What is the prayer culture of the John Paul II Center? Why is it so hard to put you in a box? You pray breviary and sing worship songs. You love Eucharistic Adoration and pray for healing. You treasure silence and sometimes your singing gets really loud. You follow the rubrics of the Catholic Mass very closely and yet one has the feeling that you have great freedom. You cultivate spontaneous prayer – and then suddenly the rosary. Your masses can be very solemn and yet they never lose their simple character. You pray in so many different ways and yet one has the impression that it is about the essentials. What follows is an attempt to explain…
THE 5 PRINCIPLES OF OUR PRAYER CULTURE
1.FIDELITY TO WHO WE ARE. The John Paul II. Center is under the responsibility of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and in the broader sense of the Federation of Regnum Christi (where LC, there also RC). The Center is the way that RC is configured in the city of Vienna. Fidelity to what is our own requires that the Center’s Spirituality be in harmony with LC/RC spirituality. That is, our approach to prayer at the John Paul II Center is rooted in LC/RC spirituality and the missionary mandate of the Church.
2.CENTERED ON CHRIST. At the heart of LC/RC spirituality is Christ-centeredness. The communion with Christ by grace through the power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing him, loving him, following him, being drawn into his passion for people, that’s what matters to us. That means at the same time: to love what he also loves; namely the Father, to the Holy Spirit, the struggle to build the kingdom of God, love for the individual and his integral salvation, unity and charity, the Church and the Pope, Mary, one’s own vocation.
3.VARIETY OF FORMS. It would be a mistake to try to nail down the core of LC/RC spirituality, and therefore of the JP2 Center, to an external expression such as a particular form of prayer or a genre of music. When the core is clear, the path to the core and the expression of the core itself can take many forms. The communion or „incorporation into Christ“ by grace through the work of the Holy Spirit is a process that takes place in the depths of the soul and will have a behavioral impact („Not everyone who says to me, Lord! Lord! shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven…“ (Mt 7:21)). But what is essential in this union with Christ does not reside in an external process, even though it can manifest itself externally. Rather, it is an interior movement that takes place in the deepest point of the soul itself. This interior movement is not tied to a certain style of prayer that leads to it. Therefore, we are open to different forms of prayer in the JP2 Center that are in harmony with the Christian faith. What’s more, it is important to us to enable access to and cultivate different forms of prayer. Because depending on age, character, and where one is situated in one’s own path of discipleship, different forms of prayer will be more or less helpful.
4.MISSIONARY DIRECTION. For some, what follows will not be very satisfying. Because it doesn’t specify everything once and for all – nor does it want to. This is intentional. For that is what is new about Christianity: bringing the world home into the embrace of God. The transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord is only the beginning of the transformation of the entire world. God becomes man so as to divinize man…not that we become God, but yes so that we truly partake of his divine life, empowered to be something we could never be without him. Yet this doesn’t happen overnight. The Incarnation of God aims at the incorporation of man into Christ. To “becoming a son in the Son”. It’s a process and a journey. And this process immediately creates tension. A tension that lies in and upon the mission of the church. Clearly, if we don’t evangelize, we can sort things out neatly, like the Pharisees who kept a safe distance from those who hadn’t been ritually clean. But as soon as we get involved with the fish we are to fish for, it becomes challenging. Because the fish think differently, smell differently, want differently, do differently. And if the fish want to have anything to do with “us”, then some give to understand that they should kindly dress like us, talk like us, believe like us, as a prerequisite for everything else. We say that we want to fish. And yet. If you are honest and follow some Church discussions, you get the impression that in practice we are not really interested in fish. No matter what we claim in theory.
5.UPHOLD THE TENSION (Spannungseinheit in German, which means something like “Union in the midst of tension”). I believe this issue is reflected in our prayer and in the way we worship as church communities. One can’t stand the tension with „world“. And then it happens that one either escapes into “the good old days” or one conforms to the “world” in such a way that one becomes world. Instead of penetrating the reality of the world through the Gospel, one becomes penetrated from the world, denying one’s identity as a Christian. We want to avoid both extremes. Including in the way we pray and celebrate Liturgy and other forms of worship. And that has to do with the effort the imperative to uphold a tension, nor resolve it.
Said differently: Jesus is God. But at the same time man. Not 50% God and 50% man. Not one or the other. But both at the same time. Totally God. Totally human. He becomes man to divinize man. In himself his humanity is penetrated by his divinity. Penetrated but not erased. And he wants to see this process reflected in us: He becomes man so that we become divine. Not that participation in divine life destroys our humanity. On the contrary. Our humanity is ennobled, liberated, elevated. Integration. Not playing off one against the other. We become more and more ourselves, the more we are connected to God. This dynamic runs through the entire reality of what it means to be a Christian. Often the „Catholic“ answer is not one or the other…but both. Freedom and grace. Scripture and Tradition. Faith working in acts of love. Contemplation and action. In the world and yet not of the world. Lion and lamb. Infinitely sublime and glorious and infinitely close. King and servant. Lord and friend. Almighty and small and poor. He reigns, but from the cross. An incredibly deep intimacy, but to send us out into the world together. The Spirit that creates order and the Spirit that leads to freedom. Jesus is the Word of God par excellence, which comes to us in the quiet of Bethlehem.
We do not want to dissolve the tensions just mentioned, we want to maintain them. And we want to do this in turn with a great inner freedom, not fearful, in the knowledge that we will not always be able to do it „perfectly“ and we don’t have to. And yet, we want to create an atmosphere that facilitates the encounter with this God: solemn yet simple, moving yet calm, familiar yet dignified.
We have taken on Benedict XVI.’s adoption of Romano Guardini’s idea of the “unity of tension” (Spannungseinheit). The tension between the Church and modern culture must be endured. Retreating to a separate world leads to the loss of missionary power. What is specific to us is not, for example, musical form or the genre, but the missionary spirit. If we become frozen in insistence on learned forms, we are lost in the „good old days“. We are not a service station for Catholics longing for the old days, but for the New Evangelization. “The safest thing is a ship in port. But that’s not what it was built for.”
We are aware that the areas of tension and in general that venturing into new forms of prayer involve risks. And yet. The sole emphasis on the „old“ carries with it the danger of “stronghold Catholicism” (Festungskatholizismus), harshness and dead letters, lack of evangelizing power, the practical „disinterest“ in the world we are called to evangelize. Of course, this does not purport to claim that those who prefer, for example, the “Old Mass”, for example, are not missionaries or have not understood the „et et“ and not „aut aut“ („one and the other“ and not the „either or“) character of the Church and of the faith. The point here is not to explain other approaches or to compare ourselves, but to present our own approach and its justification. The sole emphasis on dialogue with the world leads to irrelevance, superficiality, and the abandonment of the evangelizing mission. It results in Eucharistic Celebrations, where at the end of the day the community celebrates itself, God playing only a peripheral role, if at all. But when at Mass we pray together, we don’t want to celebrate ourselves, we want to put God at the center, or rather, recognize that he is already there, we want to align all we are toward him. We are shaped by our spirituality, which is fed by being centered on Christ: Jesus Christ is in the center of the JP2 Center. The tabernacle and the cross are in the middle, everything is aligned towards him. Jesus Christ is in his Person the integration of the tension between the divine and the human.
1.Liturgical Celebrations. The central place for communal prayer will be liturgical prayer, especially the celebration of the Eucharist, since it is not simply the prayer of so-and-so, but it is Christ himself, who, as the head of the Church, introduces the whole body into the praise of the Father.
2.Eucharistic Adoration. Eucharistic Adoration plays a central role at the John Paul II Center. Because it is Jesus Himself in whose presence we are here. Adoration expresses that Jesus Christ is our primary concern and that we expect everything from Him. We believe in the power that comes from Him to heal, to transform hearts and structures – our apostolic work plays a secondary role and will be effective only in the degree that it comes out of and is vivified by prayer. Eucharistic Adoration was also essential to the change that led to the founding of the Center in fall of 2015. Adoration emphasizes the non-self-seeking aspect of prayer: praying simply because Jesus is worthy of our praise, not because I get anything in return. Giving Eucharistic adoration a central place also visibly emphasizes our primary intent to lead people to an encounter with him. Adoration is for us no sideshow – because it’s like the power source for everything we do, fount of all missionary fruitfulness.
3.Music. Our musical orientation finds its inspiration in musicians such as B. Tim Hughes, Matt Maher, Jenn Johnson, Brooke Ligertwood, Matt Redman, Lauren Daigle, Kari Jobe, Chris Tomlin, Steffany Gretzinger or institutions like Bethel, Leeland, Hillsong, Casting Crowns, Jesus Culture, Vigil & many more … At the same time, it is not a matter of „copy paste“, but of an interpretation, translation and integration.
Worship Music enjoys a privileged position at the Center. This also in the sense that we are currently using worship music as the main form of music and as a privileged form of prayer inside and outside of the Liturgy. There are multiple reasons for this. Music is a powerful medium that speaks to people on a very deep, inner level. Through the beauty of music many find access to the beauty of God. „Lead with beauty“ (Bishop Robert Barron) is one of our guiding principles. Of course, this applies to all people, but this has a special power when we speak to people who have lost or never had access to the faith. People might at first be very reticent about „truth“ and „morality“, but we have found that beauty is a way that opens up the heart for God´s saving truth and liberating demands. Experience also shows us that “Worship Music” can be a privileged means of opening up a path to contemplation and a deeper contact with and encounter with God for modern people through a style of music that initially does not seem alien to them.
At the same time, our us of “worship music” does not primarily have an evangelizing character, but rather an inherent value: We do not worship “so that someone is touched by God”, but to give glory to God. Worship is first and foremost about God… and where that really happens, a space opens up much more easily where a touch of God can happen. However, we do not rule out other forms of music on principle. This is a question of resources, target groups and priorities. Depending on these, it might make sense in the future to consider how other forms could be integrated into the center. The condition for this would always be that the vision, culture and core values of the center are preserved, the quality is right and we have discerned in prayer that this will better help us to fulfill our mission. There are parishes out there doing something similar, either in that they have made a basic choice for „worship music” and yet have incorporated other elements, for example a Gregorian Kyrie or a preface in a worship mass…or in that they have different music styles at different mass times.
4.Music Leadership. The role of the worship music leader at the JP2 Center is not easy and requires training and mentoring. Because at the official events of the center, the worship leader has the role of helping to introduce the Congregation into the praise of God through music. In this role, the worship leader must regard his own authenticity (he cannot give what he does not have or is, he must be a someone steeped in prayer himself), at the same time fully trusting in God’s work despite his weakness and, last but not least, he must keep the people in mind whom he wants to lead into worship.
Worship within the Liturgy is another challenge because there is a given order of things. But this in turn can be an opportunity for the Worship Leader and for the Congregation, because it can have an impact on our praise of God as such (inside and outside the Liturgical framework) and can help to avoid pure subjectivity in prayer. In addition, according to Benedict XVI. Liturgical music has the task of „leading us into the mystery“. Worship music is predestined for this, that’s exactly it’s role. This means that the connection between worship and Liturgy can develop tremendous power to celebrate and lead into the mystery even more deeply. Worship music is not restricted in this sense by the Liturgy, but ennobled for its own purpose.
Worship music as we understand it has a lot of similarities to the prayer of the desert Fathers and the “prayer of the heart” popularized by books like the “The Way of a Pilgrim” (also known as the “The Way of a Pilgrim”). Far from just repeating one song after the other, in its essence is meant to lead to contemplation. One of our musicians once expressed it like this:
“Real ‘worship’ presupposes that all questions about musical skills have faded away: Only then can I really pray the song. And then I experience worship in such a way that there is simply a deep touch in the heart. The words I sing become deep Heart-prayer. I no longer perceive the world around me, only Jesus and me. Then I forget myself totally. There is only the loving gaze of the Lord.“ Only when one is no longer the center can one be a tool for the Lord. „It’s about becoming transparent before God and for people.“ A worship leader must lead to God: „For me, this syllable “ship” of the word worship refers to being a skipper, directing people towards God. You try to be so transparent that you point people towards God. If they look at you, they should meet the Lord.”
5.Diversity of forms of prayer. Worship music is not the JP2 Center’s sole approach to prayer, not even to contemplation. It’s a privileged path for many, but not the only one. Even if it is often in the foreground, because it is particularly well suited for communal prayer.
Therefore, training courses and learning about other forms of prayer should not be neglected, such as for example: Prayer of quiet, Christian meditation and non-musical contemplation, Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, prayer for healing, prophetic prayer, Liturgical prayer, oral forms of prayer such as the Way of the Cross and Rosary and novenas, etc. That said: Whatever forms of prayer these will be, will depend in great part on the needs of the people who come to the center and follow a path of discipleship, and on the gifts and charisms of those who teach and exemplify these forms of prayer. We don’t want to extinguish the Spirit. “Pray without ceasing! Thanks for everything; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t quench the spirit! Do not despise prophecy! Test everything and keep what is good!” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-21). It would be beautiful if the Center also became known for the fact that one can really learn to pray here, enriched and equipped with all the wealth of prayer that the Tradition of Church has to offer, in order to give one’s own missionary discipleship a deep foundation in in communion with the Lord.
6.Reglementation. Wherever possible, we avoid setting too specific “rules” for prayer and prefer to start from principles. On the one hand, because we don’t want to quench the Spirit. On the other hand, because it is above all a question of culture, very dependent situation and context. For example, when a group comes together for a time of spontaneous praise & worship, one should feel the freedom to pray together in this manner. Conversely, when a small group is praying the rosary, that is not the time to pull out the Liturgy of the Hours or for one of those present to start with praise & worship. We strive for a context-dependent unity when praying together. When there are many Unchurched present, let us be wary of certain forms that we have prayerfully discerned are more likely to turn people off. A few exceptions to the „no rules“ idea:
- In times of communal spontaneous prayer, care is taken to be positive and uplifting, not to judge and look at who is there – For example, someone brings forth an intercession at a mass, speaking judgmentally about the unchurched. On the one hand, that would be problematic because of the rash judgment. On the other hand, it would be problematic because it shows little sensitivity to the fact that unchurched are likely to be present at our masses.
- When praying for someone, one asks first before placing the hand on their shoulder. The hand is placed only on the shoulder, not on other parts of the body (the exception is the priest when laying on of hands on the forehead). The procedure here is particularly sensitive when it comes to a person of the opposite sex.
- For a longer and foreseeable more intensive prayer times for another person, a second person is brought in, in a visible place approved for such purposes.
- Deliverance prayers for another person in their presence are carried out by priests only. Exceptions are only made in consultation with the pastoral team.
- The regulations of the Archdiocese of Vienna for the prevention of abuse as well as the regulations of the JP2 Center in this area are complied with.
7.The role of the “Charismatic”. Sometimes it is doubted whether one should allow charismatic forms of prayer as a religious community or as Regnum Christi, because the LC/RC are not charismatic. But one should first ask what is meant by “charismatic”. If you take the word „charisma“ in its proper sense, namely as a gift of grace from the Holy Spirit for the service of the Church and people (cf. CCC 799), then every Christian is a charismatic, because in baptism we receive new life in Christ „the most glorious of the graces of God“ (Gregor Nazianzus, quoted in KKK 1216). If one means specific forms of prayer such as healing prayer or spontaneous forms of prayer or even worship music, then we would say what has already been said: these forms are not what expresses the specific core of our spirituality, because this relates to a deeper core and connection to Jesus Christ through faith infused by love. These forms can, however, very well offer access to this deeper core, as can other forms of prayer. In this sense we uphold these forms in the JP2 Center as we do other forms of prayer, but not as our specific form or the only approach to prayer we want to cultivate.
Fr George Elsbett LC
Director of the John Paul II Center