Liturgy: A Guide for the Perplexed

Next Session: Jan 10, 2022


Created by Dr. Nathan Mitchell for STEP students, this course is based on the principle that the best way to understand Catholic liturgy is not through abstract discussions of ritual, but through concrete contact with the church "doing what it does best," putting people in touch through sacramental celebration with the Mystery of God at work in the life, death, and rising of Jesus Christ. As Pope St. Leo the Great once said, "The mysteries of Christ's life have now passed over into the sacraments of the church." By studying both the historical evolution of the sacraments and their recent pastoral reform, students will gain a firmer understanding of liturgy as an historical phenomenon (which necessarily changes with the passage of time) and as a vital means of experiencing the many presences of God (offered in Word, in sacrament, in the assembly, in ministers, in the Eucharistic elements, etc.). The aim of this course is to introduce students to the liturgical life of the Roman Catholic Church by examining how that community now celebrates the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist), the sacraments of reconciliation and healing (penance, anointing the sick), and the sacraments of adult vocation (marriage, holy orders).

Course Content

Unit 1

  • Unit 1 explores the relation between Jesus and the sacraments in light of both recent biblical scholarship and the renewal of Catholic worship launched at and after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965.)

Unit 2

  • Unit 2 discusses the three sacraments of initiation as they were reformed following Vatican II. Special attention is given in Unit Two to baptism and confirmation as celebrated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA, 1972; final edition for use in the United States, 1988.)

Unit 3

  • Unit 3 is devoted entirely to the Eucharist, the assembly's premier Sunday celebration, sacrament and sacrifice.

Unit 4

  • Unit 4 discusses those sacraments (reconciliation, anointing the sick) which respond to human situations of limit--moral limit (sin and failure), as well as physical and psychological limit (illness and death.)

Unit 5

  • Students are introduced to the sacraments of adult vocation--marriage and holy orders--especially as these liturgies are rooted in the Mystery of God and the order of creation.

Course Format

  • Created by Notre Dame Theology Professor.
  • Six weeks in duration, with one week for orientation.
  • Typically 15-20 students in each course.
  • Lecture delivered by streaming video.
  • All lecture text available online in course.
  • Supplemental readings are provided to encourage further exploration of topic, Internet links provided for all readings.
  • Written assignments (150-200 words) required.
  • Facilitator moderated chat sessions with students in course.

Required Texts

  • All course materials are available online in the course.

Participation Requirements

  • View or read the lecture for each unit.
  • Read assigned texts; keep notes, questions, and comments for class discussion.
  • Participate in the class discussion using the Forums area: post at least 2 comments, questions, or responses per unit.
  • Write 150-200 words in response to the assignment in each unit.
  • Participate in at least 3 scheduled chat sessions throughout the course.
  • Complete the course evaluation.

Time Expectations

4 to 6 hours per week, depending on your learning style and schedule.

Course Certificate

A certificate of completion awarding 25 contact hours will be sent upon completion of all course requirements.



Dr. Nathan Mitchell

Dr. Nathan Mitchell

Teacher, writer, and lecturer, Dr. Mitchell's books include Cult and Controversy (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press/A Pueblo Book, 1982), Eucharist as Sacrament of Initiation (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1994), Liturgy and the Social Sciences (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999), and most recently, Real Presence: The Work of Eucharist (new and expanded edition; Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2001). Since 1991, his column "The Amen Corner" has appeared in each issue ofWorship magazine. In 1998, Dr. Mitchell was presented with the Berakah Award from the North American Academy of Liturgy.

B.A., Classics, St. Meinrad College, 1966; M.A., Religious Studies, Indiana University, 1971; Ph.D., Theology, University of Notre Dame, 1978