In church speak we say ‘As we worship, so we believe, so we live’. You might recognise the Latin version of that phrase: Lex Orandi. Lex Credendi. Lex Vivendi.
I am the diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer. With my whole being I believe that the liturgy we celebrate together – in praise and thanks to our God who has created each of us in the divine image and filled us with the breath of divine life – is indeed the ‘primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit’. (CSL a14).
In plain speak, that means that the liturgy is the place par excellence, where we encounter God; where we are to feed at the table of Word and usually Sacrament; where we join ourselves to Christ in his dying and rising; where together we are changed – yes, it is us who are also changed – to become more truly a member of the Body of Christ. In the liturgy
in response to hearing God speak in the scripture we say
Thanks be to God and Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
in response to being offered the Body and Blood of Christ at communion we say
in response to being sent to ‘Go and announce the gospel of the Lord’ we say
Thanks be to God
And yet I look around and am left wondering if we have lost the liturgical point and indeed the liturgical plot! What does it mean for me, and us, to say ‘Thanks be to God’ when we hear God’s Word and are sent on mission? What impact is my, and our, ‘Amen’ having on our church – its life (including our structures) and mission? What impact are we having on the towns and neighbourhoods where we live?
In Sunday’s Gospel we heard Christ say to us, ‘Stand up! Do not be afraid!’ For many in our parishes, schools and agencies, there could not have been a more relevant message.
The need is great
Last week Gary Christensen – the Director of CatholicCare – came to our Pastoral Ministries staff meeting. Gary and the Catholic Care staff and volunteers live and breathe the Gospel. If you want to be disturbed spend 5 minutes with Gary. Listen to him rattle off the statistics about the needy here in the Newcastle, Hunter, Manning region. Listen to him talk about the alarming increase in the number of children in the 0 – 10 age group who are being cared for in motel rooms by a roster of case workers. Listen to him talk about the 5 and 6 years olds who have to go to the school office when the bell rings at the end of the day because they don’t know who is going to collect them from school and take them back to their motel room for the night. Listen to him talk about the alarming increase in the homeless and the hungry who rely on food banks and community kitchens to eat. Listen to him talk about the lack of suitable housing for the poor and those fleeing domestic violence. Listen to him talk about the need for volunteers to help refugees get their driving hours up so they can get a licence. Listen to him talk about the need for ‘grandparents/ aunts and uncles’ who might spend a weekend or two a month taking kids living out of home to sport to support ‘foster parents’. All of this is happening in the geographical boundaries of our parish and school communities.
We are the church
The Church exists for mission. We celebrate liturgy to be changed so that we respond to the needs in our world with the love of God. Our participation in liturgy, particularly Sunday Mass, is not an hour a week we set aside for ‘me and God’. Rather it is an hour a week that is the powerhouse for our whole week; the inspiration and critique of our every thought, word and deed; the experience that grounds us in the church community, reminding us that God calls us into community for mission.
Some of our parishes partner with CatholicCare to host and staff food kitchens. They are all stretched to provide more and more meals for the ever-increasing need. Gary says all you need to help in this space is a BBQ and willing hands!
Our school communities live with and respond to the social issues Gary describes. I can’t begin to imagine the multiple, complex ways they do that. In addition to those more personal responses, for long years, many of our schools have had breakfast programs to feed the increasing number of students who come to school on an empty stomach. As far back as when I worked in schools, I recall there being a line of boxes in the staff room that staff packed with food for the students living out of home.
To what need is your parish responding? What is the good news story your community can tell? All our schools are missionary fields. Parishes are in a prime position to help them.
A church in need of constant renewal
Richard Lennan will be with us soon and there are multiple opportunities for us to gather with him to reflect on who we are as a Church community, and how we’re living as a community of missionary disciples in this time and this place. Don’t miss him!!
When he was here for the first session of our Synod in 2019, Richard introduced us to that wonderful framework which embodies the dying – rising paschal pattern of God’s love:
learning – unlearning – relearning
The liturgy is meant to be the key agent in pushing us into this paschal pattern of ‘learning – unlearning – relearning’. And yet I wonder if this is indeed what is really happening when we gather together to celebrate liturgy.
Is our celebration of the liturgy indeed leading us to encounter Christ, the primary and indispensable source of the true Christian Spirit? Is it shaping our communities to be inclusive, respectful and synodal? Is it shaping our communities to be safe places where people feel free to speak and ask questions? Is it shaping a unity strengthened by diversity where we experience power with and for, not over? Is it shaping communities characterised by love, justice, mercy and forgiveness, such that our neighbours want to join us? Is it sending us out as missionary disciples and forming us as missionary communities?
What do I, and we, need to learn, unlearn and relearn to make our celebrations of the liturgy authentically nourishing and life changing, the indispensable source of the true Christian spirit?
In the face of so many urgent needs, there is a need for good liturgy and for us to pay attention as full conscious and active participants. How might we be different, how might our church with its many structures and systems be different, how might our towns and neighbourhoods be different if in our celebration of the liturgy we learnt to pattern our lives on the life of Christ, and to stand up and not be afraid!
Let’s work on closing the gap so that ‘as we worship, so we believe, so we live’.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The Body of Christ. Amen.
Go and announce the gospel of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
And to paraphrase St Augustine, I ask myself, “Does my ‘Amen’ ring true?”
What are you wondering about?
CSL: The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
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