Liturgy scholarship recipient says ongoing formation key to improving ‘liturgical illiteracy’

A former funeral director who subsequently became the first lay person to take up the role as Master of Ceremonies in the Diocese of Parramatta has been awarded the ACU Centre for Liturgy Postgraduate Scholarship.

Christopher Ohlsen, who is studying a Master of Theological Studies at Australian Catholic University, will use the scholarship to enrol in a unit of study that could support his thesis on the contemporary use of the Funeral Rite. The thesis follows Mr Ohlsen’s previous life as a full-time funeral director.

“It appears that many of our liturgical celebrations within the context of a funeral have become celebrations of the life of the deceased person, to the point that we risk inadvertently, and unofficially, canonising them,” Mr Ohlsen said.

“I'm interested in when and why this has become the case and what implications this has for what the Church says that theologically a funeral should be.”

A former parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Greystanes, in Western Sydney, Mr Ohlsen supported his parish early as a young altar server, eventually becoming an acolyte, and then its liturgy coordinator.

Mr Ohlsen is now part of the St Mary’s Cathedral parish and continues to serve in liturgical roles.

“I've always had an interest and passion for liturgy and the impact it can have when celebrated well, which is all of our responsibility, not just the presider,” Mr Ohlsen said.

Mr Ohlsen has previously served as Assistant Diocesan Master of Ceremonies for the Diocese of Parramatta and Liturgy Coordinator and Sacristan of St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta. In 2017 he was appointed Diocesan Master of Ceremonies for the Diocese of Parramatta, the first lay person to hold this role in the Diocese. He is currently a member of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission in Parramatta.

On a national scale, Mr Ohlsen has also previously held the position of Executive Secretary of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry and the Bishops Commission for relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, a commission advising the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. 

Despite decades of liturgical formation, Mr Ohlsen said the Church needed to rediscover the liturgy as described in one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council.

“I get the sense that we are in a period of real liturgical illiteracy, that is to say, we have lost a sense of what our various signs and symbols are and the context within the liturgy,” Mr Ohlsen said.

“I think the only way out of this is more formation, a key point of Pope Francis' recent document on the liturgy.

“Next year's 60th Anniversary of the Promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium could be an opportunity to deeply engage and study the liturgy and for us all to again rediscover liturgy as, what Lumen Gentium describes as the ‘fount and apex of the whole Christian life’.”

On awarding the prestigious scholarship to Mr Ohlsen, ACU Centre for Liturgy Director Professor Clare Johnson said: “Chris Ohlsen is an excellent student with a passion for the liturgy and a refined level of attention to detail that sets him apart both as an interpreter and practitioner of liturgical celebration.  The Centre is delighted to support Chris’ ongoing study in this field, as fostering promising liturgical scholars is a key aspect of the Centre’s role in both the university and the Church.”

The ACU Centre for Liturgy supports, promotes, and enhances the liturgical life of the Catholic Church through tertiary education, research, scholarship and pastoral formation.

Working together with ACU’s Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, the Centre offers liturgical education programs from parish-level pastoral formation through to tertiary programs and higher degree research, advancing the liturgical apostolate in Australia and beyond.

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