Misericordia et Misera 5: Mercy in the Liturgy

john-8We continue with Pope Francis’s apostolic letter. Follow this link for the full document, Misericordia et Misera. We begin with an appeal to continue the “new evangelization.”

5. Now, at the conclusion of this Jubilee, it is time to look to the future and to understand how best to continue, with joy, fidelity and enthusiasm, experiencing the richness of God’s mercy. Our communities can remain alive and active in the work of the new evangelization in the measure that the “pastoral conversion” to which we are called [Evangelii Gaudium 27] will be shaped daily by the renewing force of mercy. Let us not limit its action; let us not sadden the Spirit, who constantly points out new paths to take in bringing to everyone the Gospel of salvation.

The occasional complaint about singing that “new” church doesn’t get much traction when it comes to a “new” evangelization, which isn’t all that new. The newness of either Church or evangelization is the utilization of new ways to achieve an old goal.

Note the Holy Father mentioning the emphasis on “celebration.” When I read that word, I think: liturgy. If we need any convincing, consider the multiple and constant references to mercy in the Mass:

First, we are called to celebrate mercy. What great richness is present in the Church’s prayer when she invokes God as the Father of mercies! In the liturgy, mercy is not only repeatedly implored, but is truly received and experienced. From the beginning to the end of the Eucharistic celebration, mercy constantly appears in the dialogue between the assembly at prayer and the heart of the Father, who rejoices to bestow his merciful love. After first pleading for forgiveness with the invocation “Lord have mercy”, we are immediately reassured: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life”. With this confidence, the community gathers in the presence of the Lord, particularly on the holy day of the resurrection. Many of the “Collect” prayers are meant to remind us of the great gift of mercy. In Lent, for example, we pray: “O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy”.[Roman Missal, Opening Prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent] We are immersed in the great Eucharistic Prayer with the Preface that proclaims: “You so loved the world that in your mercy you sent us the Redeemer, to live like us in all things but sin”.[Ibid., Preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time VII] The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is a hymn to God’s mercy: “For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you”. “Have mercy on us all”[Ibid., Eucharistic Prayer II] is the insistent plea made by the priest in the Eucharistic Prayer to implore a share in eternal life. After the Our Father, the priest continues by invoking peace and liberation from sin by the “aid of your mercy”. And before the sign of peace, exchanged as an expression of fraternity and mutual love in the light of forgiveness received, the priest prays: “Look not upon on our sins but on the faith of your Church”.[Ibid., Communion Rite] In these words, with humble trust we beseech the gift of unity and peace for Holy Mother Church. The celebration of divine mercy culminates in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of Christ’s paschal mystery, the source of salvation for every human being, for history and for the whole world. In a word, each moment of the Eucharistic celebration refers to God’s mercy.

Not just the Eucharist, but Penance and Anointing:

In the sacramental life, mercy is granted us in abundance. It is not without significance that the Church mentions mercy explicitly in the formulae of the two “sacraments of healing”, namely, the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In the first, the formula of absolution reads: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace”.[Rite of Penance 46] In the second, the formula of anointing reads: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit”.[Sacrament of Anointing and Pastoral Care of the Sick 76]

When I first read this, I was skeptical of the notion of “perform.” but I see where Pope Francis is going with this:

In the Church’s prayer, then, references to mercy, far from being merely exhortative, are highly performative, which is to say that as we invoke mercy with faith, it is granted to us, and as we confess it to be vital and real, it transforms us. This is a fundamental element of our faith, and we must keep it constantly in mind. Even before the revelation of sin, there is the revelation of the love by which God created the world and human beings. Love is the first act whereby God reveals himself and turns towards us. So let us open our hearts and trust in God’s love for us. His love always precedes us, accompanies us and remains with us, despite our sin.

Using liturgy as a springboard into its disciplines, I wonder about the application of mercy to two aspects: music and preaching. Do the texts of what we sing express as fully as they can the elements of mercy and God’s love as explored here? Likewise our preaching: is the message of mercy presented often enough? What goes on in your faith community?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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