Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review: "Altaration, the Mystery of the Mass Revealed"

Some months ago, the people over at Ascension Press asked me if I'd be willing to watch and then review their new DVD series called "Altaration, the Mystery of the Mass Revealed."  I eagerly agreed, and was gratified to receive the entire program, complete with a teacher's guide and student workbook.
In a nutshell, as described on the Ascension Press website, here is a description of this extremely well-done and thought-provoking series created by Mark Hart:
The 3-DVD Set provides five lessons (approximately 20 minutes each) and features some of the top Catholic youth presenters in the church today, including Mark Hart, Jackie Francois Angel, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Chris Stefanick and Fr. Josh Johnson. The program also features music from acclaimed Catholic musicians Ike Ndolo and Emily Wilson. Through a combination of stunning cinematography and powerful testimonies and teaching, teens will come to see the Mass in a dramatically new way.

With the exception of Lesson 5, which is a dynamic, 60-minute specially formatted walk through the Mass.

I could leave you with that blurb and then just say, "Two enthusiastic thumbs up!"  Or, "'Altaration' is a wonderful series--every parish should have this DVD set for its CCD programs and youth ministries!"  Or "Every teen should watch these attention-grabbing and informative videos--and so should his or her parents!"

But I feel I need to give you more.  Much, much more.

Because even a 50-something cradle Catholic like myself needed to see this series: to be reminded, again, of the enormous importance of participating regularly and reverently in the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is not a mere obligation to be fulfilled, but a true privilege.  To be reminded, again, of the enormous gift of Himself--Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity--that Christ gave us in the Eucharist.  To be reminded, again, that I must never allow myself to take the Mass experience--and especially the Eucharist-- for granted.  Ghandi is famous for saying that if he believed what Catholics believe about the Eucharist, he would crawl on his hands and knees to receive it.  Yet sometimes, it seems that even we Catholics, who ought to know better than anyone what--make that Who--is contained in that Sacred Host and the many graces this Sacrament offers us, have lost our sense of awe and reverence when it comes to receiving it.

There are five lessons, or sessions, in the "Altaration" series.  Each of these sessions is broken up into three segments, presented by the very energetic and appealing young individuals mentioned above (Mark Hart, Chris Stefanick, Jackie Francois Angel, and two wonderful young priests, Frs. Schmitz and Johnson).

My husband and I watched Sessions 1 and 2 with a group of our teenaged nieces and nephews in early July (I blogged about it here), and it kept them very engaged.  One nephew (now a freshman at Catholic U) called the material, and the way it was presented, "relatable."  I can see why he thought that, because in this series, the presenters are youthful, good-looking, and enthusiastic--utterly real and normal people--and they don't come across as preachy or judgmental.  Instead, they come across as regular folks who are flawed and human, just as we are; they are people who have struggled through periods of doubt or ennui themselves, but who have fallen totally in love with their Catholic Faith. Their enthusiasm for the Mass is contagious.
Another nephew (now a freshman at the Univ. of Notre Dame) said that at first, it seemed like "Altaration" was going to be the same sort of thing he'd seen many times before in his different religion classes over the years--good enough, to be sure, but just nothing all that new, nothing to write home about; but then after watching the second segment of Session 1, he said that it was obvious this series was something altogether different.  That segment includes scenes of both Fr. Schmitz and Fr. Johnson at Mass, raising the consecrated host, their faces radiating reverence and love, until it is aligned with the large crucifix in the background that's hanging high over the altar.  These scenes are so beautiful, they will bring tears to your eyes.  Parts of them are included in the "Altaration" trailer, which my husband and I watched together back in April (and which I reviewed in this post); when my husband first saw them, he was blown away.   Watching the full-length video and seeing those scenes more fully fleshed out only strengthened his reaction.  We both agree that this segment is easily the most deeply affecting in the entire series.  In this session, Fr. Schmitz  hammers home the fact that the priesthood is an essential part of the Mass, that the priest acts "in persona Christi."  When, as if speaking to Christ, he says the words, "I will be your priest"...wow, that part made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Our oldest son and his wife (the parents of four little girls, 4-years-old and under) watched Sessions 3 and 4 with us.  They thought the series was wonderful, too, and that the format--each lesson broken up into three short segments, with a different presenter for each segment--was perfect for teens.  My son commented that because kids can sometimes have short attention spans, he thought this was an ideal way to present the material.  Each segment can be easily digested before going on to the next one.

The presenters in this series are all quite dynamic.  Chris Stefanick, a young father of six, beautifully explains that going to Mass is not an invitation; it's a command.  But he reminds viewers that commandments come from a place of LOVE, that parents set boundaries because they know their children need them.  Just as Stefanick, a loving dad, wants to feed his own children with food that's good for their bodies, God the Father wants to feed us with what's best for our souls.  Jackie Francois Angel, a young wife and mother, is as stunning and glamorous-looking as any supermodel; but this sweet-voiced and faith-filled beauty has so much more to offer than the Hollywood celebrities to whom teens are typically drawn.  "How long would you wait for VIP passes to see your favorite artist or band?" Angel asks.  Most young people answer that they'd camp out overnight for such a privilege; and yet, she asks, how much value do we place on God's gift of Himself?  How far would we go for Him?  Can we give that hour a week at Sunday Mass, and in return receive his grace and peace?

Wow.  That's the word that kept popping into my head at the conclusion of each segment: "Wow." In our increasingly God-less modern age--where reality TV stars become role models, where there is an almost epidemic (and unhealthy) longing for worldly riches and pleasures--these vibrant Catholic speakers show young people how you can live in the world, but still be holy.

My husband and I watched the final installment, Session 5, by ourselves.  (By that point, we were back home in our empty nest, after summer travels to visit with our grown kids, grandkids, and extended families on both sides.)  I must say that by the time we got to this portion of the series, which is an hour-long lesson explaining each part of the Mass and showing the symbolism and meaning behind every gesture and every prayer, I was more than ready for it.  In Sessions 1 through 4, the presenters reawakened in my heart a stronger love for the Mass and a desire to understand it better.  Although the last session is much longer than the previous ones, it is unbelievably interesting.  Riveting, really.  I can't think of a better ambassador for the Mass than Fr. Mike Schmitz; he's a good-looking, likeable, athletic, down-to-earth, engaging, and holy young priest whom viewers will feel they know very well by the time they get to this all-important lesson that teaches what the Mass is really all about.  I believe young people will find Fr. Schmitz incredibly "relatable," and he will inspire them to know and love their Faith better.  I wish he'd been in our parish when our boys were growing up!
In closing, I have to say that it seems like young Catholics of today--and even of my generation--were shortchanged a bit in our catechesis. What a great tool "Altaration, the Mystery of the Mass Revealed"  provides for strengthening our understanding of our beautiful Faith and inspiring a deeper devotion to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  May it find its way into the religious education programs of Catholic parishes across the world!

Many thanks to Ascension Press for allowing me the opportunity to view and review this series.  I hope--and believe--that it will touch many hearts and minds, and bring many souls closer to Heaven.

(If my husband writes a review of the "Altaration" series--and I dearly hope he will--I am going to have him on to do a guest post.  So stay tuned...)

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