Feed my sheep: the second level of liturgical participation

Feed my sheep: the second level of liturgical participation

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I want to tell you about my “Peter, feed my sheep” moment. You remember the story. For the third time, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter is getting a little ticked off because a.) Jesus already knows the answer, and b.) Peter has just said yes—twice!—to the very same question.

But there is a question within the question. The real question is more like, “Do you love me enough to die with me?” And perhaps an even deeper question: “Do you love me enough to do what I ask of you, even if it means dying to your stubbornness, pride, old way of doing things, and fear.”

I heard that question when I was in high school. Some evangelical Christian kids befriended me. They weren’t very preachy, but they also weren’t shy about talking about their faith. I’ve been Catholic all my life, but up until then, I didn’t know it was okay to talk about Jesus, out loud, when other people might hear you.

I had faith before I met my evangelical friends, but it was a quiet, interior faith. It was like my new friends flipped a switch inside of me, and my faith began to bubble up and spill out. I thought the best way to keep that happening was to join my friends’ church. I went to one of the adult leaders and asked what I had to do to become a member.

The woman I talked to was very wise. She asked me, “If you leave the Catholic Church, how will that help other Catholics like you learn to be open about their faith?” I felt like Peter—a little ticked off. I didn’t want to hear that. But underneath was the very same question. Did I love Jesus enough to give up my self-centeredness and do whatever the Lord asked of me?

Stepping into mystery

A lot of us have been asked that question. And to the extent we are able to say yes, we are stepping into mystery. Every day we are drawn more deeply into Christ’s sacrifice. Christ stands before the Father in perfect obedience, revealing God’s unbounded love through his paschal mystery. When we say yes, we stand in Christ, in that very place, present with and one with the Divine Trinity.

Living a life of yes to Christ is participation in Christ’s own sacrifice of obedience. It is in the liturgy, with the assembled Body of Christ, where we learn how to say yes and how to live a life of yes to Christ. This is the second level of liturgical participation. The first level—the symbolic and ritual behaviors of the liturgy—becomes a vehicle for moving us to this second level.

It is in the liturgy, with the assembled Body of Christ, where we learn how to say yes and how to live a life of yes to Christ. Click To Tweet

If we stop at the first level and just do the ritual behaviors, we are not really worshiping God. God does not want our empty sacrifices. We have to also offer our yes. Yes, Lord, we love you. Yes we will die with you. Yes we will let go of all the crutches we’ve held onto for so long. Yes we will do whatever you ask. Yes we will feed your sheep.

If we cannot offer a full yes to participating in Christ’s sacrifice of obedience, whatever singing,  praying, proclaiming, preaching, or processing we do on Sunday is just an empty show.

I said yes to Christ when he showed up to my teenage self as leader in an evangelical church. As soon as I did, my life as a missionary disciple began. And from that moment, I began to understand why we do what we do on Sunday.

How to participate in the liturgy more deeply

What we have on any Sunday in any parish is an assembly of people who come together to perform a ritual. Our goal as liturgical musicians and pastoral leaders is to help them participate more deeply. The challenge we have is to take all the visible, concrete, tangible stuff and use it as means of moving all of us to the awesome, invisible, divine stuff. We do that through participation.

Liturgical theologian Mark Searle writes:

“Participation,” it now appears, means much more than getting the assembly to appear more involved. It means:

  1. participating in the rite as a whole according to one’s assigned role and doing so in such a way that one is
  2. participating in the priestly work of Christ on behalf of the world before the throne of God and thus identifying with Christ dead and risen; and
  3. participating in the Trinitarian life of God as human beings (Called to Participate: Theological, Ritual, and Social Perspectives, 44)

Every liturgy is an opportunity to participate on each of these three levels at once. All of our participation comes to a climax at the moment of communion when the minister says: The Body/Blood of Christ. When we hear that, we have to know that it is really a question from Jesus: Do you love me?

And he’s going to ask again and again.

See all the articles in this series:

  1. Feed my sheep: the second level of liturgical participation
  2. Four things the bishops expect us to know about liturgical participation
  3. Pastoral liturgists are “keepers of the fire”: The third level of liturgical participation
  4. Moving from technique to artistry: Three levels of liturgical participation
  5. How your liturgical ministry changes the world
  6. Liturgical participation: if you’re not doing, you’re not learning

See also these related articles:

  1. Called to engage
  2. The Creed enlightens our vision
  3. In line with Christ
  4. Christ our compass
  5. You are witnesses
  6. Bulletin Shorts for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
  7. The four dangers of weak liturgy
  8. We will need courage for parishes of the future
  9. Liturgical principles to guide your planning
  10. Live in closeness


Image credit: Jason Blackeye, Unsplash


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