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A Faithful Servant:
Rev. Lawrence J. Madden, SJ (1933-2011)

Mary G. Fox  

A full church bade Rev. Lawrence J. Madden, SJ, farewell at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2011. It was a liturgy at which the responses from the assembly were thunderous and the music led by a 60-voice choir was "wonderful," as Madden's friend Paul Covino described. It was a liturgy with more than 800 persons who understood Madden's message that liturgy done well is transformative.

Madden, the founder and director of the Georgetown Center for Liturgy, died of a heart attack on May 29 in his room at the Jesuit community at Georgetown University. He had devoted much of his priestly ministry to helping parishes celebrate the liturgy well.

In the days after his death, phone calls and e-mails with remembrances of Madden poured into Holy Trinity Church, where the Jesuit had been the pastor from 1993 to 2000 and continued to preside until his death. The Rev. Mark Horak, SJ, said, "I've probably gotten more response after his death than any other in the three years I've been here. They have wonderful memories of him as a pastor." Horak continued, "They certainly remember him as a good priest, an effective pastor, and in many cases, as a close personal friend."

It was Madden's aim, through the Georgetown Center on Liturgy, "to impact liturgy on a national level," said Paul Covino, who as associate director launched the Center with Madden.

"He was trying to make liturgy accessible and understandable to the person in the pew," Covino said. "His audience were Catholics in the pews."

Madden believed, Covino said, that "Liturgy done well and done beautifully in a beautiful place had the power to transform." He liked to use the word "seduce" while speaking of the potentials of good liturgy. In the article "Parish Liturgy during the Past Twenty Years from a Pastor's Viewpoint" in the Winter 2011 issue of Liturgical Ministry, he said, "If we add quality preaching and a reverent enactment of the rites by the various ministers to beautiful and appropriate music, I believe some people's symbolic, poetic capacities can be awakened and they can be seduced into experiences of the Paschal mystery."

That experience of the Paschal Mystery would lead people to service. "His understanding of the reason that we do the liturgy and are transformed by the liturgy is to do the work of the kingdom," Covino said.

To the priest of 46 years, no one was too young to benefit from the homily. At Masses attended by a large number of children, the puppet Mr. Blue whispered questions into Madden's ear during the homily. The children's interest was piqued while the parents were enlightened. "It was pretty masterful," Covino said. "The kids were getting one message and the parents were getting another much more profound message."

Rev. Paul Turner, a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and an author of books on liturgy, said that Madden made a difference in his encouragement of well-done liturgies. "Larry was an unfailing supporter of liturgy that made sense. He believed that we could do better as a Church, and he challenged and invited in ways that made it happen. His passion for the Church's worship has made a tremendous impact on faith and celebration."

His zeal to enhance the full, conscious, and active participation of the assembly was part of his work not only at the programs that the Center offered and as a parish priest but in the classroom. He taught pastoral theology at Georgetown both while the director of Campus Ministry from 1971 to 1981 and while director of the Center. Anne Koester, who worked with Madden both at the Center and in a Georgetown classroom, recalled an energetic man who was open to others and new ideas, and always a supporter of the Second Vatican Council.

"Larry Madden, SJ, was enthusiastic and firm in his commitment to the vision of the Second Vatican Council," Koester said in an e-mail. "He sought to promote Vatican II principles in every aspect of his work as a priest, pastor, teacher and liturgist. As my co-teacher for a fall course at Georgetown University for the last eight years, Larry always demonstrated his desire to hand on to the post-Vatican II generations his passion for liturgy. He was a talented musician, a friend to many people, and a man who lived life to its fullest."

Living life to the fullest included sailing his boat in Chesapeake Bay and once serving as a crew member in the Transpac sailing race from San Francisco to Honolulu. It included playing Cole Porter's songs on the piano at Holy Trinity's cabaret fundraiser and acting in theater productions at the parish. "He was very approachable and down-to-earth," Covino said.

His friends, former parishioners, students, and colleagues will remember a man who saw liturgy, art, and spirituality connected. "Over the years I came to believe that beauty in its many forms can be the most effective avenue we can take to the experience of the mystery of God," he wrote in his Liturgical Ministry article.

That he helped others experience the mystery of God will be his legacy. "He will be missed," Horak said, "and as I heard someone comment to me, he'll be missed by the Jesuits to whom he was a brother and the larger Church, to whom he was a faithful servant. He devoted his Jesuit life to helping people pray together. It's hard to imagine a more worthwhile life."

[Paul Covino's eulogy for Funeral Mass of Rev. Lawrence J. Madden, SJ, June 4, 2011, Holy Trinity Church, Georgetown]

Mary G. Fox
is Coordinating Editor of Pastoral Liturgy. Pastoral Liturgy is published by Liturgy Training Publications.
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