Archbishop Cordileone: Catholic Schools Must ‘Re-Sharpen’ Focus on Christ, Sacred Liturgy

Catholic education’s focus on Christ “needs to be re-sharpened” with reverent liturgy, teacher formation and strengthened catechesis, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a public dialogue hosted by The Cardinal Newman Society for Sacra Liturgia USA 2015.

“Keeping the focus on Christ keeps the focus on what the heart and mission of a Catholic school is,” explained Archbishop Cordileone, who has endured criticism from dissenting groups like Call to Action—and strong support from The Cardinal Newman Society and other faithful Catholics—for his efforts to fortify the Catholic identity of schools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. “The heart and the mission of Catholic education is evangelization—to help our young people know and love Christ.”

Archbishop Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and a member of the Catholic University of America’s board of trustees as well as the International Theological Institute’s governing board, responded to questions from Newman Society President Patrick Reilly on the importance of sacred liturgy to Catholic education. Afterwards, he responded to several questions from participants.

The event was held at St. Catherine of Siena Church in New York City as a special part of the Sacra Liturgia conference, which brought together hundreds of priests, seminarians and lay people to celebrate and promote sacred liturgy.

“We have to be careful that our Catholic schools do not become affordable college preparatory schools,” Archbishop Cordileone warned. While an excellent education is a pleasant benefit of Catholic schools, it is ultimately not the mission of Catholic education and “the focus on Christ needs to be re-sharpened,” he said.

“The reference has to be constantly on the person of Jesus Christ. Without the person of Jesus Christ, there’s no point in having Catholic schools,” he explained. The Archbishop told attendees that a proper appreciation of the reverence and beauty that is inherent in the sacred liturgy is crucial to helping students understand the beauty of the Catholic faith.

“The Eucharist is essential to Catholic faith and Catholic life; therefore, it’s essential to the life of a Catholic school,” Archbishop Cordileone stated. “It helps to instill in students a sensitivity to the sacramental view of the world, [which is] the invisible made visible through the physical.”

In an address to Sacra Liturgia participants prior to the panel, titled “Liturgical Leadership in a Secular Society: A Bishop’s Perspective,” Archbishop Cordileone expressed that young people are naturally drawn and attracted to the inherent beauty of sacred liturgy. He said:

There’s a great openness among young people for truth and beauty. Expose young people to truth and beauty. They’re open to sacred music, for example. Give them experiences where they can experience beauty, see it with their eyes, hear it with their ears and create a capacity to appreciate that beauty. That will help solidify a Catholic identity. They’ll have a new appreciation for what it means to be Catholic. It won’t be something they check off on a list about their religion or something they do on Sundays, but more a part of who they are.

But in order to maximize this natural attraction to the beautiful, Catholic schools must do their part to expose young people to true beauty on their journey of faith. The witness of school administrators and teachers is particularly necessary, the Archbishop said.

“The liturgy must be taught in the classroom,” he explained. For Catholic schools that have limited access to priests, he placed special emphasis on school leaders and teachers stepping in to witness to their students by discussing their own experiences of Mass and teaching about grace and the Church’s liturgical traditions.

Archbishop Cordileone provided a few examples for how proper exposure to the sacred liturgy can occur in Catholic schools, including Masses celebrated for the school community, preparing beautiful liturgies that will help young people aspire to greatness in unity with Christ, and arranging for students to participate in Eucharistic Adoration.

Students should also be educated on how to properly worship, Archbishop Cordileone added, including the importance of sacred silence and reverence in church. Most especially, the Sacrament of Penance should be made available frequently, with students being brought to Confession as often as possible.

Archbishop Cordileone referenced his own efforts in fortifying the Catholic identity of schools under the Archdiocese of San Francisco. “I realize even more clearly and more deeply the importance of teacher formation,” he said. To this end, the Archbishop is currently working to develop archdiocesan resources which will help teachers deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith and understanding of the sacred liturgy.

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