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 encyclical Laudato Sì. On Care for Our Common Home, which is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” 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 references the fact that “dominion” over the earth was entrusted by God to humans as found in Gen. 1:28. He argues that this is often used to justify the relentless exploitation of our planet. As a corrective he then offers Gen 2:15 where God calls on humans to both “cultivate and care” for our planet. Too often, he says we have excelled at cultivating or tilling 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.
 
In terms of our Catholic Social Teaching Pope Francis points out that all decisions we make have an effect on the environment. At the same time he points out that 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.
 
As we continue our Lenten journey 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 the use of 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.” 
• Inspired by Laudato Sì as well as by the great passion my late niece had for our planet I recently took stock of my kitchen and bathroom supplies and found so many one-time-use plastic containers. Granted, I am very diligent about recycling but even if all the recyclable plastic were recycled - which is not the case as much of it ends up in land fills at best and in oceans at worst – the energy it takes to recycle plastic contributes to the pollution of our planet. 
• In addition to fasting from food and drink this week lets consider fasting from the containers that are used to package these. Maybe we can consider alternatives to liquid cleaning products that so handily come in plastic containers. And we could investigate bamboo alternatives to plastic and paper made from wood. For many  practical and attainable suggestions please go to: https://ourcommonhome.org/media/docs/Lenten-Plastic-Fast.pdf
 
Praying with Pope Francis
Pope Francis ends Laudato Sì with  prayers which he invites us to pray often. During this fifth 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
 
Charity: purchase sustainably and ethically sources products
• In his encyclical 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 enormous 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 examine our buying behavior to make sure we know where any products we buy come from. The important question to ask is how these products impact the lives of others 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 as I have mentioned since we began this series, 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.

 

 

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.
 
As we embark on the Fourth Week of Lent we invite you to meditate on the Joy of Christianity and 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. 
 
Johan M. J. van Parys, Ph.D.
Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts
 
Fasting from sadness and ingratitude
• In a homily preached on May 23, 2016 at morning Mass in the Chapel of Casa Santa Marta where he lives, Pope Francis 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."
• Practicing gratitude and joy, while choosing to fast from ingratitude and sadness is not only physically healthy but mentally, emotionally and spiritually enriching, too.  And after all, it is our only possible response to the mystery of God becoming one of us so that we may become more like God
• So this week, let us fast from sadness and ingratitude even though so much in the world invites us to do just that. And let us wholly embrace the Joy of Christianity so our hearts our heart, our homes, our city, our country and indeed our world may be aflame with the hope and joy of the Resurrection we are about to celebrate.
 
Centering Prayer
• Gratitude and joy flow from the assurance that God knows us, remembers us, accompanies us, loves us and awaits us. The reality of God’s covenant with us is expressed in prayer and is at the same time impressed on us during prayer, particularly in the quiet of contemplative prayer.
• One form of Contemplative Prayer is known as Centering Prayer. The goal of Centering Prayer is to open one’s mind, heart and soul completely to God who is the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions. In the silence of this prayer we are invited to an intimate encounter with God who is considerate, caring and compassionate. Our response to God’s love can be nothing but gratitude and joy which we are want to share with others.
• You can find more information at the following websites
 
Charity: Act with Courage
• The Joy of Christianity gives us the courage to speak and act on behalf of those in need without any fear. As we consider our society during these weeks of Lent let us commit ourselves to a better world, the kind of world God has dreamt for us.
• This week let us think about the many injustices and concerns that plague our world and ask ourselves how we can make a difference in terms of racial justice, adequate housing, mental health funding, the care for the unborn, health insurance for all, immigrants and asylum seekers, the death penalty, endless cycles of poverty, gun violence…
• We can’t tackle all of these at once but lets select one or two and see how we may occasion change by speaking up, donating money, volunteering, lobbying our legislators…
 
 
And as I mentioned the last three 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.
 
 
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.

 

 

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