Over the coming weeks my homilies will focus on the four great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council which was convened fifty years ago this year. This series, part of our Year of Grace, looks at those great documents in light of the Scripture readings set down for use on the corresponding Sundays. This week we conclude our reflection on the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium).
Scriptures: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34.
Having been sent out last week, the apostles – those followers of Jesus who went preaching repentance and doing great works in his name – come back and report to Jesus all that they had done while they away doing what they had been sent to do. No doubt they would have been both excited and tired, full of joy at what had happened yet ready for some ‘downtime’ to recharge their batteries in the presence of the Lord. This never-ending cycle of mission and retreat, of going out and coming back is exactly what we do each and every week as we gather to celebrate the liturgy of the Church on the Day of the Lord, gathering once more in order to be nourished in Word and Sacrament before once again venturing out to proclaim the Good News of Jesus as we are called to do from the very day of our baptism.
In this short story from Mark’s Gospel we see the pattern established that has survived for two thousand years, a pattern that distinguishes the mission of the Church from that of other organisations. We are firmly established in our relationship with the Lord, the One who is so focused on us, and willing to spend time with us, teaching us at length, and refreshing us in preparation for the mission. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy tells us that the “preeminent manifestation of the Church is present in the full, active participation of all God’s holy people” in the liturgy of the Church (SC 41) particularly when gathered around our bishop at a diocesan level, or around the proper pastor at a parish level. This gathering for liturgy, for nourishment from the two Tables of Word and Sacrament, is the means by which the Christian life is fostered and through which God’s people are empowered for mission.
As the Prophet Jeremiah tells us in our first reading today, God will provide the means by which the God’s flock, the People of Israel, and by extension us, will be provided with the protection and guidance that is needed in order to be fruitful and multiply, spreading out into their own pastures. The Church – the People of God – have been constantly called to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world, being fruitful and multiplying in numbers, gradually enlarging the pastures of the world which the Christian people can be found. In order to do this, God will constantly provide the means by which we understand ourselves, and by which we can be further empowered to do that which we’ve been called to.
The Bishops of the Second Vatican Council recognised that the Church needed to change the way it had been operating, and to change the way in which Roman Catholics enacted their faith in the liturgy so that the Body of Christ could be given every opportunity to flourish and be “given new vigour to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times” (SC 4). The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, drawing on the ancient adage lex orandi, lex credendi – literally the “law of prayer is the law of belief” – recognised that changes in the way we understand our faith and the way we understand our identity as Church will affect the way in which we celebrate both our faith and our identity.
We are a sacramental Church. Not just because we celebrate the sacraments, but more significantly because we – the People of God – always point to a reality beyond ourselves: to Christ, and to the Father who sent him among us. Our gathering together to celebrate that which we are – the Sacrament of God – means that our liturgical celebrations have a significance which many in the world see as irrelevant, but for those of us who believe this is who we are, and what we are called to.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy can be seen by some as bringing about the loss of something that was precious and unique – I would suggest that the great gift of the Constitution was a recovery in our identity as the People of God, and of our mission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world.
Next week we turn our attention to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium).