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

In his Lenten message of 2013, the last of his pontificate, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote about the priority of faith and the primacy of charity. On the one hand he praised a deepening of our prayer life and strengthening of our faith as good and worthy Lenten disciplines. In addition, he challenged us to witness to our faith by extending charity to others and to allow our prayer life to drive our charity. This, according to Benedict XVI is the key to a fruitful Lent and the essence of our Christian life.
 
As we embark on the Third Week of Lent we invite you to consider the following suggestions for the three Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and charity. These can either be in addition to our previous suggestions or you can start anew. 
 
Fasting from putting ourselves first
• Putting ourselves first as an individual and even as a nation is quite popular these days. Individualism and nationalism are celebrated by many, even by Christians despite the fact that both are antithetical to Christianity. 
• Christianity is rooted in Jesus’ willingness to give his life for others. He embraced death so we might live, all of us. This is as far removed from individualism and nationalism as one can possibly imagine. Followers of Jesus are called to do the same. In the words of St. Francis:  “…it is in giving that we receive…and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
• Lent is the perfect time to practice fasting from putting ourselves first by putting the needs of others before our own. The way we do that is by starting with small things such as checking in on a elderly neighbor. The ultimate goal is that we embody in our own lives the sacrificial life of Jesus. 
 
Prayer: Vision Divina on the Passion of Christ
• As we try to live out our Christian calling it might be good to meditate on the Passion of Jesus. One way of doing that is through Visio Divina or Divine Seeing which is an intentional and prayerful contemplation of an image of the crucifixion. The objective is to allow God to speak through the art in a most profound way. 
• As you prepare for Visio Divina chose an image of the crucifixion and select a Passion Narrative as found in one of the Gospels.
1. Lectio: take you time to slowly read through part of one of the Passion Narratives. Be attentive to any words that speak to you and feel free to write those down.
2. Visio: after reminding yourself of the textual description of the Passion of Christ now spend some time contemplating the art you selected. What is it you see? If you are using a figurative representation ask yourself who and what is represented in the image. If non-figurative, consider the shapes, the forms, and the colors. Feel free to write down any words that come to mind.
3. Meditatio: Now let your imagination dialogue with what you see. There is always more to an image than what the eyes behold. Is a deeper story forming in your imagination? Are you experiencing any specific feelings or emotions? Again, feel free to write down any words that come to mind.
4. Oratio: Once you are content that the image has fully spoken to you it is now time to formulate a prayer response. This can be a prayer of gratitude or it might be a prayer of intercessions. Feel free to use the words you have written down in step 1 or 2.
5. Contemplatio: After praying with words it is now time to let go of all words and to quietly rest in prayer. Give yourself over to God who will mold you in prayer to be more like God.
6. What do you take away from this experience.  What might you do differently in your life, inspired by the Passion of Christ?
• An example of a semi-guided Visio Divina on the Passion of Christ may be found on the University of Portland website: https://www.up.edu/garaventa/archives/visio-divina/crucifixion.html
 
Charity
• As you fast from putting yourself first we invite you to engage in small acts of kindness, thus putting others before you. St. Thérèse de Lisieux noted that not all of us are called to live heroic Christian lives. Most of us are called to engage in many small acts of kindness done with great love. 
• Simply select a few smalls acts of kindness you will commit yourself to in the next week and beyond. This may be opening a door for someone; allowing someone to go first in line; checking in on an elderly neighbor; providing food for someone in need; offering support to someone who is struggling with loss; shoveling snow should we still get some; etc.
• There are many, many small acts of kindness we can engage in on a daily basis. As we do that we will train ourselves in the very ways of thinking and acting God asks of us as followers of Jesus Christ.
 
And as I mentioned the last two weeks, 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.
 
 

Art That Surrounds Us

 
 

 

 
 
 
Lenten banners hung above sanctuary

Lent is an Invitation

This coming week, on Wednesday February 17, we mark Ash Wednesday and thus begins our annual Lenten journey. The symbolic act commonly associated with Ash Wednesday is the Imposition of Ashes. And although Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, many people flock to our churches to receive ashes.

The custom of imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday has Biblical roots. Job, for instance used ashes as a sign of repentance: “Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, too, describe the use of ashes as a sign of repentance. In the description of the sending of the 72, Jesus instructs them to kick the sand of their sandals if they are not welcomed in a given city, and to warn them the Kingdom is at hand. Then Jesus compares the fate of these cities with that of the sinful cities of Tyre and Sidon saying that “if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21).

The liturgical custom of sprinkling ashes which is also penitential in nature originates in the Order of Penitents established during the fourth c. This Order or group of people consisted of those Christians who had committed grave sins and had been admitted into the order by the bishop. The Order of Penitents predates the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was the only recourse Christians had to salvation after they broke their baptismal promises. The rite of admission to the Order of Penitents which happened at the beginning of Lent involved the imposition of ashes by the bishop. When this order was superseded by the Sacrament of Reconciliation the imposition of ashes was retained and expanded. Recognizing that all are sinners in need of repentance all Christians started to present themselves for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday.

The earliest mention of the existence of Ash Wednesday, known as Dies Cinerum or the Day of Ashes dates back to the 10th century. It is believed that the custom itself was observed as early as the eight century. 

The imposition of ashes still has a penitential character, even today. With this public act, we indicate that we are in need of forgiveness and that we are committing ourselves to 40 days of fasting, prayer, and charity in preparation of the celebration of the Sacred Triduum.

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from the palms used during the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion. In the Middle Ages these palms were burned during elaborate ceremonies. Today, this is done in a more simple manner.

In the United States, ashes are usually placed on the forehead in the shape of the cross. In other countries such as Italy they are sprinkled on the crown of a penitent’s head. This is actually the proper way of doing this as the ritual for the Imposition if Ashes calls for the minister to “place ashes on the head” of the people. During the Pandemic, which prevents us from signing the forehead with ashes, we will sprinkle ashes on the crown of people’s head, though not as generously as in Europe. We will just use a pinch.

While imposing the ashes, the minister can use one of two formulas. The second option, which is the more ancient of the two, is inspired by the words God spoke when expelling Adam and Eve from Paradise thus subjecting them to death: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). This option simply reminds us of our sinful nature yet does not invite us to do anything about it.

The first and more recent option is taken from the first chapter of Mark: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  After the death of John, Jesus began his public ministry announcing the Kingdom of God inviting people to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” These words spoken by Jesus and repeated by the minister are a clear invitation to action. Knowing that we are sinners, we are called to repent and to live according to the Gospel. Or in the words of the Prophet Joel in the First Reading on Ash Wednesday, Lent is an invitation to “return to God with all your heart.” 

May this Lenten Season and the entire Paschal Cycle be a blessing for all of us.

 

The feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2), also known as Candlemas is one of the lesser known feasts in our church. The Gospel of the day taken from Luke, chapter 2 relays the story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth in order to fulfill the prescriptions of the law as noted in Leviticus chapter 2. However, even more important than fulfilling the law by offering two turtle doves was their enlightening encounter with Simeon, a righteous and devout man and Anna, a prophetess. Simeon called Jesus a “light for revelation to the nations” while Anna saw Jesus as the redeemer.

The history of this feast is complex and rich. At one time it marked the end of the 40 day long Christmas Season as it sits on the cusp between the celebration of Jesus’ mysterious birth into humanity and his salvific death for humanity. Yet because February 2 most often falls on a weekday very few people even are aware of it. Nevertheless, I have very fond memories of this feast which go back all the way to my childhood.

Our family would attend early morning Mass on that day. Upon entering the church we received a thin, tall candle, one per family. After the priest said a prayer and sprinkled Holy Water we walked around the church in procession. As the oldest child I was tasked with carrying our family’s candle. My current fondness of processions probably dates back to those Candlemas celebrations when I carried the candle under the watchful eye of my parents and the envious glances of my siblings. After Mass we were encouraged to take our candle home and to care for it with reverence. The priest told us to light the candle in times of need. I distinctly remember lighting our candle when my great-grandfather was mortally ill while we prayed for his recovery. We also found some solace in this candle once he died. We even would light the candle and huddle around it during bad storms. It made us less afraid.

Many years later, when living in a Benedictine abbey we celebrated the day with even greater ceremony as the candles were bigger, the procession was longer and the psalms sung were more numerous. We started the celebration in the chapter room. After the lighting and blessing of our candles we processed through the entire cloister into the church while singing Lumen ad revelationem gentium or A light of revelation to the Nations. I can still hear the sounds, see the sights and smell the burning wax which even overpowered the copious amounts of incense used for the procession.

Memories are great yet they need to be interpreted carefully. My childhood experience of the feast reveals profound truths but maybe there was a hint of superstition which tainted the use of the candles at home. Or was it the result of a more generous and less complicated faith?  My monastic memories, though revelatory of deep faith undoubtedly suffer from some liturgical romanticism.

The essence of the feast is this: year after year we are called to be the new Simeon and the new Anna who proclaim Jesus as the Light to the Nations and the Savior of the world. The candles are a tangible affirmation that Christ is indeed the Light. And the procession is not just a pretty parade rather it symbolizes and rehearses us in our calling to bring Christ’s light to the world. 

As a child I always wished we could keep the candle burning throughout the liturgy and even on our way home. I did not quite know why but I thought it made sense. Today I know what I sensed then as I dream of this grand procession of all Christians leaving their respective churches on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord with lit candle in hand, proclaiming to the world that Christ is the Light to whom we bear witness in word and deed.

At The Basilica we will bless candles for Candlemas on Sunday, January 31 during the 9:30am and 11:30am celebration of the Eucharist. You are welcome to take them while you if you attend the liturgy. Or you can come to The Basilica between 10:30-11:00am or 12:30am-1:00pm and pick them up while staying in your car. You will receive a prayer card outside the Rectory and the candles outside the school. We invite you to light these candles and say the prayer when you find yourself in any kind of need.

Blessed Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

 

 

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.

 

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