Putting on Our Sunday Best!
March 07, 2007
I grew up in a small German farming community in northwest Ohio. Like many such towns in that area, a Catholic church building dominates the landscape. In my hometown, the church is a two-steeple Gothic structure, with bells that echo in this quiet setting each Sunday. I remember that the hush of the morning would soon give way to sounds of people converging at the place which stood as a focal point for the community. What I liked about Sundays was that I could “dress up.” I especially liked wearing my white hat with a blue ribbon, black paten shoes, and white gloves! By way of example, my parents taught us children that there was something special about Sundays. We put on our Sunday best—our best clothes, our best behavior, and our best attention during Mass.
There really is something special about Sundays. Sundays have a different “feel” to them. In our contemporary times, some may attribute that “feel” to “Ah, Sunday. I can sleep in!,” or “Sunday—time to get caught up!” or “Sunday. I can finally get a round of golf in!” or…well, you get the idea. There’s much vying for our attention on the weekends—from work to play to leisure—so Sundays can easily get absorbed into all that we have to or want to “do” and consequently, be overlooked as a day of Christian dress rehearsal. Sundays are when we rehearse for the kingdom to come and for the kingdom that is now. We need to practice our role as other Christs in the world—a role we play 7 days a week. In other words, we need to put on our Sunday best every day!
Liturgy is the rehearsal room where we consciously put on our “Sunday best” as Catholic Christians. From the earliest days of the Christian church, coming together on Sundays to praise God, to listen to the faith stories told and retold, and to break bread together were “non-negotiables” for baptized Christians. The first Christians set the pace for us in taking seriously their responsibility—their obligation—to gather. Their gathering gave them an identity—as persons and as a community. Their gathering made the Body of Christ visible and empowered them to be the Body of Christ. Read these powerful words about the importance of Christians assembling, which are found in a third-century church document called the Didascalia:
“When you are teaching, command and exhort the people to be faithful to the assembly of the church. Let them not fail to attend, but let them gather faithfully together. Let no one deprive the church by staying away: by so doing they deprive the Body of Christ of one of its members. . . . Do not, then, make light of your own selves, do not deprive the Body of Christ of his members; do not rend, do not scatter his Body.”
What an incredible responsibility we have as people baptized in Christ. The church—all the baptized faithful of generations past, present and future—counts on us to sustain the church by gathering on Sundays. It is then and there that we give concrete expression to the Body of Christ; we make the church visible and public. Our absence on Sundays diminishes the church; it deprives the Body of Christ of his members. (Incidentally, this early Christian conviction led to the practice of bringing communion to those who were sick or otherwise unable to be physically present in the Sunday assembly. The Christian community wanted to be sure that all the baptized were included in that which they shared on Sundays.)
But what’s so special about coming together on Sundays? Sunday in our tradition is the original Christian feast and as emphasized by the Second Vatican Council, “the foundation and kernel of the entire liturgical year.” Sunday was the day of Christ’s resurrection, so from the beginning, the Christian church celebrates the Paschal Mystery every Sunday—the Lord’s Day. Because Sunday sums up the whole Christian mystery, we also say that every Sunday is Easter. So, by putting on our Sunday best, we come wearing our Easter clothes week after week, and by our conscious and active participation in the rites, we practice being Easter people. And by being Easter people, we witness to the world that God continues to be faithful to God’s promises.
Now, Sunday liturgy is a dress rehearsal that also requires some preparation. I think our first preparation is to live our lives. Each of us is called to holiness of life. Each of us has the vocation of striving to become more and more the person God knows us to be. And we need to be in touch with our experiences of life – to reflect on them and discover God’s active presence in the ordinariness.
We then bring the “stuff” of everyday life—untidy though it may be—to the Sunday assembly, where we place our stories in dialogue with the story of salvation, a story that is expressed in the many rich symbols of the liturgy. We find our place in God’s story—not only as persons but as a faith community. When we do this, we become aware of God’s constant interaction with us and suddenly, what we perceive as ordinary becomes extraordinary!
What are some other ways that we can prepare for our weekly rehearsal? Here are a few suggestions that you can do alone, as a couple, with family, or with friends:
- Take a few moments to quiet yourself. Think about the experiences of the past week. Ask yourself: When and where and how did I experience the presence of God? Express your gratitude to God for these encounters. What emotions, feelings, concerns, distractions do I have as I prepare to participate in Sunday liturgy? What personal concerns do I bring to prayer today? What concerns or needs of others do I bring to the liturgy today?
- Read the Scripture readings that will be proclaimed in the liturgy. As you reflect on the readings, you might consider:
- What do I notice?
- How do the passages speak to me? What comforts me?
- What makes me uncomfortable? What challenges me?
- What do these readings say about God’s justice, about fidelity to right relationships?
- What do these readings say about my role as a servant of justice, as someone who is called to build right relationships?
- Think about the current liturgical season—whether it’s Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, or Easter. What does the season mean for the church? What do you associate with the season—what images, stories, symbols, actions? How are you keeping the season?
- Pray to the Holy Spirit for openness to what you will experience in the liturgy. Ready yourself to be attentive to all that you will hear, see, taste, and do during the liturgy. Ask for courage to fully, consciously and actively participate in the Liturgy and in the “liturgy of the world.”
This is not all there is to our liturgical homework, however. We also need to reflect on our experience of liturgy. Do we take time to think, talk, and/or pray about our Sunday dress rehearsal? These questions that might help us with unpacking our experience of the liturgy:
- What did I experience? What did I see, hear, feel?
- What insights did I receive from…
- the assembly
- the prayer texts
- (Read them again. New insights are sure to be there.)
- the homily
- the ritual actions
- the symbols
- the worship space/environment
- the music
- partaking in the Eucharist
What did I notice about the assembly? Who was present? Was I aware of the presence of Christ in the assembly? Did I bring to consciousness that I am united with the other members of the Body of Christ—the church? Was I mindful of my co-responsibilities for the members of the Body of Christ—and for all humanity and all of creation?
- How can I “live the liturgy” today/this coming week?
- How might the world be better today because we the church gathered to celebrate the Eucharist?
- Will there be greater understanding, more love in our homes?
- Will our workplaces be more ethical, more rightly motivated?
- Will the world be a more just place to live?
- Will the Church be a brighter beacon of light in the world?
- Will we do our part in building right relationships?
- Will the dignity of each human person be better protected?
- Will the poor and hungry and homeless be better off?
- Will the sick and elderly be visited and shown compassion?
- Will our enemies and those who hurt us be forgiven?
- Will the abused and neglected of our society be cared for?
- Will the imprisoned be visited and prayed for?
- Will the earth, the environment, be better preserved?
- Will we be more courageous?
- Will we be more hopeful for the kingdom that is and that is to come?
(Parishes may reprint “Putting on Our Sunday Best!” in the parish bulletin or catechetical materials. Please include the author’s name and the following: “Reprinted with permission of EnVisionChurch.org, a resource web site sponsored by The Georgetown Center for Liturgy, Washington, D.C.”)
Anne Koester works and teaches at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She has edited or co-edited three books: Liturgy and Justice: To Worship God in Spirit and Truth (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002); Vision: The Scholarly Contributions of Mark Searle to Liturgical Renewal (co-edited with Barbara Searle; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2004); and Called To Participate: Theological, Ritual, And Social Perspectives (co-edited with Barbara Searle; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2006. Anne is also the author of Sunday Mass: Our Role and Why It Matters (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007.)
READ OTHER ARTICLES BY ANNE KOESTER:
A Participation that Is Demanded by the Very Nature of Liturgy
Jesus as Model Relationship Builder
Justice: What Are We Talking About? (Part I, Part II, Part III)
Liturgy: Some Key Ideas
The 20th Century Social and Liturgical Movements in the U.S.: Working out of a Common Vision
To Live and Learn: What Does Liturgy Teach?