When I was a kid, I belonged to a Boy Scout troop sponsored by my parish. One of my favorite events was Scout Sunday. All of us would get dressed up in our uniforms, and we would march into church following the American and papal flags. I don’t remember much about the Mass itself. What I remember is feeling special that the scouts were recognized at Mass.
Many years later, I was working as a diocesan director of worship. Our bishop had just returned from a national meeting. He announced that the bishops were launching an annual Sunday to take up a collection to fund the retirement of religious brothers and sisters.
What are we promoting?
Some years after that, while volunteering on a parish liturgy committee, our pastor asked us to write intercessions and a blessing for all the catechists because next Sunday was Catechetical Sunday.
In addition to Scout Sunday, Retired Religious Sunday and Catechetical Sunday, we have the following “theme” Sundays. (I don’t think this is all of them; these are all I could find or remember.)
- Catholic Relief Services Sunday
- Catholic Home Missions Sunday
- Catholic Communication Campaign Sunday
- Catholic Campaign for Human Development Sunday
- CRS Rice Bowl Sunday
- World Mission Sunday
- Archdiocese for the Military Services Sunday
- Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
- National Youth Sunday
- World Marriage Sunday
- World Priest Sunday
- World Day of Prayer for Vocations Sunday
- Mother’s Day
- Father’s Day
- Grandparent’s Day
These are all great themes. We should pray for and support every one of these. But none of them should take over Sunday.
Staying on message
The only theme for Sunday is the paschal mystery, celebrated through the lens of the liturgical year. Through the celebration of the liturgical year, the fullness of Christ is revealed to the church and to the world. This is the very reason we exist as church.
Retailers know the value of the seasons. Every kind of store will hold a Memorial Day or an Independence Day sale. Christmas sales can make or break a business. But exactly zero of these vendors are memorializing fallen soldiers, holding readings of the Declaration of Independence, or celebrating the birth of the Savior. They have only one theme. They are selling cars. Or clothing. Or candy. Their only message is “buy our product.”
We can learn from them. We should learn how to stay on message. Our one message is “Jesus saves.” It is the theme of every Sunday Mass. It is a story of birth, life, death, resurrection, and Spirit. It is told in the ancient method, over the course of a year, filled with symbol, song, and prayer. It is the “this” that Jesus mandated when he said, “Do this in memory of me.”
How to keep the paschal mystery at the center of the liturgy
It is difficult to understand why we think this core message of our faith is so disposable. As important as the many secondary themes are that have come to replace the story of Jesus, none are as core to who we are as church or what we celebrate at Mass.
When we make the Eucharist about something other than the paschal mystery, we are saying we know better. We know better than the lectionary, than the ancient church, than the apostles, than Jesus himself what the assembly needs to hear. We know better that the assembly needs to hear this other message, just this one time a year, because it is more important than what they usually hear on Sunday.When we make the Eucharist about something other than the paschal mystery, we are saying we know better. We know better than the lectionary, than the ancient church, than the apostles, than Jesus himself what the assembly needs to hear. Click To Tweet
We have to be vigilant about this because so much is at stake. The secular world is already better at staying on message than we are. If we continue to let secondary themes take precedence over our singular message of life, death, and resurrection, we will have failed not only at promoting the message of all of these worthy ministries, but also at bringing Jesus’s message of hope and salvation to the world.
As a Boy Scout, I learned to be prepared. As liturgical leaders, we have to prepare to stay on message every Sunday.