so we can get a glimpse of this mystery. Yet even but a mere glimpse is enough to get us on our Christian way to face the realities of life, unpleasant as they might be, because we know that God is with us even in the darkest of times.

 

During the next eight days we will recall and honor the last days in the life of Jesus. We start on Palm Sunday with the remembrance of Jesus’ glorious entrance into Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus embodied Divine Mercy by washing the feet of his disciples and by instituting the Eucharist. On Good Friday we behold the unfathomable mystery of the passion and death of the Son of God. On Holy Saturday we observe a solemn silence as Jesus lies in the tomb and breaks down the gates of hell. And on Easter Sunday we celebrate his glorious resurrection.

 

The great liturgies of Holy Week invite us to engage in many symbolic acts that evoke the mystery of our faith as we engage in extended processions; we wash one another’s feet; we honor the Blessed Sacrament; we pass and venerate the cross; we baptize and confirm; and we share in the Paschal Eucharist. The physicality of these symbolic acts is unmistaken. The best way to experience these symbolic acts is by participating in them in person together with our Christian community.

 

We are so glad and blessed that many of you have returned to The Basilica for in-person celebration of the liturgy. It is so great to worship together. If you have not yet returned and are able to do so, please consider returning during Holy Week. Our community will be the richer for your presence. If you are not yet able to return to in-person worship, we will continue to livestream all our Holy Week liturgies so you can participate remotely.

 

We truly look forward to that day when all of us will be able to gather in The Basilica for the celebration of our liturgy where together we may behold the “cause of our wonder” and find the one “we are looking for” so we may be ready to face whatever comes our way during our earthly journey.


Blessed Holy Week!

 

Fasting, Praying and Acting during the Fifth Week of Lent

“Be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Living in Solidarity with Those who are Poor.” Pope Francis

 

In 2017 Pope Francis inaugurated the first World Day of the Poor to be held every year on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

During his homily on the most recent World Day of the Poor marked on November 14, 2021, the pope decried the poverty into which people are often forced, “victims of injustice and the inequality of a throwaway society that hurries past without seeing them and without scruple abandons them to their fate.”

He went on to say that “unless our hope translates into decisions and concrete gestures of concern, justice, solidarity and care for our common home, the sufferings of the poor will not be relieved, the economy of waste that forces them to live on the margins will not be converted, their expectations will not blossom anew.”

He concluded by encouraging all people to improve the world by “breaking bread with the hungry, working for justice, lifting up the poor and restoring their dignity.”

 

During this Fifth Week of Lent, we invite you to: mend your heart by fasting from greed; bend your knees while engage in praying the Stations of the Cross; and Lend your hand by embracing generosity.

  • Mending our Hearts: Fasting from Greed
  • All of us, to some extent suffer from greediness. Greediness is the tendency to hold on, to claim or to demand something or even someone just for ourselves.
  • Fasting from greed is more difficult than fasting from meat or sweets. Ridding ourselves of this sinful desire requires a complete change of attitude which does not happen in a day or even a week. This is a difficult task which requires commitment and tenacity.
  • As Christians we are to live as Jesus lived. His generosity, even unto death knew no bounds. Let us contemplate and emulate Jesus’ generosity this week as we rid ourselves slowly of our greediness.

 

  • Bending our Knees: Praying the Station of the Cross
  • Praying the Stations of the Cross is an ancient Christian devotion which invites us to meditate on the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. A history of this devotion is offered in our series Art that Surrounds Us: https://www.mary.org/blog/202102/art-surrounds-us-stations-cross#.YDU4dNhKiJA.  
  • On Fridays of Lent, we pray the Stations of the Cross in The Basilica at 5:30pm. You can join us in person or via livestream. Each Friday we pray a different version of the Stations of the Cross using new texts and images.
  • If you would like to pray the Stations of the Cross at home you can use the weekly recorded livestream or you can find a narrated slideshow of our Scriptural Stations at https://vimeo.com/403088034.

 

  • Lending our Hands: Embracing Generosity
  • During Lent we give thanks for Jesus’ willingness to die for us on the cross. This act of ultimate generosity has deep sacrificial meaning and great theological implications for all of us. Not only are we saved by Jesus’ self-sacrifice, but we are also called to make sacrifices in turn.
  • On the fifth Sunday of Lent, we have a second collection for our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry. This is our opportunity to be generous to the programs our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry supports and the people it serves. We can also volunteer in our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry at The Basilica. You can find more information here: https://www.mary.org/ministries-education/charity-service#.YhFFgujMJPY
  • One of our strategic directions at The Basilica is to work toward ending homelessness. You can learn about the realities of homeless in our community and ways to advocate and get involved by visiting the following websites:

 

And please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian stamina. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.

 

 

Fasting, Praying and Acting during the Fourth Week of Lent
 
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
“The Christian identity card is joy, the Gospel’s joy.”
 
The fourth Sunday of Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday. This name is based on the first word of the introit or entrance chant for Mass that day which invites us to rejoice always.
 
Lætare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestræ.
 
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.
 
From the very beginning of his pontificate Pope Francis has spoken against fear and anger and has emphasized the importance of joy and gratitude.
 
Profound Joy, rooted in the assurance of God’s love for us and our salvation in Jesus Christ is one of the main themes discussed by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium or The Joy of Gospel promulgated in 2013, the first year of his pontificate.
 
He put it more succinctly and poignantly in a homily Pope Francis preached on May 23, 2016 as he stated that “the Christian identity card is joy, the Gospel’s joy, the joy of having been chosen by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus; the joy of that hope that Jesus is waiting for us, the joy that - even with the crosses and sufferings we bear in this life - is expressed in another way, which is peace in the certainty that Jesus accompanies us, is with us."
 
During this fourth week of Lent let’s mend our heart by fasting from fear and anger; bend our knees by praying Morning and evening Prayer; and lend our hands through acts of kindness and gratitude.
 
Mending our Hearts by Fasting from Fear and Anger
  • Fear and anger are omnipresent in our world today. Many people thrive on these sentiments, and some even promote them. Fear and anger rather than joy and happiness have become the hallmark and detriment of our society.
  • This week let’s resist the powers that tell us to be fearful or to hate and let’s embrace the gospel values of joy and gratitude. 
  • Practicing gratitude and joy, while choosing to fast from ingratitude and sadness is not only physically healthy but mentally, emotionally and spiritually enriching.  And after all, this is our only possible response to the mystery of God becoming one of us so that we may become more like God.
 
Bending our Knees while Praying Morning and Evening Prayer
  • Early Christians, based on their Jewish heritage marked sunrise, midday and sunset with prayer, giving thanks to God for the many gifts they received.
  • Ever since, Christians have done the same, sometimes in very simple and informal ways. Other times in highly structured and elaborate ways.
  • Let’s continue this great tradition by intentionally marking Morning and Evening with prayer, either individual or with family. You may also consider joining us at The Basilica for morning prayer on Tuesday and Thursday at 9:15am or evening prayer on Sunday at 3:00pm.
 
Lending our Hands through Noticing and Savoring Blessings and Expressing Gratitude
  • Let’s open our eyes and hearts to the good things in our life. Granted, there are many reasons to be sad and weep for our world. But maybe this week we can focus on all the reasons we should be grateful and allow ourselves to celebrate the many blessings bestowed on us.
  • Once we have become more attune to the many blessings of everyday life, we can learn to savor them. When we become aware of a specific blessing in our life let’s relish the moment and allow for a deep sense of gratitude to take hold.
  • The next step is to give expression to our gratitude. Let’s express heartfelt gratitude to our family, our friends, our God. This is not about mere pleasantries of politeness, rather this is about genuine appreciation. Profound gratitude may even inspire us to act with kindness and thoughtfulness or to return a favor. 
 
And please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.
 
 

Join the Journey!  Bend your knees, mend your heart, and lend your hands.”

The Third Week of Lent

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28

 

In a response to the killing of George Floyd Pope Francis powerfully stated during his general audience of June 3, 2020, that “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

 

And in a tweet dated March 21, 2021, he said: “Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.”

 

These are just two of many instances in which Pope Francis has spoken out against racism calling it sinful and evil behavior not becoming of the followers of Christ.

 

During the third week of Lent let us mend our heart by fasting from privilege and comfort; bend our knees by praying the Sorrowful Mysteries; and lend our hands as we strive for justice and equity for all.

 

  • Mending our Heart by Fasting from Privilege and Comfort
    • Most of us do not see ourselves as racists. We have BIPOC friends. We are careful in the language we use. We support BIPOC owned businesses. And yet we quietly support the status quo of white privilege.
    • It is difficult and hard work to face the reality that our institutions and even our church are stained by racial prejudice and discrimination.
    • During this week of Lent let’s fast from the comfort of our place of privilege and let’s honestly face the harsh reality of racism that permeates most everything we do.

 

  • Bending our Knees while Praying the Sorrowful Mysteries
    • Though white herself, Janet McKenzie has delved deep into the sin of racism and through her art confronts this evil. Her painting “sanctuary” is a striking rendition of Mary and Jesus as a Black mother with a teenage boy.
    • Like Mary, many BIPOC mothers have lost their young sons to violence, sometimes even state sanctioned violence.
    • During this week let’s pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary (https://www.mary.org/liturgical-celebrations/devotions/rosary#.YhK3POjMJD9)  as we meditate on the suffering of Mary and Jesus and all victimized Mothers and Sons.
  • Lending our Hands as we Strive for Justice and Equity for All:
  • Grounded in the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, Pax Christi USA strives to be the “peace of Christ” in the world today.
    You can learn about their anti-racism movement by visiting: https://paxchristiusa.org/racial-justice/

 

  • You can learn about the work of The Basilica Equity-Diversity-Inclusivity Initiative at www.mary.org/edi. There you will find the Basilica EDI Position Statement as well as suggestions for ways you can get involved in this important work.

 

  • The Basilica staff is reading Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad.  The book is broken up into four weeks, with each week offering a short daily reading and some reflection questions.  Consider reading/discussing this book with family, friends, or neighbors.

 

  • Mark your calendar for Basilica Seven Fates: Racial Healing Stations on May 22 at 1:00pm in The Basilica.  This evocative and devotional prayer service invites us to meditate on the inequities caused by racism through sacred art, music, lived experience and prayer.

 

And please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is not an endurance test or a time to prove our Christian stamina. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So pace yourselves. Give yourself and others some space. And above all be forgiving.

 

 

Join the Journey!  Bend your knees, mend your hearts, and lend your hands.”

The Second Week of Lent

“On the Care for our Planet and One Another.”

 

In 2015 Pope Francis addressed his encyclical Laudato Sì. On Care for Our Common Home to “everyone living on this planet.” With this encyclical, Pope Francis calls for a radical and urgent “Ecological Conversion” which he grounds in Scripture and adds to our body of Catholic Social Teaching.

 

Pope Francis wrote that God’s granting “dominion” over the earth in Gen. 1:28 is often used to justify the relentless exploitation of our planet. As a corrective he offers Gen. 2:15 where God entrusts both the cultivation and the care for our planet to us. Too often, he says we have excelled at cultivating the earth but have failed miserably at caring for our planet.

 

Now is the time to change that and to urgently start caring for our planet and for one another.  Poor people and poorer countries bare the brunt of climate change while they are victimized by the unbridled pursuit of money and possessions in richer parts of the world.

 

You can find more information about Laudato Si’ and how we might collaborate on its implementation at: https://laudatosiactionplatform.org/ The Laudato Si’ Action Platform is a unique collaboration between the Vatican, an international coalition of Catholic organizations, and “all men and women of good will.”

 

During this Second Week of Lent let’s mend our hearts by fasting from single-use plastic; bend our knees by praying with Pope Francis; and lend our hands by purchasing sustainably and ethically sourced products.

 

  • Mending our Heart by Fasting from Single-Use Plastic
  • Pope Francis does not mince words when he says: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
  • Though most of us are diligent about composting and recycling far too much plastic still ends up in our ocean. In an TV interview in February Pope Francis said “Throwing plastic into the sea is criminal. It kills biodiversity, it kills the earth, it kills everything.” The best way to prevent this from happening is by eliminating the use of plastic.
  • This week let’s consider fasting from products that come in one-time use plastic containers. For many practical and attainable suggestions please go to: https://ourcommonhome.org/media/docs/Lenten-Plastic-Fast.pdf

https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/

https://www.ncronline.org/earthbeat

 

  • Bending our Knee by Praying with Pope Francis
  • Pope Francis ends Laudato Sì with prayers which he invites us to pray often. During this second week of Lent let us offer the following prayer on a daily basis.

 

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,

so precious in your eyes.

 

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

 

Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

 

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

 

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace

 

  • Lending our Hands by Purchasing Sustainably and Ethically Sourced Products
  • In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis praises St. Francis for lifting up the “inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.” Pope Francis then goes so far as to say that we need to respond to “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” as both are profoundly connected.
  • This seems like an overwhelming task. Besides we are not decision makers. We are subject to decisions made by others who have much more power and wield much greater influence than we do. Yet maybe the task is not for one person to make big changes but rather for a great number of people to institute small changes.
  • This week maybe we can carefully consider the products we buy. The important question to ask is how these products impact our planet, the lives of others and especially the lives of those making them. In other words, let’s commit ourselves to buying products that were sustainably sourced and ethically produced.

 

And please remember to be patient with yourself and others and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.

 

Johan M. J. van Parys, Ph.D.

Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts

 

 

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