Reflections on the Liturgy of Life and Liturgy of Sunday (Part I)

October 07, 2007


Read Part II and Part III of this 3-part series.


View of narthexGathering for liturgy begins well before the entrance procession. The entrance procession is only the final, formal moment of people streaming together from all the places of daily life. How can we help them make the transition from life to liturgy?

From what do they come? People come from daily life in the world. They bring with them all the experience of that week. Moments of loss and hurt, suffering and pain of all sorts, fall-outs with family and friends, disappointments and failures in discipleship – all little moments of dying. They also bring experiences of forgiveness and healing, acceptance, reconciliation and reaching out to others, regaining hope where there had been none – all little moments of rising. They bring the daily experience of dying and rising. This, theologian Karl Rahner tells us, is the reality of the paschal mystery in our lives. He calls it the liturgy of the world. We ought not ask people to check that at the door.

For what do they gather? The purpose is simple. To celebrate the liturgy of word and sacrament. To remember the story of Jesus and his dying and rising, to find the stories of our lives told in that master story. To remember at table how he brought his life to a close in emptying himself in loving service of others, and to find there the meaning of our own daily dying and rising. People bring the liturgy of their lives into the liturgy to unite it with Jesus’ self-offering.

View of narthexHow can we facilitate the transition? We need to attend to the place and environment of our gathering. The paths by which people come to the celebration meet as they approach the church. Can we design a commons that will help people gather from their separate lives and experience a coming together, the oneness of their journeys? Will the portal say that all are welcome, that their lives are to be brought in?

The narthex is a transition space. Can we create an environment that helps people experience the transition and make the connection between the liturgy of their lives and the liturgy they gather to celebrate? As they enter the gathering area, can they encounter symbols of the liturgical season? Advent wreath, Christmas crib, Good Friday cross, or seasonal colors placed there can already invite them to place their lives within the liturgical season.

How should people be greeted as they enter? In the gathering area can we provide a place to check their coats and help them find it, as attendants do in fine restaurants? Can we enlist minsters of welcome who are able to make the people feel at home in bringing themselves and their lives to the celebration?

The gathering will take on formal shape in the entrance procession. The symbols used are not arbitrarily chosen; they connect liturgy and life. The cross tells the story of Jesus’ self-gift in death. He also said “take up your cross and follow me.” The cross is our story too, the story of our daily dying and rising. How appropriate that the cross lead the entrance procession. A poet has said that procession is “journey distilled ... a representative few treading a representative distance.” The life journeys people bring as they come to church will be summed up by a representative few traveling down the aisle through their midst. Similar things can be said about the candles and the book. Christ, the light of the world, also told his followers that they are the light of the world, a light not to be hidden. Candles tell the story of our daily witness of service in a world darkened by human coldness and violence. The book of scriptures tells the story of God’s dealings with us, the way God wants us to live. It calls us to follow that path.

Typically these symbols make their appearance in the hands of their bearers only when the entrance procession is about to begin. Might there be another way to present them as people gather? Can the cross, flanked by candles, stand in the narthex for people to touch or kiss as they enter? Their Good Friday gesture. Can the book of the gospels be enshrined for people to touch in reverence and commitment as they pass through the narthex? This could be a powerful experience, like that of Jewish worshipers when the Torah scroll in carried through their midst in the Sabbath Service for them to reverence and touch.

Welcomed and gathered together by portal, seasonal environment, and holy symbols, people are then ready to join the representative few in spirit and “go up to the altar of God” bringing their lives.

Rev. Gil Ostdiek, OFM is Professor of Liturgy and Director of the Institute for Liturgical Consultants at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois and is the author of Catechesis for Liturgy: A Program for Parish Involvement(Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 1986) ISBN-10:0912405236; ISBN-13:978-0912405230.

Photo Credit: Sean Reilly


Notes for a Mystagogy of Eucharist
Reflections on the Liturgy of Life and Liturgy of Sunday (Part II and Part III)
Questions for Shaping Mystagogy-Minded Celebrations

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