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

Extraordinary Times call for Extraordinary Measures

Many years ago I attended a conference which gathered liturgists, architects, and artists from around the world to anticipate worship in a digital age. We talked about virtual churches, virtual art, and even virtual liturgies. Though intrigued, I must admit that I was shocked by the ease with which so many participants anticipated the time when we would all worship “together” from the comfort of our home thanks to the miracle of the internet. What would that be like, people marveled. When I half-jokingly asked if we would have to come up with a theology for “virtual” real presence during on-line adoration, people gave me a blank stare. My suggestion that “burning” a virtual candle was even worse than dropping a coin in an electric candle stand was equally ignored. I did not really care because I did not believe that we would ever get there. And yet, here we are!

A week ago we started limiting physical access to our liturgies while making them only accessible electronically. I was forced to overcome the instinctive dislike I had of virtual liturgy so many years ago when the digital age was still in its infancy. However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

Catholic liturgy is by its very definition never virtual and digital but always real and physical. It has to be engaged in with as many human senses as possible and cannot be limited to a visual and /or acoustical experience. Also, Catholic liturgy is not received passively but needs to be engaged in actively. And, we need to be able to receive not only the form or words used for the sacraments; we also need to be able to receive the matter of the sacraments such as the Body and Blood of Christ during the Eucharist. However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

Being asked to stay away from one another in a time of crisis is so counter-intuitive for us Catholics. We want to be together, join our voices in song, walk around in processions, hug, kiss, and above all receive Holy Communion. And though we so desperately long to be together in these uncertain times, we also know that being together could make us--and worse--could make others very sick. When we need one another the most, we are deprived of one another's presence. However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

This, of course is not the first time the Church has experienced times when the faithful were not able to gather. We have been deprived from communal worship during times of religious persecution, war, and previous pandemics. Unlike in earlier times, today we have an alternative way to be together as we join in virtual worship. 

As we gather virtually for liturgy let us remember three things: first, we are the Body of Christ, united in a much deeper and more profound way than one that requires physical closeness. When a priest celebrates the Mass with only one or a few of us physically present the entire Body of Christ still celebrates the liturgy. Though we are not with him and one another physically, we are still together, spiritually bound by the mystery of the cross. Therefore, we will continue to live-stream as many of our liturgies as we can and invite you to join us. Our goal is to continue to create spiritual communion as the Body of Christ. You can announce your presence in the comments so we have a better sense of community, beyond mere numbers. 
Second, though physical Communion is the absolute preference and necessary whenever possible, there are times when we need to resort to Spiritual Communion. This type of Communion is wholly dependent upon our true desire for physical Communion of which we are deprived.  The 18th century  Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote this beautiful prayer:   

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

As we participate in a virtual celebration of the Eucharist, let’s pray this prayer of Spiritual Communion as we long for the day when we will again be able to receive Holy Communion.

Third, now is the time to go way back in our history and to rekindle the domestic church and to re-invigorate our own religious imagination. Since we can no longer simply rely on the church to fulfill our religious needs we can work on that ourselves. Find your Bible, your religious images and your candles, and create a small prayer space. Many of us have lost the custom and comfort of praying together. 

If there are several people in your household why not enjoy meals together during this home-stay and begin these meals with a simple prayer? Holy Week with its heightened religious sensitivities is also a good time to find ways in which to mark this most important week at home. We will send you some tips to help you bring the celebration of Holy Week into your homes.

When I attended above mentioned conference on virtual worship I truly never thought we would be doing this all over the world. Admittedly, it is not the preferred way; however, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And I hope that as soon as this is all behind us we will rush back to church with joyful anticipation of the celebration of the liturgy. There we will again dip our fingers in baptismal fonts, join our voices in song, walk around in processions, hug, kiss, and above all receive Holy Communion. 

Until then, let us pray with great fervor for an end to this pandemic; for the recovery of those who are ill with this corona virus; and for the eternal joy of those who have died.

Photo Interior Liturgy Easter Cross

The Paschal Mystery

The Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday – Good Friday – Holy Saturday – Easter Sunday) is my most cherished time of the entire liturgical year. This was instilled in me from a young age as the celebration of the Sacred Triduum was an essential part of my family’s religious experience. 

I fondly remember being one of the twelve who had their feet washed on Holy Thursday, the year I was confirmed. Even then I had a real sense that this small gesture embodies the essence of what it means to be a Christian. And being a lover of processions, how could I ever forget the solemn procession with the Blessed Sacrament. 

At 3:00pm on Good Friday my grandmother gathered our family and everyone who worked in her shoe factory for prayer. I don’t remember what she said but I remember the gravity of the moment. At night, we walked the Stations of the Cross which were set up throughout the city. I will never forget the silent and solemn cadence of the movement and the music. 

Holy Saturday, known to us as Silent Saturday, was a very quiet day. We spoke in hushed voices and tried not to disturb anyone from their prayerful ponderings and hopeful anticipation. At night, we all participated in the great Easter Vigil. Though our Easter Fire at The Basilica is much more impressive than the one we had at home, I still remember standing around it and experiencing the light shining in the darkness. From the very first time I heard the Exsultet sung I wished that one day I would sing it myself.  

Easter Sunday was a most holy day which we spent in church around the table of the Lord and then around the banquet table in my grandmother’s home.

Though I realize things are very different today, all these memories will come flashing back when we celebrate this year’s Triduum.

Below are some suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Paschal Mystery today.

  1. If at all possible take the Triduum off from work and make it a short retreat. 
  2. Carve out time for personal prayer. 
  3. Try to participate in all our Triduum liturgies.  You can find a list in the Newsletter and online.
  4. When participating in the liturgies do so with full heart, mind, and soul.
  5. Bring your family to the liturgies. We engage in so many beautiful symbolic actions which speak to the liturgical imagination even of the youngest.
  6. If you are not able to be present, please join us in prayer. 
  7. Be sure to pray for those who will be joining the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil. They are our Easter gift to the Church.

The beautiful liturgies of Holy Week are prepared with great care. Our staff and so many volunteers worked very hard to assure that everyone has a profound experience of the Mystery of our Salvation. Please join us so you may be refreshed and renewed in your faith.  

Blessed Holy Week!

Last Sunday, I had a wonderful conversation with a new parishioner. She recently moved to Minneapolis and quickly found a church home at The Basilica. She mentioned that she had been very much involved in her home parish. “Surely,” she said “you don’t need any more people to help out with the liturgy. Everything is done so beautifully.” I quickly retorted that despite the fact that our liturgy is celebrated so well, we always need more people and suggested she consider how she might best serve her new home parish.

One of the things that attracted me to The Basilica 25 years ago was the fact that our community cares so deeply about our liturgy. I noticed that when I visited for my interview in May of 1995. Surely, I was impressed with the very talented and committed staff and parishioners who interviewed me. But what really struck me was the way our community celebrates the liturgy. In it I saw and continue to see the embodiment of the liturgical dreams of the Second Vatican Council.

In a speech shortly after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI remarked that up until the Second Vatican Council it had been sufficient for lay people to merely be present at Mass. The Second Vatican Council changed this fundamentally. “Before,” he said “being there was enough; now attention and activity are required. Before everyone could doze or chatter, now “all must listen and pray.” 

The primary way in which all of us are called to participate is by fully, actively, and consciously engaging in the liturgical actions. We cannot be passive attendees; rather we are to be active participants. So, we stand and sit and kneel. We respond in word and song. And we engage in the occasional prayerful silence.

Another way of participating actively in the liturgy is by responding to our individual calling to become a liturgical minister, celebrating the corresponding talents God has given us. You may have the gift to lead the community in prayer and therefore you may be called to ordination. You may be gifted with musical talents and thus are called to lead the community in song. You may have the talent of public speech and therefore you may be called to proclaim the Word of God. Your love for the Eucharist may be a sign that you are called to become an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Your welcoming personality and generous smile may be a gift that is to be used as a minister of hospitality/usher.

Signing up for liturgical ministry at The Basilica is very easy: just go to 
mary.org/liturgicalministry. Or if you have any questions, please feel free to contact Travis Salisbury. Travis is our coordinator of liturgical celebrations who will be more than happy to help you discern which ministry works best for you. And as I told our new parishioner last Sunday, “don’t ask what the liturgy can do for you. Ask what you can do for the liturgy!”

Forty days after Christmas, on February 2, we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of Mary. Both commemorate events in the life of Jesus and Mary related to the observance of Jewish Law as narrated in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The day is also known as Candlemas because on that day, the mid-point of winter candles are blessed for use in church as well as in our homes. 
 
Though not a Holy Day of Obligation, Candlemas was an important day for my family. That day all of us attended morning Mass during which our pastor blessed the Candlemas candles that we would take home with us. After Mass, we joined my grandparents for a breakfast of traditional Candlemas crepes. In the evening, before bed we lit our new Candlemas candles for the first time and prayed together. The next day we packed away our nativity scene as the Christmas season was complete.
 
Those Candlemas candles meant a great deal to us. We brought them out when someone was sick or when disaster struck and we prayed in the glow of their flame. When we cleared out the house after my parents died we found several half-burned Candlemas candles that had supported us and given us hope throughout the years. We stopped our work, lit those candles one last time, and prayed for my parents.
 
On Sunday, February 2, we will bless the candles we will use during our liturgies this coming year and we will have Candlemas candles available for purchase. These candles can be lit at home when we find ourselves in a difficult time so they may give us hope as their light breaks the darkness. They are also an invitation for us to become what the candles symbolize:
 
Where the world is dark with illness
let me kindle the light of healing.
Where the world is dark with hatred
let me kindle the light of love.
Where the world is bleak with suffering
let me kindle the light of caring.
Where the world is dimmed by lies
let me kindle the light of truth.
(from a prayer for Shabbat)

 

 

During the season of Advent we place a statue of the Blessed Mother at the center of the Advent Wreath in our St. Joseph Chapel. I invite you to visit her during this wonderful season. You will see that this lovely statue depicts Mary, pregnant with the baby Jesus. She has her head slightly bowed and her eyes are closed. There is a faint hint of a smile on her lips. Her hands are folded across her heart. She seems peaceful, humbly yet resolutely accepting her mission to become the Mother of God. I have always wondered what might have gone on under the pious veneer of this statue. What was Mary really doing and thinking while expecting the birth of Jesus.

Advent is said to be the season of waiting. Mary awaiting the birth of her son embodies the kind of waiting we are expected to do. Like Mary’s waiting, Advent waiting is not a passive anticipation for whatever is to come. It is a waiting that is full of hope and expectation. It is a waiting that is marked by some level of consternation and trepidation. And it is a waiting that requires anticipation and preparation. 

And though the kind of waiting is similar, Mary awaited the birth of Jesus while we await his return. For us, the celebration of the birth of Jesus is the anticipation of his return and the fulfilment of the promise he embodies.

During advent we await his promise of light proclaimed to a world spiraling into ever greater darkness. And as we await the fullness of light we must fight the darkness. 
During advent we await his promise of love proclaimed to a world devoured by violence, kindled by rapidly spreading hatred. And as we await the fullness of love we must fight all forms of hatred.

During advent we await his promise of life proclaimed to a world that is consumed by a culture of death and on the brink of ecological collapse. And as we await the fullness of life we must fight the evil forces of death.

Advent is a reminder of our human calling and capacity to embrace light, to foster love and to promote life. However, as human history has proven over and over again these three human and Christian values are not easily attained and come at a cost. So, like Mary who prepared for the birth of her son we need to prepare for his return. We do this with hope and anticipation, preparation and some trepidation. 

As we work together to turn darkness into light; hatred into love and death into life we can be assured that the hope-filled words of the Prophet Isaiah we read on this third Sunday of Advent will be fulfilled: 

“The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.”

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