Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago and attend the Young Adult Liturgy Conference, Transfigured, hosted by the Liturgical Institute. It was an absolute blast! If you’re a liturgy geek and have the opportunity to attend in future years, I very strongly recommend it.
The conference kicked off in the morning with “The Liturgical Encounter with Christ: Be Transfigured,” a talk by Chris Carstens, who traced a line through the Old and New Testaments and sacramental theology to show how we truly encounter the Living Son of God every time we go to Mass. The talk concluded with some very practical tips about how we can effect our own transfiguration through the liturgy. Carstens showed a quote from Dr. David Fagerberg that has really stuck with me:
The liturgical rites detonate an explosion, but the radiation from these sacramental outbursts is not intended to be contained by the blast walls of the sanctuary … The structure of the church is designed to run in a straight line from the sanctuary, through the nave, and out the narthex: a linear structure that directs the force of the liturgical explosion onto the street.
Next up was Fr. John Kartje, rector of Mundelein Seminary (also a rocket scientist and Biblical genius), with “A Better Way to Read the Bible: The Use of Scripture in the Mass.” Fr. Kartje’s hilarious lecture showed us that “the greatest source of misinformation in the Mass is the Scriptures” because it is very easy for us to think about the Sacred Scripture as merely a book and not the Living Word of God. He also highlighted the intimate relationship between Liturgy and Scripture, noting that Jesus’ public ministry kicked off within a liturgy and was launched by proclamation of Scripture. This was a really eye-opening seminar for a cradle Catholic like myself, who lives up to all the stereotypes about how Catholics don’t know about the Bible.
After a break for lunch was “Liturgy, Beauty, and Heaven: How the Church Allows us to Experience Transfiguration” with Dr. Denis McNamara. The talk centered mainly on Thomistic philosophy of beauty — a thing is beautiful when it shows clear revelation of its full ontological reality, and it has three constituent elements: wholeness, harmony/proportion, and clarity. Maybe this is for another blog post. The key was this: Beauty (specially in the world of sacred art and liturgical architecture) is not just a glittery overlay but “a flash of understanding that approaches the way God understands.”
The day’s final lecture was given by Ms. Alexis Kutarna, a graduate of the Liturgical Institute and current Director of Music at Houston’s St. Mary’s Seminary. She spoke about “Music in the Liturgy: The Song of Heaven.” Noting that the words “sing” and “song” appear in the Old Testament 309 times, she referred to Cardinal Ratzinger’s suggestion that “when man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough.” Kutarna suggested that most or all of the Mass ought to be sung instead of spoken, not just because it is more beautiful and solemn, but because when we sing in the same pitch the voices of the assembly literally vibrate at the same frequency, a very important sacramental reality that is often overlooked.
After a short break, the crowd moved next door to the recently restored St. Alphonsus Parish for sung Vespers and Mass celebrated by Cardinal Blase Cupich. This experience — particularly Vespers with 250 young adults, singing loud and proud — was one of the most beautiful and memorable in my life. Naturally, the day concluded with pizza and beer in the basement, sponsored by the St. Alphonsus Young Adult group.
I can’t say enough good things about this inaugural young adults’ liturgy conference and the great people who worked so hard to pull it off. It definitely rekindled my pipe dream of studying at the Liturgical Institute! I’d expect that next year’s conference is already in the works — I hope to see you there!