Mass: It’s where the New Evangelization starts
Q. As I hear about the “New Evangelization” efforts taking place in the church today, I wonder what role the liturgy might play in them. What do you think about this?
A. The “New Evangelization” seeks to rekindle the flame of faith in parts of the world where it has dwindled (for example, in Western Europe and in North America) while promoting the growth of faith in mission lands.
Liturgical celebration contributes much to these efforts, which is why recent popes have encouraged participation in the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day.
For me, the liturgical assembly is the premier place where Christian faith is expressed, celebrated, and deepened.
This is why I think that in this Year of Faith, the following words from the United States Bishops’ statement, Music in Catholic Worship (1972, 1983), should be lettered out and placed in every sacristy for every liturgical minister to see: “Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken and destroy it.”
In one sense, the assembly of Christians will always be a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” (1 Peter 2:9). Our purpose is not to reject the world as evil and isolate ourselves from it but to receive new energy for bringing Christ’s salvation to a world that needs it.
Thus, the Sunday assembly is necessary for those who hear the invitation of God and respond to it in faith as fully, consciously, and actively as they can, both within the liturgy and outside it. It is not that we are better or worse than others but that we, for God’s own mysterious reasons, have been chosen and gathered by God to acknowledge God and what God is doing in our world and to commit ourselves to God’s work.
It is God who calls us together; God’s initiative precedes our response.
The Sunday assembly is a gift from God to which we respond thankfully, eucharistically, with our whole selves, in the Holy Spirit. As we do this, together we become the Body of Christ, worshipping through him, with him, and in him, to God’s glory and honor.
Thus, St. Peter Chrysologus (who died in about 450) declared in one of his sermons: “’Enter his gates,’ says the psalmist, ‘giving thanks.’ Praise is the only way to enter the gates of faith.”
Most treasured gift
In October, 2012, the bishops at the Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith declared: “The worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, God’s most treasured gift to us, is the source of the highest expression of our life in Christ (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, 10). It is, therefore, the primary and most powerful expression of the new evangelization. God desires to manifest the incomparable beauty of his immeasurable unceasing love for us through the Sacred Liturgy, and we, for our part, desire to employ what is most beautiful in our worship of God in response to his gift. In the marvelous exchange of the Sacred Liturgy, by which heaven descends to earth, salvation is at hand, calling forth repentance and conversion of heart (cf. Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15.)”
Like our assembling itself, our worship is first of all God’s work before it is our work.
Our worship is our faith-filled response to what God has done for us in creation and redemption, our response to what God continues to do for us.
All our praise and thanksgiving, our prayers of petition and prayers of contrition, everything we say and sing and do and touch in our worship focuses our attention right where God directs it: to the dying-and-rising way of living that we share with Jesus through his Spirit.
All are participants
In Jesus Christ we find our perfect worship. In opening his hands to the needy, in opening his arms on the cross, he gave himself completely to God.
And so must we.
Our worship is one with Christ’s worship; it makes us his praising, thanking, asking, and repenting sisters and brothers.
All the members of the assembly from the Body of Christ, and all the members render communal worship as the Body of Christ. Thus, the liturgical assembly is not an audience of spectators in a theater or a crowd of fans in a stadium; the assembly for worship has no spectators, only participants.
In pre-World War II Germany, the Nazis staged huge political rallies to advance their program. These gatherings were to be the means by which people would lose themselves in an all-consuming cause.
So different is the Christian assembly for worship. Through the words and actions of our communal worship, through what we pray and say and sing and share, we do not lose ourselves; rather we find ourselves. We find our true identity as sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, one with Christ, one in faith, for each other.
A school of faith
The bishops at the Synod on the New Evangelization also explained that “Evangelization in the Church calls for a liturgy that lifts up the hearts of men and women to God. The liturgy is not just a human action but an encounter with God which leads to contemplation and deepening friendship with God. In this sense, the liturgy of the Church is the best school of faith.”
There we are one with those in centuries past who have found the risen Christ in the midst of the Christian community, not apart from it. We join with those who have shared the holy food of the Eucharist in cities and towns, in great cathedrals and humble churches, in hospitals, in homes. The assembly reminds us of our past, commits us to our present, and points us to our future.
The earthly assembly celebrates the past and present saving deeds of God in Jesus Christ, but it also stands on tiptoe to view God’s future.
Thus the assembly is not only a sign of the church on earth; it is the anticipation of the church in heaven. The assembly of God’s holy ones in heaven begins in our liturgical assemblies here on earth.
Aren’t you glad that God gives us a lifetime of earthly practice for our heavenly worship?
Rehearsal for eternity
Both the earthly assembly and the heavenly assembly celebrate life in the reign of God. Thus, what the earthly assembly uses in its worship — its words and songs, its objects and actions — should conform as completely as possible to the beauty, justice, and equality in the heavenly assembly.
As we worship in the assembly, we rehearse the words and deeds of our life in Christ that we hope to celebrate for all eternity.
Through the liturgy, we experience salvation in a real but incomplete way, and we prepare ourselves to experience the fullness of salvation at the end of time.
The “now” and the “not yet” of our salvation in Christ is what we remember and celebrate every time we gather for the Eucharist.
The assembly: God’s and ours.
The assembly: humanity as it is and as God calls it to be in Christ; the church in miniature; the Body of Christ that needs you and me and all its members; a preview of everlasting salvation in God’s heavenly reign.
The assembly: God’s and ours.
See you there!
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at email@example.com or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2013, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015. Father Michael enjoys giving workshops and presentations on liturgical topics to parish groups. Reach him at the email or postal addresses listed here.