Christ is the Liturgist
Before entering seminary, Fr. Thu Nguyen earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “My friends, and even I, question: ‘Wow, coming from a mechanical engineering mind, how did you survive philosophy and theology?’ It went well; I did good in theology.” He smiled as he recalled this unique combination of degrees. “Now I know why — because most of the churches where I have [served], I did a lot of renovation, so I used that knowledge,” he told the North Texas Catholic over video chat. He added, “[The church has] to have meaning… internal and external. The appearance and the internal, how to use it, have to match.”
For Fr. Nguyen, this matching of internal and external actions and appearances is just as true of the liturgy itself.
In September, Fr. Nguyen will take on a new role as the director of liturgy and worship for the Diocese of Fort Worth. He will be following Bishop Michael Olson’s visions for the liturgy according to the Roman Missal. Fr. Nguyen emphasizes celebrating the liturgy in the right disposition and submitting to Christ.
“My passion is for liturgy,” Fr. Nguyen told the NTC. Although he is excited for his new role, he will miss being a pastor as he leaves St. Jude Parish in Mansfield. “I will have no sheep,” he said. “Definitely, I will miss the people.”
As director of liturgy and worship, Fr. Nguyen will be in charge of diocesan liturgies such as ordination Masses or Confirmation Masses and the annual Chrism Mass. Father Jonathan Wallis, vicar general, described the many responsibilities involved in planning a diocesan event: “Location, music, readers, servers, all of the various things that the bishop would like to see… then coordinating with the pastor of the parish that’s hosting the event… and he would serve as the master of ceremonies to keep everything running smoothly to make sure the focus of the liturgy can stay on target, whether it’s an ordination or a chrism Mass….”
Additionally, the director of liturgy and worship will communicate with parish priests about changes (such as new translations) to the Roman Missal. “He would… catechize the priests as to what the changes are and help them stay current with liturgical practice in the Church,” explained Fr. Wallis. Fr. Nguyen will also be a resource for priests, assisting when there are questions about how a particular liturgical form works, such as Baptisms or weddings with multiple rites involved.
Both Fr. Nguyen and the current director of liturgy and worship, Deacon Don Warner, studied at the Liturgical Institute of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Chicago, Illinois. When Fr. Nguyen assumes his role as director of liturgy and worship, Dcn. Warner will focus his energy on his other duties as director of deacons and director of chaplaincy. “Deacon Don Warner is my colleague; [we] studied at the same Liturgical Institute in Mundelein and we both have the same view that we learned from there,” Fr. Nguyen told the NTC.
Disposition: the internal and the external in sync
For Fr. Nguyen, celebrating the liturgy is about having the right disposition. “The word ‘disposition’ is very important… Disposition, meaning when I come to Mass my mind, my heart, and my gestures have to be in sync with one another. When I make the Sign of the Cross and when I say, ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ does my mind understand what Father, Son, and Spirit is? Do I respect and give reverence to that name, that holy name?”
Fr. Nguyen emphasized the importance of the Roman Missal. “I chant the Mass.” His face took on a focused look as he sang, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” In an email, he wrote, “The Roman Missal calls us to chant the ordinary parts of the Mass.”
To Catholics who love tradition and liturgy, he issues a challenge: “Here is my challenge to all those… do they understand? Understanding and enriching themselves — that is the key. So that’s why I’m… stressing a lot of times: what is your disposition at Mass?”
When asked about the importance of liturgy, Fr. Nguyen said, “We have to redefine understanding what… liturgy means. Most of the time people now say it’s the work of the people. We make it likeable or sociable or whatever we feel [is] right. Well maybe that’s the wrong thinking.” He added, “The work of Jesus Christ is already accomplished and gives us salvation. Our work is joining Him in liturgy.”
Fr. Nguyen traced the source of the liturgy: “It’s Christ who is the Liturgist… salvation starts from Him, not from us. We can’t save ourselves…. We have to conform to Christ’s mystery… We must conform to Him who is the Liturgist.”