Once upon a time, I knew a young priest who didn’t really like presiding at liturgy. He did a good job when he did preside, and he preached pretty well. But what he really wanted to do, what he said he was called to do, was to become a public witness in the style of the Berrigan brothers.
He felt so strongly about this that he decided to join a protest against nuclear weapons. He intended to commit peaceful civil disobedience and get arrested. He did not tell anyone in his parish, including his pastor, about his plans so as not to involve them in any possible future legal action.
Where are we called to be?
But there was a problem. He was not one of the Berrigans, who were essentially free agents. He was a parish priest. With responsibilities to the parish. Including a wedding he was scheduled to preside at on the day he was arrested.The Eucharist is a way of life. It is a sacrifice of ourselves that is, in many ways, as demanding as that of public peace activists. But only if we celebrate the liturgy authentically. Click To Tweet
I tell you this story because when I was young—younger than that young priest—I was impressed by peace activists who risked their freedom to make the world more loving and just. I wondered at times if God might be calling me to that kind of activism. But what God called me to instead was to a ministry of assisting parishes in celebrating liturgy more authentically. And for a while, I was a bit envious of activists who were doing the “real” work of changing the world.
As I grew into my vocation however, I discovered how misplaced my envy was. It may be true that God calls some of us to a life of public activism that results in arrests, trials, news headlines, and jail time. But if that’s true, the vast majority of us are not called to that life. What every baptized person is called to is a life grounded in the liturgy and centered on the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II wrote:
The Eucharist is not merely an expression of communion in the Church’s life; it is also a project of solidarity for all of humanity…. The Christian who takes part in the Eucharist learns to become a promotor of communion, peace and solidarity in every situation. More than ever, our troubled world, which began the new Millennium with the spectre of terrorism and the tragedy of war, demands that Christians learn to experience the Eucharist as a great school of peace, forming men and women who, at various levels of responsibility in social, cultural and political life, can become promotors of dialogue and communion. (Stay with Us, Lord, 27)
Helping the faithful take part in changing the world
The way that we learn how to become promoters of communion, peace, and solidarity is by immersing ourselves deeply in the celebration of the liturgy itself—especially the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II explains:
The Eucharist not only provides the interior strength needed for this mission, but is also—in some sense—its plan. For the Eucharist is a mode of being, which passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it is meant to spread throughout society and culture. (Stay with Us, Lord, 25)
That “mode of being” phrase is very important. Eucharist is not something we go to. It is not something we attend. It is not our “one hour a week with God.” It is a way of life. It is a sacrifice of ourselves that is, in many ways, as demanding as that of public peace activists. But only if we celebrate the liturgy authentically. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council taught:
But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.
That’s what those of us who are called to liturgical ministry do. We help the faithful take part. We help them become fully aware of what they are doing. We help them actively engage is the rite.
And that is what changes the world.
See also these related articles:
- Pastoral liturgists are “keepers of the fire”: The third level of liturgical participation
- Moving from technique to artistry: Three levels of liturgical participation
- How your liturgical ministry changes the world
- Do you remember the liturgical revolution of Vatican II?
- Liturgical participation: if you’re not doing, you’re not learning
- How Madison Avenue is sabotaging our worship
- A singing church is symbolic of the divine Trinity
- Singing with our ancestors in faith
- Music is the sacramental sign of God’s love for us
- Why sing? Because God put a song in our hearts
Image credit: Ben Wicks, Unsplash