Monday, August 27, 2007

Living the Mystery (Final Talk on Sacramentum Caritatis)

Picking up the last part of the previous talk on Part II, "Celebrating the Mystery"...

The pope agrees with the bishops’ recommendation of something called "mystagogical catechesis"—what is that?

Mystagogy means teaching about the mystery. An example would be when we point to the elements used in baptism—the water, anointings, prayers, gestures, candle, etc. He highlights three elements of such catechesis:

a) Interpreting ritual in view of salvation history.
b) Explaining the meaning of signs and rituals
c) Significance for ongoing Christian life.

People who participate in the RCIA are generally more familiar with this—because it plays a significant role there. But since most of us haven’t had that experience, perhaps we could do better at this?

Any suggestions?

The pope specifies a concrete measure for how effective our instruction about the meaning of the Eucharist is: how reverent we are toward the Eucharist present among us. And here he highlights the importance of gesture and posture. He mentions kneeling, but there are many other gestures included in the Mass that have meaning as well.

This section concludes with some good words about Eucharistic adoration—obviously something our two parishes have taken to heart, and which I believe, as do so many of us, has strengthened our parishes and community.

It is encouraging to have the pope give this endorsement, and to note these words: "The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself" (66).

VI: Living the Mystery (beyond Mass)

That the last third of the pope’s exhortation will all be covered in one talk should not suggest there isn’t just as much meaty material here. Rather, my judgment was that the issues raised by Part II—having to do with the Mass itself—would raise so many questions, we needed to spend more time there.

At this point, it’s almost as if the pope himself has intoned the end of Mass: Ite Missa Est—"Go, you are sent" as he begins this part; because this is all about how we take the mystery into the world.

Let’s begin with the first two sentences of paragraph 70—would someone like to read it?

The Lord Jesus, who became for us the food of truth and love, speaks of the gift of his life and assures us that "if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever" (Jn 6:51). This "eternal life" begins in us even now, thanks to the transformation effected in us by the gift of the Eucharist: "He who eats me will live because of me" (Jn 6:57). These words of Jesus make us realize how the mystery "believed" and "celebrated" contains an innate power making it the principle of new life within us and the form of our Christian existence.

A new life within us—that is where we are headed; that is why we participate in the Eucharist! What might that look like?

He goes on to share St. Augustine’s astonishing answer—would anyone care to continue reading?

By receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ we become sharers in the divine life in an ever more adult and conscious way. Here too, we can apply Saint Augustine's words, in his Confessions, about the eternal Logos as the food of our souls. Stressing the mysterious nature of this food, Augustine imagines the Lord saying to him: "I am the food of grown men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh, into yourself, but you shall be changed into me." It is not the eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we who are mysteriously transformed by it. Christ nourishes us by uniting us to himself; "he draws us into himself."

We become the Eucharist! We become Jesus! If nothing else, we would do well to reflect constantly on that statement!

But here the pope is letting us know where this final section is going. How do we live the mystery? This is how—both in how we try to live, and what the ultimate shape of our life will be, as we follow Christ. It is, in a sense, the journey from Mass—a foretaste of heaven on earth—to heaven itself.

Here he recalls what Vatican II said: the Mass is "source and summit" of our lives as the Church; and it is also the "origin and fulfillment."

So we see, first—we’ve been, in a sense, "dismissed" from Mass, but not finally; we shall return again and again. Why? Because this life on earth is our school for heaven! One of the things we must learn how to do is to be one Body, truly united, truly purified. That is a lifetime of learning!

But it’s clear, here, why Sunday Mass is critical. The Church makes it a commandment. To miss Sunday Mass without a good reason is a mortal sin. Note I said, "without a good reason"! Some feel guilty if they miss Mass because they are sick, or very tired from work, and so forth. It’s ironic but true—the wrong people feel guilty about missing Mass! My point is, don’t misunderstand this commandment.

The pope here raises a great question: how shall the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist shape the rest of our lives? What might that look like?

Ø Worship at the center
Ø Rest
Ø Freedom to serve others
Ø Work is neither too high or low a priority

The pope uses a curious phrase, did you notice it? "A eucharistic form of the Christian life"—what do you make of that?

Ø We live in communion—relationship with God, and other people.
Ø it is "clearly" ecclesial and communitarian—not individualistic, as secular culture is.

Again, this provokes thought—how does this apply to our society today?

Notice he calls for "evangelization of culture"—that applies to us. Any ideas?

In the next section, notice he talks about different segments of the Body of Christ—including its hierarchy. He talks about the spirituality of the lay faithful; that of consecrated religious; and of clergy, particularly the priest. It’s worth noting here that the oneness of the Body of Christ does not mean sameness. The different aspects of the Body, seen in different ministries or vocations, in addition to being practical for how the Church is ordered, also serve to highlight different realities about Christ and his Church.

We might note the pope’s emphasis here as follows:

Laity: you are sent "to the world";
Priests: your focus is the Mass.
Religious: your contemplation and personal witness, particularly poverty and virginity, are powerful signs of the world to come.

If we were all the same, these special foci might be lost.

But—back to the starting point of this section—what we all have in common is the task: become Christ.

Eucharistic Consistency

This phrase, and a related passage earlier, actually got some media attention.

Here, the pope is speaking to yet another vocation—of the lay faithful—in society: those involved in politics. If they aren’t about changing the world to make it more Christ-like—meaning, both more human and more divine—they lack "eucharistic consistency."

Isn’t that an interesting way to put it?

A Mystery to be proclaimed

Each of us has a task to bear witness—and to spread the Gospel. That is exactly what "evangelize" means. Our "eucharistic consistency" also means we seek to draw others into the One Bread and One Body. It’s worth flipping this around: what does it say if we don’t see Jesus, his death-and-resurrection—as absolutely essential to the well being of all our fellow human beings? Doesn’t that make our talk about the importance of the Eucharist, of Mass as the "source and summit," all pretty empty?

Again, the pope quotes what the bishops said to him, in their propositions: "an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church" (84).

The pope reminds us of a sometimes inconvenient truth: Jesus Christ is the world’s one and only savior. We don’t have to figure out just how God saves those who aren’t baptized Christians, although we believe he wants to save them, and seeks to do so. But our mission remains: proclaim Christ to the world:

The more ardent the love for the Eucharist in the hearts of the Christian people, the more clearly will they recognize the goal of all mission: to bring Christ to others. Not just a theory or a way of life inspired by Christ, but the gift of his very person. Anyone who has not shared the truth of love with his brothers and sisters has not yet given enough (86).

A little later, the pope presents this in a little different light: the importance of offering the Eucharist to the world. He means the social implications of the Gospel.

So, for example, in our country—we have a rising number of Spanish-speaking migrants, almost all of whom are Catholic. We are all aware of the political questions, but here we’re concerned about our obligations of charity and of sharing the Faith: how could we make the Mass more open to those who do not speak English? Shouldn’t we do something?

More broadly, talking about social justice, the pope highlights all the concerns we know about: food, nutrition, basic needs, health care, housing, education. But he also talks about "transforming unjust structures"—recall we began this talk about how we are transformed into Christ—and that transformation is not merely individual, but communitarian. Society needs transformation on the way to salvation.

He talks about peacemaking; fighting "sexual exploitation"; and in paragraph 89, he uses the term "liberation."

Here again, we see why those active in politics cannot be let "off the hook"—they choose to take up the task of political action; these tasks particularly pertain to them.

It’s worth noting here that the term "liberation" first showed up at the beginning of this exhortation, paragraph 10, when Benedict talked about the hope of Israel for liberation; then, again, in paragraph 37, talking about the Resurrection, the day of our true liberation; then, again, in paragraph 72, talking about the Lord’s Day, a day of rest—again, liberation; and finally, here, in the context of liberating all people, as we journey toward complete redemption.

The Eucharist and the Cosmos

The last part touches on how the redemption of Christ touches Creation itself—and a bit on how Creation already teaches us about Christ and helps us know him. The pope reminds us "eucharistic consistency" treats Creation with respect; and it’s also worth noting that this is nothing like the emphasis on liberating humanity—even here: "The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit. Rather, it is part of God's good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 1:4-12)" (92). I.e., properly understood, respect for Creation is part-and-parcel of our social concern for the entirety of humanity.

One of the things Pope Benedict touched upon in Spirit of the Liturgy might bear some inclusion here—how elements of our world already serve to highlight, and point us to, Christ; and how we "baptize" elements of the world around us, to that end.

For example, the "sanctification of time."

Benedict talks about time as a particular feature of this Creation; and how it provides rhythm to life. And how these have left their mark on our imagination:

Ø The rhythm of day to night, caused by earth’s rotation
Ø The rhythm of the year, from season to season, caused by the revolution of the earth around the sun;
Ø The rhythm of the moon’s monthly cycles.

We can easily see how these figure in our religious imagination and practice:

Ø Sabbath
Ø Resurrection (1st day of the week)
Ø Sunday is "8th Day, 1st day of new creation."
Ø Sun-day is also day of Christ—Christ-Sun
Ø Facing East in liturgical prayer—toward the rising sun: "ad orientem."
Ø Seasons of the year
Ø Rhythm of the years, marked as anno domini—every year is a "year of the Lord"—i.e., from his incarnation and until his return in glory.


Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox,

Would you consider putting these talks in a separate archive (ordered with the first one on top)? I really enjoyed reading them and it would be nice to have them in order as a reference.

Fr Martin Fox said...

I would, but I don't know how to do that!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I don't know how to either, not being a Blogger user.