(Part 1 of this post may be found here.)
Ever since the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was promulgated in 1963, many of us in liturgical ministries have liked to focus on paragraph 10, frequently encapsulated by the expression “source and summit,” though “summit and font” is more precise:
“Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” (CSL, 10)
Some were not (or are not) quite so keen to look a paragraph earlier, in which the Council carefully explained that the liturgy—summit and font though it may be—does not stand alone as a work of the Church:
“The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church.” (CSL, 9)
This may, in part, explain why the relationship between the liturgy and the church’s other activities—evangelization, education/catechesis, social justice, charity—has been marked by moments of tenuous/tense relationship and/or disconnection.
When it comes to the relationship between the church at prayer in liturgy and the church in action through justice, I often wonder if the tenuous relationship or disconnection occurs because we haven’t embodied an understanding of liturgy as a social activity of the church. The word itself comes from “friend” (socius) and “allied” (socialis). It is our acting and working together in our liturgical prayer that ought to be mirrored in our acting and working together for justice.
One hindrance to making the connection between liturgy and justice is thinking that at the liturgy we are acting individually—the liturgy as a “me and God” moment; a moment that happens simultaneously among numerous individuals merely through timing or coincidence. To understand liturgy this way leads us away from the binding power of the Holy Spirit, which unites the gathered baptized into the mystical Body of Christ. It is that Spirit-bonded, mystical Body who offers the sacrifice of praise to God time and time again.
It is likewise that Spirit-bonded, mystical Body who is sent into the world to bring the Gospel’s divine justice, joy, and peace. In both liturgy and justice, the church acts corporately as Christ—corporis = of the body—in the world. Because of this social, corporate connection, the liturgy is not a place to be viewed as an escape from the demands of discipleship, as a break from being formed for justice. Rather, the liturgy immerses us into being disciples who live for justice day by day. Here’s the “however” . . .
In our social media/hashtag-saturated world, it is natural to feel overwhelmed—if not outright besieged—by the justice-related issues and concerns of our world today; the relentless 24/7 news cycle only compounds this. It’s understandable to want to get some spiritual peace and quiet at Mass, and the eucharistic liturgy places moments of quiet in its structure to allow us to do so.
So perhaps, to make a connection between liturgy and justice more explicit, we need to turn to another basic insight in the Council’s vision for liturgy: that the eucharistic liturgy is not the only way for us to pray liturgically. The affliction “monoeucharistitis” has no place in the Council’s vision.
I’d offer that in order for us to pray intentionally, effectively, in a focused manner about important matters of social concern, we need to set aside spaces outside the Mass. Of course issues of justice should still be in the preaching, intercessions, and singing at Mass, but a real focus on these matters of discipleship might be better handled in smaller prayer groups, maybe at a once-a-month prayer service devoted to one particular issue. Communities that have both a liturgy and a social justice committee or ministry might find this to be a helpful starting point to bridge these often-disconnected areas.
Perhaps those in social justice ministry have particular prayers or psalm texts they find inspiring or fortifying in their work, even ones that don’t turn up in the official rites. Keep the effort modest and realistic, use basic ritual units—song, scripture, response, reflection, silence, intercession—that people are already familiar with. If parishes have recently merged, use this as a “getting to know you” time as well. Consider holding the prayer outside the sanctuary—if there’s a place designated for food or clothing collection, pray in the midst of those symbols.
A creative but unassuming approach could, over the course of time, help us scale the summit anew, and find a font refreshed.
I am grateful to Kate Williams, Senior Managing Editor at GIA Publications, for the photograph of the George Floyd mural.