Responsibility to teach

Question: Do the pastoral responsibilities of bishops extend to children in public schools?

Robert Bonsignore,  Brooklyn, New York

Answer: Yes, a bishop does have this obligation. Normally he meets this duty by ensuring that each parish has adequate religious education available to children of all ages, and adults as well. Bishops, through their staff, oversee the content of parish programs and also help to certify the teachers and directors of religious education in parishes.

An additional way the bishop meets this duty is to help ensure that Catholic schools are available and teach the Faith in accord with Church norms. Sadly today, many Catholic schools are closing due to the high expense in running them. As tuition rates have risen, fewer Catholics can afford them.

Some remember the days when large numbers of religious sisters staffed our schools at very low cost. It is not likely we could replicate that system today even if we had the sisters. Health care costs and the need to care for many elderly religious has meant that even those vowed to poverty require wages to be paid to religious that are comparable to the wages laypersons need. Schools too are much more expensive to run. At one time costs were limited to buildings, reusable books, basic subjects and the salaries. Today expectations include many more subjects, labs, technological equipment, air-conditioned buildings, etc.

Thus bishops, working with parishes and benefactors, strive to keep Catholic schools open, but it is increasingly difficult. Setting up regional schools supported by several parishes helps, as does identifying benefactors. But it is a yearly struggle to keep schools open.

Another key factor in ensuring the religious upbringing of children is to assist in the ongoing religious formation of parents who are the chief educators of their children in the Faith. Some parishes have significant adult education opportunities and have retooled for “whole-family catechesis” programs. In such programs the parents are taught the same subject matter as their children and equipped to teach it to their children in consort with a catechist at the parish.

Liturgical dance

Question: The Easter Vigil at my parish was filled with lots of young girls in leotards running about holding bowls of incense and dancing while the Exsultet was sung and readings proclaimed. It was disturbing and distracting. Please tell me this is not allowed.

– Name withheld

Answer: Of all the liturgies that need little addition, the Easter Vigil is surely at the top of the list. It is elaborate and full of rich symbolism. There are candles, the Easter fire, the paschal candle, the extended readings, the singing of the Exsultet, the celebration of sacraments and so forth. It is strange that a pastor should think to embellish what is already so rich.

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What you described is not permitted. As a general norm, liturgical dance is prohibited in Catholic parishes. Certain ethnic communities have a sort of permission for minimal dance that does not disrupt the liturgy or supplant proper ministerial roles. However, what you describe surpasses what is foreseen by these exceptions, disrupting both the Exsultet and the readings. The proclamation of Easter and the readings should focus on listening to the proclaimed word, not being distracted by lots of action and movement.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.