ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
59. The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith." They do indeed impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God duly, and to practice charity.
It is therefore of the highest importance that the faithful should easily understand the sacramental signs, and should frequent with great eagerness those sacraments which were instituted to nourish the Christian life.
Over the past several days I have been reading research papers for a good friend in my parish. A career health professional, he decided in mid-life to pursue a master’s degree in theology for his own satisfaction and no doubt with an eye toward future ministry. I was intrigued with this project for a number of reasons, not least of which was to observe how a professional in another field brings his or her skill set to the sacred discipline of theology. His finished products were marked by a sound historical investigation, attention to official documents, a very good review of current theological thinking, and—a skill we must all master nowadays—adroit handling of the internet. He added his own experiences with the topics at hand and rendered opinions, correctly citing them as such.
I thought to myself, if he accidentally dropped one of his papers during a meeting of his medical peers, and one peer of any or no religious persuasion picked it up to read, this unintended reader would respect the competence of the paper as worthy of a professional peer. The paper could be critiqued for its philosophy, but not because it is incompetent, poorly documented, or the product of my friend’s imagination. The theology student is evangelizing as surely as Peter in Jerusalem or Paul before the Altar of the Unknown God.
“Evangelization” is one of about a dozen words the Church has never cleanly identified for theological study and present day pastoral life, along with “community,” “groups,” “reconciliation,” “stewardship,” etc. My own working definition of evangelization is engagement with the world, finding a common ground of language, experience, and need. I checked in on two Catholic groups dedicating themselves to two brands of evangelization, FOCUS on the college campus and RENEW in the parish setting. Both are worthwhile endeavors, organized plans to “save this generation of our young people” [or other people] by instruction, tight-knit organization, and targeted contacts and crusades.
The RENEW website advertises its pedagogical methodology as exploring “Catholic teaching with direct quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, scriptural references, and reflection questions.” There is hardly anything here to disagree with except for the absence of one key factor: a dynamic that forecloses upon listening. A Church with Open Doors (2015) is a sophisticated primer for the delicate work of Catholicism’s engaging with the world, noting that for the Church to arrive upon the scene with Catechism under arm and waiting for the rest of the errant world to fall into line is the least effective form of evangelization, short of restoring the Inquisition.
The “new evangelization” [another phrase from the indeterminate list] demands a new evangelizer, one who is wise, well-grounded in the Faith tradition, humble in the search for God, and welcoming to the pain and insights of those who have left the Catholic communion, Christians of other traditions, men and women of good will, and even atheists. Perhaps hardest of all to embrace are those for whom religious experience is something of a trinket along the way of life, but it is hard to dismiss this segment of society because perhaps no one has made a genuine outreach to hear them without first prescribing catechetical medicine.
Para. 59 opens a lengthy section of Sacrosanctum Concilium with the decidedly unpoetic title of “The Other Sacraments and Sacramentals.” While the linguistics suffer, there is a great deal of truth—perhaps unintentionally revealed—in the document’s emphasis on the Mass and the failure to unpack the other sacraments and pious rites and events [sacramentals]. My friend had chosen The Sacrament of the Sick for one of his research efforts, and he expressed amazement at the many forms this sacrament has taken over the centuries, not to mention the many pastoral options for this sacrament today which typically are not appreciated by rank and file Catholics.
Para. 59, in its closing words, uses the phrase “with great eagerness” in describing the richness of the full Catholic sacrament/sacramental life of the Church. The Church is in desperate need of ministers and teachers who can present the richness of our life in a fashion that respects and loves both our own membership and, as the Council writes, even those who wish us harm. In fact, we might do better to pray for more ministers and educational lay leaders to pursue the vocation of theological learning than pray for more priests—something we have doing for my entire lifetime and we seem to have less and less. Looking at my own parish, nearly all our “faith formation” personnel are volunteers with a bare minimum of theological preparation. Packaged programs of renewal where non-professional “evangelizers” with an overly doctrinaire dependence upon the Catechism and the quick trigger to divide sheep from goats are a parish’s prime formative resource, what results is counter-evangelization, a literal fundamentalism where “great eagerness” is nowhere to be found.