James Starke serves as new director of divine worship

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Every Sunday, diocesan faithful participate in a sort of homily roulette. Will it be good or will it be bad? It depends. Everyone has their own criteria. Some want a good explanation of the readings, while others want to know how to apply the Gospel message to everyday life. 

Like everyone else, James Starke, the new diocesan director of divine worship, sits in a pew every Sunday. He’s accompanied by his wife and 2-year-old son, and his own criteria. But while explanation and application are high on his list, he has found that what often is missing is a reason to stay for the next 30 minutes, when bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s body and blood. 

Why not get up and go be missionary disciples as they were just encouraged to be —  right now. 

Starke, who has taught graduate level classes in liturgical theology, remembers a student asking him quite frankly, “Wouldn’t God want me to do an hour of service rather than sit in this church and pray?”

“We are at a point in the church where people are not coming to weekly Mass,” said Starke. “Perhaps part of that is that they don’t know why it is important.”   

One of his goals as as the director of divine worship is to act as a resource for priests who would like to address the importance of those last 30 minutes of Mass. He believes this will not only keep people more engaged, but keep them coming back. 

The intricacies of Catholic liturgies were not always on the forefront of the Missouri native’s mind. In his undergraduate studies at St. Louis University, he preferred learning how the world works through physics. But slowly, his questions started to change.

“One of my mentors at St. Louis University introduced liturgy as an academic pursuit and the idea of being able to ask questions,” said Starke. “How liturgy can respond to our everyday inquiries to why the world is the way it is. Why is there suffering? Why is there joy? Why is there anything rather than nothing? I think it was a natural progression to go from how to why.”

With this new line of questioning, Starke moved to Washington in 2011 to pursue a master’s degree in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America. For the next seven years, Starke examined every aspect of liturgy he could, picking apart prayers, objects and actions, all the while asking, “Why?” Why do we use bread? Why are the gifts brought up by the faithful? Why is this prayer worded this way and said at this time?

In 2018, he graduated from Catholic U. with a doctorate in liturgical studies and sacramental theology and a minor in ecclesiology. In June, he was hired by the Office of Catechetics and Sacred Liturgy as the diocese’s first director of divine worship. 

One of his responsibilities is to coordinate any liturgy that Bishop Michael F. Burbidge presides over. This includes confirmations, ordinations, dedications and major events such as Mass for the opening of schools, or multicultural ministries. The parishes or offices in the chancery do the detailed groundwork and Starke is there to confirm liturgical law is followed while also letting them know they have options. 

“The bishop does not have to read the readings of the day,” said Starke. “He has the ability to choose something maybe about the promotion of charity or something more relevant to that liturgy.  So part of my job is simply to tell the offices they have an option for the reading, and maybe here are some good options.”

Similar opportunities exist for liturgies such as the blessing of an office intended to assist refugees. The normal wording for an office blessing might fall short for its unique ministry. Starke can suggest options that would make the blessing fit the situation. 

He also will serve Bishop Burbidge as master of ceremonies during liturgies, give talks on liturgy and the sacraments for the diocesan speakers bureau, and oversee the newly formed liturgical commission as chairman. The commission, started in January in response to a request by the Second Vatican Council, is responsible for creating guidelines for the diocese on liturgies. 

Starke is eager to work with Bishop Burbidge to develop a series of formation programs for both the laity and the clergy.

He has faith that with the right encouragement and information everyone in the diocese will benefit from a love of the liturgy. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018