Thursday, February 16, 2017

Liturgy must be Preceded by Evangellizaton and Conversion

I was struck recently by a note in the Catechism which reads, 

“The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”: [SC 9] it must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity.” (emphasis mine CCC 1072).

For many people the Sunday morning experience is all that ever happens in their faith life. Yet this liturgy was intended to be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. 

But what does it mean to be evangelized and converted?

The National Directory of Catechesis defines conversion as, “the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one's life to his. (NDC, p. 48). To put it more simply “Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as his disciple” (NDC, p. 48).

We might be surprised to hear the Church speak of evangelization and conversion in relation to those who come to Mass on Sunday morning. The National Directory of Catechesis describes a new intervention required by our modern world called the ‘New Evangelization.’

The New Evangelization is directed to the Church herself, to the baptized who were never effectively evangelized before, to those who have never made a personal commitment to Christ and the Gospel, to those formed by the values of the secular culture, to those who have lost a sense of faith, and to those who are alienated (NDC p. 47).

Notice that the intervention of the New Evangelization is directed towards the Church herself, to various groups of people who have failed to make a personal commitment to Christ in spite of being socialized in a parish environment. Although baptized as children, these people have allowed themselves to be transformed, not by Christ, but by the values of our secular culture. In many cases they have lost their faith and feel alienated from the Church.

What does all of this have to say about the ‘Sunday morning experience’?

Some have tried to put the focus exclusively on the Eucharistic liturgy itself. We can celebrate the Eucharist with great reverence, and with elaborate ritual and beauty in the belief that the mystery of the experience of Jesus in the liturgy will draw people to him. While these are very worthy goals, and the fruit of a deepen liturgical experience will greatly enrich the soul, this is not what it means to have the liturgy “be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion.” In fact it is clearly not the ancient practice of the Church to try to evangelize through the Eucharist.

The ancient Church practiced something called the disciplina arcani which meant that Mass had two parts. The first part, a liturgy of the Word, was open to anyone who wished to attend, but the second part of the Mass, or the liturgy of Eucharist, was closed and only those who had already experience baptism and conversion were permitted to attend.

The first part of the Mass featured an unabashed scriptural homily calling for the conversion of those present who had not yet been baptized. Then there was a general dismissal of all who were yet unbaptized before the beginning of the Eucharist proper.

In the fourth century, young St. Augustine was converted by the preaching of St. Ambrose of Milan during repeated visits to Ambrose’s homilies. We no longer practice the discipline of a general dismissal of the unbaptized, but surely the first part of the Mass should still be directed to helping those who attend to achieve a personal commitment to Christ.  In the spirit of the New Evangelization the homily must also gently challenge the values of our secular culture when they conflict with the Gospel but we must do so in a manner which does not alienate our listeners. This should be a gentle portrayal of both truth and human freedom and be aimed at the heart. Our goal is always conversion.

In one version of the dismissal in the concluding rites of the Mass the deacon admonishes the congregation with the words, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” We are sent out into the midst of the world to proclaim the good news. We are reminded of our common sacred calling to ensure that our liturgy must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion.

To get a better idea of how we might realign parish life for the New Evangelization I highly recommend the following video by the Office of New Evangelization from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

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