I have recently returned from the Society of St Gregory’s Summerschool (see www.ssg.org.uk) The society was founded way back in 1929 in order to promote active participation in the liturgy – and the week is spent with ‘ministers’ of all sorts – singers, instrumentalists, readers, clergy, ‘liturgists’ and catechists. There is a great sense of community and fun during our time together, as we celebrate and reflect on liturgy and its meaning and purpose for our lives, in a context of warm, genuine hospitality for one another, old hands and newcomers alike.
My post-summerschool reflection is that we cannot separate out the threads of life in liturgy, or liturgy in life. It is all an integrated web of relationships – God and us, and ourselves and one another. We celebrate one in the other, and vice-versa. The encounter with God and one another in the liturgy forms and shapes and feeds us, and like food, becomes part of who we are. It literally gets into every fibre of our being, shaping what we believe and our response to life. Whatever it is that happens in and through the liturgy is what keeps us going – and yes, it is beyond words!
RCIA is often simply referred to as ‘Journey in Faith’ – and like any journey, it is something we are actively engaged in at every step. It isn’t a ‘system’ or ‘education’ or ‘entertainment’. Nor is it something we do alone – ‘me and God’. It’s when we can find ourselves most aware of being held in a unity, addressing God together, in, through and with Christ. We need to sing our songs and listen and respond to the Word, make gestures and soak in moments of silence – and this tunes us in afresh to who we are, and gives our lives its gospel shape. On my own, I have limits, needs, longings – and recognise I cant ‘do’ life or liturgy on my own. The journey of faith, for all of us, needs nourishing through company – and the Liturgy is the visible sign of our deepest reality – being made One in Christ, and receiving the life of Christ not for ourselves but for the world. We had Marty Haughen with us for the week – we laughed a lot, and we sang many of his songs.
‘Let us build a house where love can dwell, and all can safely life. A place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; Here the love of Christ shall end division: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.’
In these lovely Summer weeks, where we seem to have more space than is usual in our busy, 7-day week lives, perhaps we can be increasingly hospitable in the Sunday Mass, and accompany our catechumens and candidates in a more reflective way of experiencing the Liturgy. The Liturgy can only be the ‘catechist’ if we let it. We need to encourage reflection – and to be reflective ourselves for a start! In every Mass we are working in ‘partnership’ with:
the liturgical and scriptural texts: alive and active words that accomplish the actions they describe!
the community itself – being together, and open to the power of the texts as the Word of life addressed to us!
on this particular Sunday – for speech, listening, silence, encounter! to find ourselves surprised, breathless!
in this space – our building, and the symbols we use – do they bear the weight of the mystery?
thy mystery that is to be revealed today – full of hope and possibilities, new life.
Perhaps we can help enquirers, catechumens, candidates with a simple 5-minute reflection before Mass:
- How am I as I come to Mass today? Who have been listening to this week? What about the key things going on in the world? What do I expect as I come to Mass today?
And then to tune in to all the different elements of the Mass – alternating between sound and silence, speech and song, movement and stillness, proclamation and reflection, word and action (Environment and Art in Catholic Worship 25) – the way liturgy is celebrated will itself carry the mystery – and this is how we ‘pass on faith’ to those who come.
- How does it feel to pray at this point in the Mass, how does it shape or influence my understanding and commitment to the Liturgy at this point?
At the end, we are sent out to ‘glorify the Lord by your life’ (new translation)
- What is your overriding feeling or thought at this point as you leave Mass? What do you expect as you go?
If we can reflect on our experience of the Mass, and allow it to bubble away in us, we will somehow find it speaking into to life during the week – courage, peace, joy, comfort, challenge. In the words of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin (Chicago):
The commitment I envision must be in our Catholic bones: the need to assemble each Sunday, to make common prayer, to hear the scriptures and reflect, to gather at the holy table and give God thanks and praise over the bread and wine which are for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and finally to go from that room to our separate worlds – but now carrying the tune we have heard, murmuring the words we have made ours, nourished by the sacred banquet, ready in so many ways to make all God’s creation and all the work of human hands into the kingdom we have glimpsed in the Liturgy.’
One step at a time, imperfect, wounded as we are, encouraged by other wounded healers – after all Christ seems to say that we enter into the kingdom now by doing little daily things with love . And I would agree – ‘it is not in craving after ready-made, complete and finished things that love finds its meaning – but in the urge to participate in the becoming of such things’ (Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds). These Summer weeks of the community life and our Sunday Liturgy really are a very blessed time in the Journey of Faith.