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

October 07, 2007


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


view of processionAnytime we experience a moving event, like a stirring musical performance or sporting event, we are reluctant to leave. We need to acknowledge that it has been good, a blessing, and that we have something to take with us as we leave. The concluding rite on Sunday follows that same pattern. It consists of a blessing and the dismissal. Dismissal is another word for sending. Go, you are sent. Take it with you. Live it out.

Sending. To what are we sent? Cardinal Bernardin put it well. The dismissal is like another breaking of the bread. We have said amen to the body of Christ given for us, to being the Body of Christ. Now we are broken and sent, just as he was, to be bread for the life of the world. And so we return to our daily lives in the world, to give of ourselves in feeding the needs and hungers of others. Theologian Ion Bria calls this the liturgy after the liturgy. Others call it the liturgy of the neighbor. In this way our liturgy comes full circle. The liturgy of life, brought into the liturgy of word and sacrament, now resumes as the liturgy after the liturgy. There is no rupture between these liturgies. Each feeds into the other.

As it is now shaped, the concluding rite seems scarcely able to bear the weight of this mission-sending for people. What can be done to help them understand the important mission they are given? Certainly catechesis is critical. But is there more that we can do in the celebration itself?

view of processionFocus for a moment on the final actions. There is a procession of ministers, again carrying cross, candles, and book, accompanied by song. It reverses the flow of the entrance procession, it distills an anticipated journey. Focus for the moment on how the procession ends. Typically, those carrying cross, candles, and book quickly slip off to the side and return these symbols to the sacristy or some other place of safe-keeping. But what if we took our cue from what was suggested earlier for the gathering? Could these symbols again be enshrined in the narthex for people to encounter as they leave on mission? Cross, to be touched and to remind them that they are to take up their moments of dying and rising in daily life. Candles, to remind them of the witness they are to bear in a world grown cold and dark through human indifference and violence. Book of the gospels to invite them to touch their story and to commit themselves to a way of life in the world faithful to the teaching and example of Christ. And what if people knew that those symbols would remain enshrined in the narthex during the week, for them to encounter again when they return on the following Sunday?

Think further about the narthex and portal themselves. In designing churches we ordinarily think of them only in terms of gathering people for the celebration. But what if we thought of them in terms of sending those same people out on mission? How would this influence how we design and appoint the narthex? Narthex and portal are the transitional space and the portal bridging from the liturgical celebration back into the liturgy of life, the liturgy of the neighbor, the liturgy after the liturgy. How, then, would we shape them and appoint them to facilitate that transition?

view of processionPrelude to gathering. Pope Benedict XIV has recently suggested that we think of the entire liturgy in terms of the dismissal rite. We gather to celebrate the liturgy of word and sacrament precisely in order to be sent. If this were our pastoral priority, then liturgy of word and table would have to be seen as a gathering up of the preceding mission and as a prelude to a further sending, linking them together. We would then think of the gathering rite not as a free-standing, first-time gathering, but as a return from mission, a coming back from the liturgy of the life performed that week.

The hope of this series of reflections and questions has been to place the liturgy of life and the liturgy of Sunday into a continuous, self-sustaining cycle. If people are hungry to make the connection between liturgy and life, what do we need to do? Can we, by how we shape the space and the rites, help them to experience and understand that connection? God’s people deserve no less.

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-13:978-09124-05230.


Photo credit: Mike Jensen & Paul Covino (top photo)

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

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