One of the “markers” in the pastoral letter, Unleash The Gospel treats the “Holy Eucharist” directly. Archbishop Allen Vigneron cites Pope Benedict’s encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis to begin his point:
In the Holy Eucharist we reach the summit of our participation in the victory of Christ over sin and death—the triumph we proclaim in the new evangelization. In this Most Blessed Sacrament we have the source of our zeal and strength to unleash the Gospel.(84-87)
Evangelization and the Eucharist mutually feed into each other. Drawing closer to Christ, those who are evangelized come to the Eucharist. And the sending at the end of Mass is an explicit call to go and evangelize:
At every Mass the Church—that is, all her members—are newly empowered and sent forth to bring Christ into the world. Through the Eucharist we become stamped with the pattern of Christ’s own self-giving love so that we can reproduce that pattern in our own lives. Thus the goal of the liturgy is never just to receive the sacrament and go home; it is to become a living tabernacle through which Christ is made present to others. As Pope Benedict XVI stated:
The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church’s life, but also of her mission: “an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church.” We too must be able to tell our brothers and sisters with conviction: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us” (1 Jn 1:3).(Sacramentum Caritatis, 84)
This is an important insight. It advances lay celebration of Mass beyond the devotional, past the obligatory, and launches us into something a bit more refined that, say, sixty to several hundred years ago. To be sure: yesterday and today, the experience of the Eucharist was fruitful in the sense that people “got something” out of it and were inspired to holiness. This happened and still occurs regardless of the skill of the ministers or sometimes even the attention of the believer. Today, there is a new horizon. I would see the conciliar emphasis on participation as part of the constitution of a “practicing” Catholic. I mean practicing in the sense that participation engages us and prepares us for the active response to God’s nudges of grace in everyday life. Look to the sad, the hungry, the lost. etc., and help them, in the agency of Jesus Christ, to consolation, fulfillment, companionship, etc.. The experience of the Beloved, Jesus, in the liturgy gives us both inspiration and impetus.
With the assistance of St John Paul II, Archbishop Vigneron writes of an intellectual understanding:
The members of our local Church need to be regularly rekindled in “Eucharistic amazement”(Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6) by preaching and catechesis that helps to deepen their understanding and faith in this immeasurable gift and moves them to make a gift of self in return. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, since it brings people directly into the presence of Jesus, is a powerful means of revitalizing a parish and equipping it to transform the culture.
But it is always about more than the engagement of the brain. Understanding Jesus through catechesis is important. But it is vital that disciples do more than know about Jesus. It is important to know him, to know him personally. Adoration is one method of prayer that complements an intellectual engagement.
Parishes are urged to look at their celebration of liturgy:
Parishes must also focus sustained attention on the quality of the Sunday liturgy experience, especially from the perspective of newcomers and newly returning Catholics.
Two popular books are cited in the footnote attached to the sentence above:
* Recent books that provide very helpful guidance in this regard are James Mallon, Divine Renovation. Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission (New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2014); and Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria, 2013).
Parishes are questioned, and this pastoral letter focuses on the aspects of Mass that appeal to people: hospitality, music, and preaching. Therefore, these questions:
- Do people who show up for Mass enter into a friendly, hospitable environment where mutual love is evident?
- Does the music help them to lift up their minds and hearts in worship of God?
- Does the preaching break open the word of God and help them apply it to their lives?
Archbishop Vigneron also tacks on a fourth question:
Is there an atmosphere of faith in which people’s attention is truly focused on the Lord?
I suppose the first three, if taken out of the context of evangelization, can seem too human-centered. Good music and preaching can achieve this. And I don’t just mean popular songs and friendly homilies.
Everybody has a role to play:
These qualities are not the responsibility of the pastor alone but of the entire congregation. If improvement is needed, let us strive for it with patience and perseverance.
This certainly removes the need for any one person or group to be responsible for any single effort. An entire parish can be welcoming in simple, friendly, unobtrustive ways. Almost everybody can sing. Preachers can solicit input from parishioners–many homilists I know routinely consult homily subscription services. So whjy not their own people?
What do you make of this pastoral letter? We’ve attended to three moments of its interface of liturgy and evangelization. Is the archbishop spot on? Anywhere he can improve the message?