The renewal of the sacred liturgy continues apace – and for Jesse Weiler, director of the Liturgical Institute at St. Mary of the Lake University, Mundelein, IL, there’s no reason that renewal can’t take place – and even flourish – online.
The Liturgical Institute recently launched a series of online courses – consisting of five one-hour lectures on all things liturgical – and recent responses from those looking for good online content addressing the Catholic Church’s official body of prayer has encouraged Weiler.
Before the restrictions imposed by the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the number of subscribers to the online courses, Weiler said, hovered around 400 – but after the stay-at-home mandates were issued in March around the country, those numbers more than doubled.
“We have 2,000 students – so we’re growing at a fast rate,” he said. “A lot of that is due to the fact that we recently released one of our courses entirely for free – our Introduction to Sacred Liturgy course with Christopher Carstens. We had that course for a couple years, but when the virus started to spread, I realized that people were going to be locked up in their homes and not have much access to the things they normally would. So I thought it would be a good idea to release one of our courses for free so people could be prepared for when they went to Mass again publicly.”
This sort of liturgical formation is the goal of the online program as a whole, Weiler said.
“Our whole purpose here is to see a renewal in the sacred liturgy, and so we don’t want to leave any stone unturned in the process,” he said. “Whether it’s a certificate or degree program, a podcast, a short video series or a virtual conference we’ll be running this summer, we want to make sure people have access to this content to help in the process of this liturgical renewal.”
The overwhelming response verified for Weiler what he already suspected – that there was a place for the liturgical renewal in the media platforms of the online revolution.
“Currently we have eight courses available, and we are releasing a brand new course every month,” he said. “We have a working list of another 10–12 courses we want to record. I have no reason to believe we wouldn’t stop releasing a new course every month, or updating content, or going a little deeper with the content we already released.”
“The Liturgical Institute has always done a good job providing academic content for our audience in terms of liturgical catechesis and formation,” Weiler added. “What we noticed was that there was a need for people to get access to this type of information, but these people weren’t necessarily looking for a master’s degree. So we wanted to create a practical program for people to go online and be able to take courses whether they needed continuing education or professional growth, whether they worked in the parish or diocese.”
The format of the courses, which uses a two-camera set-up, provides a live classroom setting – with students invited to attend the actual lecture during the recording sessions.
“We leave it up to the professors on how to run their courses,” Weiler said. “We upload everything on a platform called Teachable, where people can purchase these courses and log in. If professors have hand-outs or use PowerPoint, we can upload these for students online as well.”
Once the courses are uploaded and students purchase them, Weiler added, the students have access to the courses at any time.
“All courses are on demand,” he said, “and people have access in perpetuity.”
Professors of the online courses also provide certification for those students seeking professional or continuing education, Weiler said.
“If you wanted to receive a certificate of completion to prove professional growth or continuing education units, there are quizzes you can take which, if you average 70 percent, after each lecture we send a certificate of completion for your records.”
According to Weiler, the online courses were attracting more than priests and those working for the Church on a parish or diocesan level.
The courses for the online program, which include such topics as sacred music, sacramental theology and fundamental principles of the liturgy, are adapted versions of courses offered at LI, Weiler noted.
“The courses we released were cross-sections of our master degree programs at LI,” he said. “I asked professors to take the courses they were teaching for LI and boil them down to the most basic principles and present that in five one-hour lectures for us. That was the start of this whole thing.”
The format also allowed LI to branch out beyond the courses being offered at the institute, Weiler said.
“For example, we have a whole class on liturgy and discipleship which we did with Dr. James Pauley, a graduate of the LI. That is not a course we have in our catalogue for our degree program but it is important and relevant today.”
In the future, Weiler hopes to collaborate as well with dioceses and parishes, inviting them to integrate the online courses with their own training programs.
“For example,” he said, “if you have someone who is doing marriage preparation program at a parish or in a diocese, we just released a whole course on the sacrament of matrimony, with Dr. Perry Cahall, an expert on the sacrament of matrimony. You can imagine how important it would be for engaged couples to not only understand what they’re about to enter into as a covenant with each other and God, but also the rite itself – what they’re going to do at the Mass they’re preparing for, and the fact that in no other sacrament are the those receiving the sacrament also the ministers of the sacrament.”
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About The Author:
Joseph O’Brien lives on a homestead with his wife Cecilia and their nine children in rural southwestern Wisconsin. He is Managing Editor of Adoremus Bulletin, a correspondent for the Catholic Business journal, and poetry editor and cocktail reviewer for The San Diego Reader. He has a BA (1995) and MA (2004) in English from University of Dallas, Irving, TX.