I’ve been reticent about posting on every news item coming from the vicinity of Pope Francis. Cardinal Law. Msgr Marini. Et cetera. It seems he will be celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a youth prison. It had been his custom as a bishop to pray this Mass in hospices, prisons, hospitals, and such.
The medieval custom of washing the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday was kept alive by monastics. I’m sure that’s as much of a derivation of the ritual as associating it with ordained ministry (hence 1956’s viri selecti).
Still, this sort of gesture moves liturgy far beyond the placement and number of candlesticks. It begins to place the liturgy in a direct context of evangelization. (Not to mention service.)
In the internet age, it seems we can no longer suggest the pope’s liturgies have little bearing on the life of faith. Fifty years ago, they progressed in pomp and finery unnoticed by people outside the walls of a big Roman church. Today, they serve as fodder for cheerleading or dismay or things in between.
The stories of Pope Francis’s liturgies are also picked up and noted by others. But it’s good to keep in mind that Holy Thursday in a prison is not the Event, but merely a start. Liturgy, as ordinarily celebrated, is partly for the purpose of the sanctification of the faithful. And how do people become holy? How do they cooperate with God’s grace which offers them holiness? It’s simple. By saying yes to God. We can say yes as we receive the Eucharist. We can, and really must, say yes in other ways in our lives.
One becomes touched by a leader’s gesture of reaching out to the young in prison. It does not end with a feeling of regard for the man. It must continue with a searching of the observer’s heart. Is my heart moved to pity for young people? Or do I feel contempt? Perhaps I feel nothing at all. This is where discernment is key.
Discernment guides the believer to make present and future choices in response to the event. For me, I have to listen carefully in these situations. I must watch my thoughts and feelings–my whole reaction. Am I feeling the urge to assist in some way? Is there an inner movement, nudging me forward? Or am I called elsewhere? And with that last question, is the nudging away due to my own fears or deafness? Or has another path been set for me by the Lord?
This is why I am most hopeful (as I think I’ve written) that Pope Francis is well-grounded in Ignatian discernment. Like a good director, he places options and surfaces choices that might be more or less hard to perceive. And the question sits with us: is this my path? Or is there another?
This must be the best way to approach these news stories. Pope Francis brushes aside Msgr Marini, and perhaps I disagree or get bothered. Then I look to my own life and the times I have been brusque and dismissive. And if this is wrong for the pope (whether or not it is true) then it is wrong for me. And if the pope carves out the opening of the Paschal Triduum for imprisoned youth, then I am responsible for adjusting my regard for a celebrity event into an opportunity for personal reflection.
Getting back to the bigger picture of liturgy as evangelization, this is cause for some long and deep reflection for me personally. Perhaps we are moving past an age of “contemplation,” where getting the liturgy done “properly” is no longer enough. How does liturgy contribute to Matthew 28:19-20 and the commission we have all been given in baptism? And for what will I stand? Liturgy? Evangelization? Or something wholly different than what I did before?