RICHMOND—Liturgies and rites are essential in helping Catholics understand who they are, according to liturgy expert Father Michael McGourty.
“As people drive by a church, they see the brick and the mortar and they are reminded that there is a community there that makes Christ present,” Father McGourty said at a National Liturgical Conference hosted in Vancouver Nov. 6-7.
“So, too, we are reminded that we are to be signs of Christ’s presence in the world.”
An Ontario priest and professor of liturgy, Father McGourty led about 120 conference participants through the rite of the dedication of a church and what it means for parishes.
The “beautiful ritual” marks a building as a sacred space, meant for celebrating the sacraments and sending the faithful out on a mission of evangelism, he said.
“By the experience of this ritual, the community is reminded that they are called to live in communion with God and the church is to have, as its final goal, salvation.”
Symbols involved in the rite, including anointing the altar with holy oil, blessing the baptismal font, and placing relics in the altar, all point to that reality. “The ritual has made of our building a sign that reminds us who we are.”
He added that liturgies themselves do not bring about holiness. “Our holiness is based on the fact that Christ is the cornerstone around whom the entire Church arises and is defined.”
About 120 priests, deacons, and lay faithful from across Canada arrived in Richmond for the conference, hosted at the Marriott Hotel.
“It’s a really excellent conference,” said Patty Fowler, a member of the National Council for Liturgical Music and an organist from St. John’s.
“It’s giving a real theological underpinning to the whole idea of who we are as Church, who we are as temples of the living God. We are a sign of God in our world and we are to be sent.”
She added she’s looking forward to a new Canadian Catholic hymnal, expected as early as 2018.
“It’s important when people take hold of the liturgy and make it our own,” said Father Jim Richards, a participant and priest from the Diocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.
He said it’s important to discuss the relationship between church rites and the people who participate in them. “They are all about being part of the universal church.”
The two-day national conference, put on by the National Liturgy Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, came to a climax with Mass at Canadian Martyrs Church in Richmond and a banquet at the parish hall.
In his homily, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, challenged participants to actively respond to the call to evangelism.
“The question for us to ponder is twofold: how am I responding to the Lord’s call to celebrate Eucharist: Am I indifferent? Do I come lackadaisically and unprepared? And second, do I go out to invite others, those on the periphery, to Mass? When was the last time I invited someone to come to church with me?”
He said people with a heart for liturgy should lead evangelizing initiatives.
“To celebrate the sacred mysteries with beauty and authenticity, with God’s grace we must do all we can to ensure that the banquet hall is full, for the Lord’s invitation extends to everyone.”