In the following article, George Harne, president of The College of Saint Mary Magdalen, reflects on how love of God and neighbor is the connection between liturgy and the new evangelization. The Cardinal Newman Society sponsored Dr. Harne's attendance at Sacra Liturgia 2013 in Rome, where he joined hundreds of other participants in the conference aiming to study, promote and renew appreciation for the liturgy. The Newman Society hopes to help spur on this liturgical renewal in Catholic higher education.
As an Anglican considering full communion with the Church eight years ago, one of the attractions was the Church’s wholeness or catholicity, the ways in which she integrates disparate aspects of the Christian life into a harmonious whole; it was the “both and” of Catholic thought and life that I could find nowhere else.
I was reminded of this again, now eight years later—and very happily in full communion with the Bishop of Rome—when I attended, through the generosity of The Cardinal Newman Society, the conference Sacra Liturgia 2013 earlier this summer.
The organizers of the conference and the speakers on the program made an effort to consider both the liturgy in itself and also the liturgy in relation to other aspects of the Church’s life and mission.
Three of the 19 papers on the program treated the relation between the Church’s worship and the re-evangelization of individuals, nations and cultures that were formerly Christian. Don Nicola Bux’s “Liturgical Catechesis and the New Evangelization,” Tracey Rowland’s “The Usus Antiquior and the New Evangelization” and Dr. Gabriel Steinschulte’s “Liturgical Music and the New Evangelization” all treated this relation.
From time to time, I have found that those devoted to evangelization will sometimes subtly dismiss those who are concerned about liturgy and vice versa, as if a commitment to the renewal of the liturgy could not be consistent with a commitment to Christ’s command to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” This “either-or” view has always seemed fragmented and inconsistent with the catholicity worthy of the Church.
One explanation for this reaction on the part of those devoted to the sacred liturgy is that so much of the degradation of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council was justified by the perpetrators as necessary to “reach the young people.” Since we now see clearly how the vulgarization of the liturgy has instead undermined evangelization and discipleship, the time seems ripe to set aside both liturgical terrorism and our (understandable) reactions to it.
One principle that was iterated several times in the conference was that the liturgy cannot be instrumentalized: our worship is for its own sake, i.e., for God, and must not be manipulated and manufactured for some other end. Nevertheless, we must not worship or reflect upon our worship in isolation from the rest of the Christian life.
It was deeply gratifying to witness the integrated approach taken by the participants at Sacra Liturgia 2013. The commitment at the conference to both the liturgy and the new evangelization and the desire to clarify the integral relation of the two was a refreshing change.
Shortly after returning home from the conference, I came across a passage from Benedict XVI’s Deus caritas est that expresses clearly the relation between worship and love of neighbor.
Benedict writes . . .
“‘Worship’ itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. Conversely, as we shall have to consider in greater detail below, the ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given.”
What greater love can we show to our neighbor than by offering the love of God to them, an opportunity to be reconciled to God and to enter a life of communion in which they will fully thrive? If our love for and communion with God in the Eucharist does not overflow into evangelization, and if our evangelization is not fed by the Eucharist, these activities are, according to Benedict XVI, “intrinsically fragmented.”
At the College of Saint Mary Magdalen, the liturgy and sacraments are at the very center of our experience as a College. We call all of our students to be reconciled to Christ through Confession, to adore Christ in the Eucharist and to commune with Him at Holy Mass.
This reception—this communion—however, impels us as a collegiate community to be spiritually fruitful. Just as authentic married love bears fruit, so authentic communion bears fruit in new spiritual life. Our love for Christ, as it is expressed liturgically, should overflow to a genuine love for neighbor that leads us to bring others to communion with the risen Lord. The incense of the Mass becomes the incense of our lives, and others are drawn to its life-giving source.
Reflecting on the conference and Benedict XVI’s observations, it seems clear that caritas is the key. Love of Christ and neighbor are what break down the man-made wall between liturgy and evangelization. From the source and summit of the Mass, authentic communion carries us out to be ambassadors of reconciliation and communion.
Read Dr. Harne’s earlier article The Sacred Liturgy and the Culture of Life.
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