Dies Domini 35-36: The Day of the Church

“The day of the Lord is also the day of the Church.” Pope John Paul II concedes that a certain communal aspect is unavoidable. It’s more than a pastoral level. Human beings are made to be social creatures–even introverts among us. If some aspect of grace is meant for the Church, on many levels, it is meant to be communal.

35. Therefore, the dies Domini is also the dies Ecclesiae. This is why on the pastoral level the community aspect of the Sunday celebration should be particularly stressed. As I have noted elsewhere, among the many activities of a parish, “none is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist”.(Speech to the Third Group of the Bishops of the United States of America (17 March 1998), 4: L’Osservatore Romano, 18 March 1998, 4.)

If the Mass is the source and summit of the spiritual life, it is also the preeminent gathering of any sort for the local faith community.

Mindful of this, the Second Vatican Council recalled that efforts must be made to ensure that there is “within the parish, a lively sense of community, in the first place through the community celebration of Sunday Mass”.(Sacrosanctum Concilium 42) Subsequent liturgical directives made the same point, asking that on Sundays and holy days the Eucharistic celebrations held normally in other churches and chapels be coordinated with the celebration in the parish church, in order “to foster the sense of the Church community, which is nourished and expressed in a particular way by the community celebration on Sunday, whether around the Bishop, especially in the Cathedral, or in the parish assembly, in which the pastor represents the Bishop”.(Eucharisticum Mysterium 26)

Church teaching of the Second Vatican Council as well as post-conciliar documentation supports this communal nature. It’s more than just two citations. It’s also about a root expression of the Church: our unity:

36. The Sunday assembly is the privileged place of unity: it is the setting for the celebration of the sacramentum unitatis which profoundly marks the Church as a people gathered “by” and “in” the unity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.(Cf. Saint Cyprian, De Orat. Dom. 23: PL 4, 553; De Cath. Eccl. Unitate, 7: CSEL 31, 215; Lumen Gentium 4; Sacrosanctum Concilium 26.)

Not just Trinitarian but also a support tot he community of the family:

For Christian families, the Sunday assembly is one of the most outstanding expressions of their identity and their “ministry” as “domestic churches”,(Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 57; 61:AAS 74 (1982), 151; 154) when parents share with their children at the one Table of the word and of the Bread of Life.

Parents not only teach children, but form them. Pope John Paul II mentions catechists, but the responsibility sits with mom and dad. Remember, this is best accomplished with the thinking of apprenticeship, not school.

We do well to recall in this regard that it is first of all the parents who must teach their children to participate in Sunday Mass; they are assisted in this by catechists, who are to see to it that initiation into the Mass is made a part of the formation imparted to the children entrusted to their care, explaining the important reasons behind the obligatory nature of the precept. When circumstances suggest it, the celebration of Masses for Children, in keeping with the provisions of the liturgical norms,(Cf. Directory for Masses with Children 30-46) can also help in this regard.

It’s good to see the DMC mentioned. But Sunday is primary. Sunday lasts for the duration of a believers’ life. This is where most of the effort in forming children should be placed.

Groups, movements, and such are mentioned:

At Sunday Masses in parishes, insofar as parishes are “Eucharistic communities”,(Cf. Eucharisticum Mysterium 26: AAS 59 (1967), 555-556; Sacred Congregation for Bishops, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops Ecclesiae Imago (22 February 1973), 86c: Enchiridion Vaticanum 4, 2071) it is normal to find different groups, movements, associations and even the smaller religious communities present in the parish. This allows everyone to experience in common what they share most deeply, beyond the particular spiritual paths which, by discernment of Church authority,(Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988), 30: AAS 81 (1989), 446-447) legitimately distinguish them.

Sundays are not proper days for associations and smaller religious communities. Any group exists to serve a greater mission, namely the cultivation and spreading of the Gospel mission. The Sunday Mass is where that mission gets promoted and people are prepared for it. Groups contribute to the greater whole, and so they sit, stand, and sing with their sisters and brothers. And get motivated and fed together.

This is why on Sunday, the day of gathering, small group Masses are not to be encouraged: it is not only a question of ensuring that parish assemblies are not without the necessary ministry of priests, but also of ensuring that the life and unity of the Church community are fully safeguarded and promoted.(Cf. Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Instruction Masses for Particular Groups (15 May 1969), 10: AAS 61 (1969), 810) Authorization of possible and clearly restricted exceptions to this general guideline will depend upon the wise discernment of the Pastors of the particular Churches, in view of special needs in the area of formation and pastoral care, and keeping in mind the good of individuals or groups — especially the benefits which such exceptions may bring to the entire Christian community.

The Vatican site has Dies Domini in its entirety.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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