For the new 2020-2021 academic year, Dr. Kevin Magas joined the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary faculty as an assistant professor in the department of dogmatic theology and director of intellectual formation for the Liturgical Institute. He specializes in sacramental and liturgical theology. In the following Q&A, Dr. Magas shares about his background and areas of interest. He hopes to continue to encourage his students to grow in their knowledge of the liturgy and develop their spiritual life through the liturgy. Please continue to pray for Dr. Magas and all of our faculty and students.
What will you be teaching at Mundelein Seminary and the Liturgical Institute?
I mostly am going to be teaching classes in sacramental and liturgical theology. In the fall, I am teaching a course called, “The Sacraments of Initiation” to the seminarians, which is also cross-listed with the Liturgical Institute version of the class. This has been great because it has allowed the Liturgical Institute students and seminarians to learn from each other and benefit from each other’s ministerial background. I am also teaching “Sacraments of Healing and Vocation” to the seminarians. This spring I am teaching “Liturgy: Principles and Practice.” This summer I will be teaching a condensed version of the “Liturgical Year” and “Principles of Sacraments.”
In the future I will be teaching in the Liturgical Institute, “The Liturgical Movement,” which is about the 20th century movement of reengaging in the liturgy. This is also one of the areas of my specialty and research—this modern period and 20th century liturgical theology. This course in particular really patterns onto what I studied and what I am really interested in.
I have also been asked to serve as the director of intellectual formation for the Liturgical Institute, which involves overseeing the academic arm of the institute—directing theses in the subject area, reviewing curriculum, etc.
I hope that the students I teach, whether they are seminarians, priests or lay people preparing for ministry in the Church, will have a deep sense of the spiritual meaning of the liturgy and be able to then communicate that in a persuasive and beautiful way to the people that they serve. In other words, through our classes they develop a real passion for the liturgical life of the Church and then are able to bring those insights and that passion to those they minister to. This has a ripple effect which leads to an overall deeper understanding of the richness and the treasures that are in the liturgy. In a way, it is an untapped treasure. We have all of these beautiful rites and there is a spiritual depth to it, and a lot of people aren’t in touch with what’s really going on in the liturgy. We need people to describe what is happening, why that matters and makes a difference in their life, and to impress that on the people who are going to serve the Church.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe your faith journey?
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago called Mokena. My faith journey was something that was in the background when I was growing up, but I did not come to a deeper knowledge of my faith until high school through a youth group. That really impressed upon me the importance of finding a community of people who were very committed to living the life of Christian discipleship. This helped me see how the Christian life can be lived to its fullest. After that there have been times where I have drifted off like everyone does and became a bit lukewarm, but I would describe it as kind of a constant deepening of the faith I have already received and a fuller exploration of what it means for my life. I would describe it as also connected to deeply moving and spiritual celebrations of the liturgy, and that sense of mystery and wonder in the Eucharist. That became a source of strength which prompted me to explore more about my faith and lead me into a more profound encounter with Christ. Good celebrations of the liturgy have been very formational for me.
Where did you attend college and receive your doctorate?
I went to undergrad at Lewis University, and at the time I was considering going into teaching in some way and possibly being dedicated to some form of religious life where teaching was the primary vocation. And that’s what the brothers who sponsor Lewis University did, so that was one of the reasons why I was drawn to that path. I studied both Theology and English during undergrad. I discovered I really wanted to explain to others the faith in such a way that would allow them to be personally transformed by it. The English portion in that was rooted in a desire to communicate through writing the goodness of who God is. After that I received a Master’s of Theological Studies at Notre Dame, and there I also pursued my doctorate and specialized in liturgical studies.
How did you pick your specialty when studying for your doctorate?
I was drawn to the liturgy, because I discovered that it was, as the Second Vatican Council describes it, the “Source and Summit of Christian Life.” And I really did see it as the place where we participate in the life of God in a very privileged way. Therefore, to study the liturgy in depth was really to study the center of the faith. Sometimes people are too concerned about some things that are more peripheral in the Christian life. But to me, focusing on the Eucharist and the Mass, where we actually are taken up in God’s triune life, was the best area to study.
I studied with David Fagerberg, and he was the former director of the Liturgical Institute. He impressed upon me certain features that I view as essential in my own teaching and research. Basically, seeing the liturgy as a sort of lens to view all of reality. Not just looking at the liturgy as simply an object to be studied, but looking through the liturgy and looking at what this means in our daily life. How does the liturgy help us to live a sort of Eucharistic form of Christian life in the world?
What do you find to be helpful in trying to bring the liturgy into your daily life?
There is a need for a mystagogical catechesis, where we look at how the different signs and symbols, the different words, gestures, and postures are tied to an invisible reality of salvation. And how do they point us toward that reality? This involves looking at each part of the liturgy and seeing how that is connected to the history of salvation.
Can you tell me about your career path?
At Notre Dame, I taught the “Foundations of Theology” class to freshman, which helps introduce undergrads to thinking theologically. And in that class we look at Scripture and tradition as the foundational sources. After that I taught at Holy Family College where I was department chair of theology and I taught a wider range of classes, such as the “New Evangelization,” “Christology,” and dogmatic sub-specialties. These courses were for undergrads, but primarily majors of theology.
At Notre Dame, I was teaching a general course, which was rewarding but also challenging in its own way. It was really nice to teach the majors who are really interested in what they wanted to study and had good questions about the faith. They really just wanted to learn more and apply it to their life. I also taught classes in the Lay Ecclesial formation program for the Diocese of Green Bay, and served as the academic coordinator of that program. I worked with the diocese to look at the academic portion of their courses and make sure their curriculum was sound. That experience was rewarding because it allowed me different opportunities to reach out to different types of people, such as undergrads who were part of general education classes, theology majors and also adult pastoral ministry. They had different types of pastoral questions coming from their backgrounds that were really interesting and demonstrated profound engagement. I have enjoyed the diversity of classes that I have taught.
How did you engage with your more challenging students in your classes? How did you overcome it?
I relied on the presentation of the Word of God and the Biblical narrative as having persuasive power of its own and just really letting it speak. I would just try and focus back on what is essential and have them look at the narratives and the stories of Jesus. Even if they weren’t at the point of personal faith, but to see the sort of sophistication of the text and how the text itself answers or even presents questions you can pose with it. I would at least try and have them walk away with the fact that religion isn’t just something that is primitive and unintelligent, but the fact that it is something that is worth our respect and engagement in.
How will you bring these experiences into your teaching at Mundelein Seminary and the Liturgical Institute?
It gives me a background to know the types of questions and the interests of what young people are asking. This can only help inform future priests and others in ministry who are going out to speak to and engage with young people. It is really good to know the questions and the concerns that they have and how to meet them where they are while challenging them to engage with the wisdom and the tradition of our faith.
Did you ever imagine teaching at a seminary?
When I was in graduate school, I had an opportunity through networking to teach a class at the seminary in the Liturgical Institute, and this gave me a sense of what it was like and the context of it. I really liked it. I saw how there was the combination between what study looks like in a prayerful environment and how that spiritual life can be integrated through what I was teaching. It does not have to be bracketed and off to the side or considered irrelevant to academic theology. Yes, in trying out teaching that class it gave me a deeper sense that I could see myself here.
Do you have a favorite devotion?
I like different devotions to St. Joseph and the consecration to St. Joseph. As a father to two young children, these devotions have helped me grow as a father.
During the pandemic, what have you thought about or prayed about during a time such as this? And in terms of formation at the seminary.
During this time, I taught an online class on the “Sacraments of Healing,” and it was an interesting way that I saw connections between the liturgy, the sacraments and our daily life. We see how the sacraments are truly places of healing, revealing the desire that God has to comfort us and heal us and unite us to His own Paschal Mystery. That was really what I was reflecting on during this pandemic, including the text of the Rites, the meaning of the symbols that the Church uses to show her presence with those that are sick and suffering. And obviously there were restrictions on the sacraments in certain places. It forced me to meditate on the meaning of those sacraments more and why they really are necessary in the Christian life. Overall I reflected on the meaning of sickness and illness and what the Church says about it. In particular, there is a line in the Pastoral Care for the Sick, which says that sickness allows us to pass over the inessential things and train our minds on what really matters and what is eternally valuable. This is the sort of wisdom that is present behind the monastic tradition when Benedict says keep your death before your daily. That is to not meditate on death and the sadness of it, but to really not take for granted your own life. My focus during this time has been on what is essential in my relationship with God and essential in terms of the good things in my life like my family and to be thankful for the many blessings that I do have, such as our health.
In terms of the formation of the students, I want to help them make those connections and to see how they can draw their strength from their spiritual life lived in the liturgy. And to really meditate on the importance of the sacraments in a deeper way, especially now that we are returning to participating in the sacraments in person. I want to encourage them to turn to the sacraments for the encouragement and strength that they need to face the different challenges that they may be encountering because of this situation.