Reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI
Making Sunday truly what it is: the Lord's Day
by Francis Cardinal Arinze
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Out of the rich and nourishing Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, let us focus on one of the precious gems: the key place of the Sunday Eucharistic Celebration.
Instead of lamenting that in some Catholic communities less and less people are coming to Sunday Mass, let us reflect on some of the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI in this Document, which are powerful helps to convince people of the irreplaceable importance of the Mass on the Day of the Lord. Such reflection would show that a Christian without Sunday Mass cannot effectively live out his Christian calling.
New worship, new way of living
The Eucharistic Celebration is the source and summit of all the Church's life, since it expresses at once both the origin and the fulfillment of the new and definitive worship of God.
St. Paul exhorts the Romans to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, a spiritual worship (cf. Rom 12:1). The Eucharist makes our whole life a spiritual worship pleasing to God. This new worship, the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ, is also the sacrifice of the Church, and thus of all the faithful.
Christianity's new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor 10:31). Worship pleasing to God becomes a new way of living our whole life as an offering to God, with Christ, through Christ and in Christ.
Centrality of Sunday Eucharist
St. Ignatius of Antioch sees Christians as gathered on the first day after the Sabbath to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. They are living in accordance with the Lord's Day. The Sunday Eucharist defines the form of a life renewed by an encounter with Christ: "Sunday is thus the Day", says the Holy Father, "when Christians rediscover the Eucharistic form which their lives are meant to have" (n. 72).
We can recall here the highest esteem which the Second Vatican Council expressed for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It calls this treasure "the font and apex of the whole Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, n. 11). The Church possesses no greater treasure, "for the Most Holy Eucharist contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our passover and living bread" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5).
The only thing which the Church has which is as great as a Mass is — well — another Mass! And the celebration of Mass is the heart of the Lord's Day.
A Sunday without a Mass is a Sunday with the major event missing.
It is of crucial importance that all members of the Church appreciate more and more the treasure which Christ has put into the hands of his bride, the Church, in giving her this wonderful sacrifice and sacrament.
"From the sacred liturgy", says the Second Vatican Council, "and especially from the Eucharist, as from a fountain, grace is channeled into us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all activities of the Church are directed as toward their goal, are most powerfully achieved" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10).
The more people are convinced of this treasure, the more they will appreciate the need for Sunday Mass even before they see participation as a precept of Church law (cf. Dies Domini, n. 47). Thus, the whole of Christian living becomes "Eucharistic", a living out of "the radical newness brought about by Christ" (n. 72).
Weak Sunday Mass appreciation
The 2005 Synod of Bishops "reaffirmed the importance of the Sunday obligation for all the faithful, viewing it as a wellspring of authentic freedom enabling them to live each day in accordance with what they celebrate on 'the Lord's Day'" (n. 73).
What happens when a Catholic loses the desire to share Sunday Mass with others, when he no longer appreciates why participation in the Eucharistic Celebration is of vital importance in his Christian life?
What happens is that the person's life of faith is endangered. The person does not appreciate sufficiently that Sunday is a commemoration of the paschal victory, that participation at Sunday Mass is demanded by our Christian conscience and that at the same time it forms that conscience. The person has lost an authentic sense of Christian freedom, of the freedom of the children of God.
Moreover, such a person is becoming unaware of the four dimensions of the Christian celebration of the Lord's Day as explained by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II: namely, the Day of the Lord who is Creator, the Day of Christ and the new creation, the Day of the Church which gathers to adore and praise God, and the Day of Man to whom God offers joy and rest and calls to fraternal charity (cf. Dies Domini).
God is our Creator. We are his creatures. Moreover, we are a community redeemed by Christ.
Therefore, we come together on Sunday to adore and praise God, to give him thanks, to ask pardon for our sins and to request what we need, spiritual and temporal. That is what Sunday Mass is all about.
Does a good child need a law from his parents before he sees the necessity of sitting down and eating with his family members and interacting with them? Any child who needs a laid-down law in order to do this has a problem.
So does the Catholic who does not appreciate the importance of the Sunday Eucharistic Celebration.
Challenges to Sunday Eucharist
Reflection on Sacramentum Caritatis should lead us to list some of the challenges to the Sunday Eucharist.
There is first the growing mentality of regarding Sunday as part of the weekend. The weekend is then understood as two days when normal work is suspended and when there is the opportunity to fix other engagements for which there was little or no time during the week: for example, social club gatherings, political activities, sports, picnics, swimming, mountain climbing or simply car riding or shopping.
These and similar activities are good in themselves. They have positive values and can become part of a rightly ordered observance of the Lord's Day.
"Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes part of a 'weekend', it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see 'the heavens'. Hence, though ready to celebrate, they are really incapable of doing so" (Dies Domini, n. 4).
Underlying most of these misplaced accents is the mistake of not seeing Sunday primarily as a day set aside for God. The virus of secularism affects many modern societies. It leads people to live as if God did not exist, as if man were the centre around which everything should be planned.
Christianity cannot accept this error. God is our Creator. We owe him adoration, praise and thanksgiving. Sunday Mass has priority over what we plan to do on the Lord's Day.
It is therefore a negative development that in some hitherto Christian countries, shops on non-essential goods are opening on Sundays. The dimension of rest on Sundays helps man also to give more attention to God, to sacred readings and to education in the faith.
Response to Challenges
Sacramentum Caritatis advises that on Sunday, Church groups should organize, around Sunday Mass, such activities as social gatherings, programmes for the faith formation of people, pilgrimages, charitable works and different movements of prayer (cf. n. 73).
Where Mass is not available because of the scarcity of priests, people who have the means of transport should be convinced that they should drive to another community where there is Mass. If people can drive 20 kilometres for football or shopping, why not double that distance for Holy Mass?
Preachers should strive to share with people a strong conviction of the importance of the Sunday Eucharist. Pope Benedict XVI told the 24th Italian National Eucharistic Congress at Bari on 29 May 2005: "The Sunday precept is not, therefore, an externally imposed duty, a burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, taking part in the Celebration, being nourished by the Eucharistic Bread and experiencing the communion of their brothers and sisters in Christ is a need for Christians, it is a joy: Christians can thus replenish the energy they need to continue on the journey we must make every week (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 22 May 2005, p. 6).
Sacramentum Caritatis helps us greatly to grow in our Eucharistic faith, to celebrate it and to live it. Then we shall appreciate more and more how the Eucharist is the heart of Sunday.
© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
October 31, 2007