This is the third of four blogs that will be posted throughout this year, focused on the main issues the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council provided recommendations for, at the request of Cardinal George.
Year two of the Strategic Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Chicago is the Year of Sunday Mass. As part of the preparation for this year, the Cardinal submitted a series of questions (issues) to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC) for its reflection and input. Members of the APC draw on local Parish Pastoral Council and Deanery discussion, as well as their own perspective, for responses to these questions.
These responses are presented at an APC meeting and Cardinal George then offers his reaction to these ideas and recommendations. The third issue – “What specific things can parishes do to make the Sunday Mass a living encounter with the Risen Christ?” – was discussed at the APC meeting on March 24, 2012, in which the Cardinal and approximately 40 APC delegates participated.
At the meeting, it was the general consensus that this is the most difficult of the issues posed by the Cardinal as it asks for ideas on parish solutions/programs to help facilitate an experience that should affect the entire community and yet is intensely personal.
Response to The Issue
The recommendations offered to Cardinal George fell into six categories. In priority order, those were:
- The Priest can help people experience an encounter with the Risen Christ by words and actions that emphasize certain parts of the liturgy. Some guidance in this regard can be found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The Priest should also deliver homilies that teach and inspire and take advantage of silence as part of the Mass to allow people to reflect on what they have heard or experienced. Finally, the Priest should be bold and direct in how he challenges people to go forth and live the Gospel.
- Have lay people give testimonials or witness talks. These should be no more than two or three minutes long and can be done before Mass, after Mass or after the Homily at the discretion of the Pastor. If people want to witness but are uncomfortable appearing before the assembly, their comments can be printed in the parish bulletin (with attribution or anonymously). These witness talks can help others recognize opportunities for an encounter with the Risen Christ. It is likely that many parishes will have to provide training, workshops or group discussions to help people become more comfortable with this sharing and to learn where and how it can be the most effective.
- Enhance the sending forth experience at the end of the Mass. If we look for Christ in others and live the Gospel, we are more likely to have an encounter with the Risen Christ and be leaven in the world. It is particularly important for parents to model this behavior to their children so they will experience their own encounters and be less likely to stay away from Mass as they grow and mature.
- The environment at Mass should stimulate our senses, as this will help us experience more frequent and more intense encounters. Art and environment committees and music directors have a critical role in using sight and sound that will awaken and renew the assembly in their search for an encounter with the Risen Christ during Mass. There is a great deal of guidance to be found on the internet with suggestions for using different wines for different seasons as well as the use of light and darkness, fabrics and baptismal waters. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website is particularly helpful with specific hints and listing of other websites.
- The readings for the upcoming Sunday Mass should be made available for people to study and reflect on before coming to Mass. The parish bulletin could pose a series of reflective questions about the readings to stimulate thinking about what type of an encounter to expect at Mass. As part of a campaign to make the study of the readings before Mass an enriching experience, the Archdiocese should initiate a yearlong campaign of making certain that every Catholic household has a family Bible.
- Outside of Mass, activities can include regular faith sharing groups in every parish. Several examples of such groups were presented that included ongoing Disciples in Mission, study sessions focused on the Triduum, Bible study and CRHP. All agreed that any type of faith sharing group would help people experience the Risen Christ. As part of faith sharing, it was noted that a strong personal prayer life has to be included as part of the process.
Cardinal George’s Response
The Cardinal started out his response with the observation that the important part of our encounter is that it is the crucified and risen Lord that we meet at Mass. The rite is not there just for ritual. We use the rite of the Mass as a vehicle to enter into the mystery of Christ. Some do not understand what Eucharist is and we need to reinforce their understanding.. One way could be the teaching Mass. He has asked the Auxiliary Bishops for input on how a teaching Mass could be accomplished without changing the fundamental rhythm and flow of the Mass. This could help the personal encounter. As for study groups, testimonials and generating excitement at Mass, our encounter starts with Christ risen from the tomb and not with each other. Our mission is to give witness to the world by being leaven. Then the question is, “What do we bring to the world from this encounter?” We are to transform the world, and our mission is to witness and live the Gospel. We receive this command as part of the Eucharist and it is here that we need the encounter.
Enhancing the sensory elements is fine; sometimes that takes hold and sometimes not. Everything we do at Mass should lead up to our unique encounter with Christ in the Eucharist. With respect to testimonials, we need to answer the question of how to use homily time for witness talks without interrupting the rhythm and flow of the Mass. As for our suggestion that homilies teach and inspire, the Cardinal noted that when the homily lacks a personal focus, the people sense that. Over time we have moved from a very catechetical to a more inspirational style where people look for the personal message. Both are needed. On the topic of silence, the Cardinal stated that there is a definite need for silence. This is the time when we listen to Christ. If there is no silence, we don’t give Christ a chance to speak to us. Our encounter with Christ is the ultimate goal; we are not there yet. We go to Mass not to get a personal experience but to be changed by Christ.
In response to other suggestions from the APC, the Cardinal is glad that we suggested a campaign to have a Bible in every home. This will be given serious thought for implementation. And, we need to accommodate all different cultures in our desire to enable people to experience an encounter with the Risen Christ. The differences in the use of silence, environment and music will come into play here.