Liturgy in the New Evangelization

The working document for October’s synod on the New Evangelization is up at the Vatican’s web site. The practice for recent gatherings of the world’s bishops has been to publish the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, in advance, presumably to facilitate input from bishops and others.

Thanks to the modern function ctrl-F, I can locate multiple mentions of the letters “liturg” and see what the initial thoughts among the bishops might be. In 169 numbered sections, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops mentions worship often, and it might be good to take a peek at how it sees Catholic worship contributing to the cause of the New Evangelization.

As I excerpt sections, I’ll mention that all numerical references are to section number, not page number.

Chapter II addresses a basic question to the bishops and all the Church: Is it “time for a New Evangelization”? (cf. nos. 41ff) What are the “sectors” into which the tasks can be assigned?

Addressing the religious “sector” of the present situation, many bishops reflected on the “silent apostasy,” Christian believers drifting away from the practice of the faith. Liturgy is singled out as one of several possible contributors:

Some responses complained of the excessively formal character of liturgical celebrations, an almost routine celebration of rituals and the lack of a deep spiritual experience, which turn people away instead of attracting them. (69)

This is a twofold problem, I’d say. An excess of formality I would interpret as distancing the worship experience from the people, a disruption of their participation. Previous generations coped by bringing their devotional life to the Mass. The modern Roman Rite is geared to participation. I don’t think it functions with any sort of quality unless the faith community is engaged by the Scriptures and the other opportunities for encountering Christ. A casual approach by the ministers will also fail to communicate the depth of spiritual experience of which the Roman Rite is capable.

The bishops are spot on with this assessment. People have no lack of spiritual experiences these days, and they range from sexual expression to encounters with nature to the culture of sport and the fine arts, or even twelve-step groups and the experience of psychological therapy. And that doesn’t begin to acknowledge what other religions have to offer in terms of a relationship with God. Some Catholics are loathe to admit that real experiences of God are readily found outside of the Church and its liturgy. This is why people drift away. Not because they are unwilling to engage the demands of God, but simply because the liturgy fails to communicate Christ. Parishes must become places for “propagating and bearing witness to the Christian experience and places for attentively listening to people and ascertaining their needs.” (81)

In Chapter III, Transmitting the Faith, the synod preparers take a fair look at liturgy and the sacraments. Take a look at sections 97-99, “The Church transmits the faith which she herself lives.” Leading off this subheading, the preparers channel Pope Benedict and Vatican II:

The best place to transmit the faith is a community nourished and transformed by the liturgical life and prayer. An intrinsic relationship exists between faith and the liturgy: “lex orandi, lex credendi. “Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy, because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness.” (Porta Fidei 11) “The liturgy, ‘through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,’ most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” (SC 2, 6)

Sections 97 and 98 affirm the positive efforts in liturgy over the past few generations. It notes the importance of liturgy in each of the last two synods (Eucharist, the Word of God). It calls out lectio divina not only as a spiritual practice for individuals and groups, but “a natural setting for evangelization.”

Another tidbit, the definition of liturgy as “divine worship, the proclamation of the Gospel and love in action.” Proclamation and love, kerygma and caritas. The bishops have been drinking deep of Avery Dulles, it would seem.

Problems were noted, but not given much space:

(S)ome responses (from bishops) emphasized the complex character between the celebration of the Christian faith and various forms of popular piety. While recognizing some mutual benefits, they also noted the danger of syncretism and a degradation of the faith.

Lacking the context of particular submissions, we can’t be totally sure where these comments are based. Is popular piety such a problem for the expression of faith? Is it an obstacle for lassoing back inactive believers?

There’s a bit more in the document, which I’d like to take some time to read in more detail. You may find it of interest, and I’d invite your comments on liturgy or any other sub-topic pertaining to the New Evangelization. I may post one or two more observations on this document in the next few days. But for now, I’ll leave it to you to further the commentary.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Liturgy in the New Evangelization

  1. Joyce Donahue says:

    The relationship between liturgy and evangelization is an important question, because some recent studies, such as a poll of Catholics who left the Church by the Diocese of Trenton, have shown that “boring”, overly formal and disconnected liturgy (especially the homily) are factors in why some leave the Church.

    Fr. Frank DeSiano, of Paulist Evangelization Ministries says in his new video “The Evangelizing Liturgy” that the Mass should be focused on “making Christ clearer.” When we fail to do this, whether through the disengagement of the ministers, poor presidential style and preaching, or poor music choices, and the Mass becomes routine – or worse yet, about us instead of Christ, I think we “de-evangelize.”

    As to the devotions, I think that the same issues which prompted the USCCB to publish “Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and Answers” in 2003 still exist (conflation by some of the Rosary and Adoration with the Mass, etc.)

    I haven’t had a chance to spend much time on the synod working document yet, but I will look forward to your posts bringing out the liturgical references in it. Thanks for doing this.

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