ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
9. The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before men can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion: "How then are they to call upon him in whom they have not yet believed? But how are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preaches? And how are men to preach unless they be sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15).
Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation to those who do not believe, so that all men may know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and may be converted from their ways, doing penance . To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance, she must prepare them for the sacraments, teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded , and invite them to all the works of charity, piety, and the apostolate. For all these works make it clear that Christ's faithful, though not of this world, are to be the light of the world and to glorify the Father before men.
The sacraments or sacred liturgy are the summit of the Church’s worship, but they are not the exclusive work of the Church. A great deal of spadework goes into the participation of just one person at Mass, and this 1963 document goes to considerable pain to describe the Church’s responsibility in making the invitation. One of the considerable strengths of this paragraph is the inclusion of two missions. The first is the necessity of introducing Christ to those who have never heard of him, as laid out in the first paragraph. The second is the inclusion of “believers” to whom the need for Penance and reform much always be preached, as cited in paragraph two. In present day parlance among Catholics—as well as other faiths—today’s discussion might be better recognized as dealing with “evangelization.”
We are getting into the area of mission or “missiology,” that branch of theology which years ago, we would have identified as “making converts.” The art of mission has a long and what I would call bipolar history in Catholicism. Some of the most courageous saints and religious communities in our history are missionaries whose feasts we celebrate in our annual liturgical calendar. St. Paul, St. Patrick, St. Francis Xavier, and St. Isaac Jogues come immediately to mind. On the other hand, the forced conversions of Jews in Spain and indigenous peoples of the Americas point to an extreme of form over matter, which in turn reflected sacramental thinking of the time.
Two millennia of “convert making” reveal a remarkable diversity of forms in preaching the person of Jesus and the importance to new hearers. In some cases, the intellectual wisdom and piety of the Church captured the heart and mind of a man—St. Augustine’s conversion certainly fits this description from the fourth century, as well as England’s Blessed Cardinal Newman in the nineteenth. The Jesuit missionaries in India attempted to merge links between the Catholic Mass and native rites of India in the early seventeenth century, an episode known today as the Malabar Rites Controversy. You may be wondering how Vatican II treated of missionary work; in 1965 Pope Paul VI promulgated Ad Gentes (“to all the peoples”). The document is probably best remembered for its insistence that missionaries live among the peoples they seek to convert and model a community of what Christ’s people ought to look like.
At the time of Vatican II the mission of preaching the Gospel and engaging new peoples was more complex than ever before. In the first instance, the Church was no longer facing just a geographic challenge but a philosophical one as well. Christianity, in the post-Enlightenment era, was now one of many religious and philosophical “idea systems” in the world market place. This had not been true in say, 1300 or 1400, when missionary outreach was, as often as not, a matter of Catholics teaching unbelievers. A second issue faced at the Council was the relationship of missionary work and imperial colonization—major issues in the Americas and Africa, to be sure. A third consideration, ironically, was the output of the Council itself, which was on record as protecting human freedom of conscience and ecumenical ventures with other Christian Churches.
At the time of Vatican II the largest concentration of truly unchurched and/or underserved indigenous people was central and south America. In this part of the world the difference between the unknowing and the non-practicing was a medieval distinction. The absence of vibrant Catholicism south of the Rio Grande was considered so serious that Pope John XXIII directed United States bishops to assign 20% of their priests to Latin America. This mandate was not warmly received or enthusiastically implemented by bishops, naturally, but enough American priests did relocate south in the 1960’s to participate in the radical developments of the Church there, including a new evangelization linked to varying degrees with Liberation Theology.
The pursuit of Church growth at Vatican II was offset to considerable degree by the deteriorating circumstances in the cradle of Western Roman Catholicism, Europe. There were a great many reasons for this—two World Wars, clerical identification with the aristocracies, etc. The situation was particularly acute in France, where publications as early as 1943 were beginning to ask if the nation was a country in need of a new Church mission to reinitiate its citizenry. One hears American Catholic thinkers on the left and the right expressing similar concerns about the Church in the United States. In the early 1950’s a number of French priests left parish work—with approval of local bishops—to work as day laborers alongside alienated blue collar workers in an effort to draw them into closer communion with the Church.
This experiment lasted several years. Pope Pius XII suppressed the movement in the later 1950’s, apparently because the priests adopted the politics of their coworkers who were sympathetic to socialists and, in some cases, communists. It is interesting that in France, Latin America, and the American Civil Rights movement, clerics who evangelized in these circumstances drew remarkably similar conclusions about the need for reform of political structures and economic inequality.
Reading over para. 9 a second time, it is clear that the essence of preaching the Gospel to the unbaptized and the fallen-away is not the fact that it happens, but how it happens. Ad gentes is specific to this point, speaking of the respect a missionary must bear to his prospective converts, a willingness to listen, and the living example of what healthy churches really look like. (In Latin America, as many as 80,000 such “base communities developed by the early 1970’s.) Francis of Assisi sent his friars out in pairs to preach to the people, adding: “When necessary, use words.”