August 10, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Eucharistic spirituality embraces the whole of life

(Thirteenth in a series)

It is no surprise that living the Sunday obligation became a matter for discussion at the 2005 bishops’ Synod on the Eucharist.

Pope Benedict XVI writes in his exhortation on the Eucharist: “Conscious of this new vital principle which the Eucharist imparts to the Christian, the Synod Fathers 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 celebrated on ‘the Lord’s Day’ (n. 73).

“The life of faith is endangered when we lose the desire to share in the celebration of the Eucharist and its commemoration of the paschal victory. Participating in the Sunday liturgical assembly with all our brothers and sisters, with whom we form one body in Jesus Christ, is demanded by our Christian conscience and, at the same time, it forms that conscience. To lose a sense of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day to be sanctified, is symptomatic of the loss of an authentic sense of Christian freedom, the freedom of the children of God” (n. 73).

Pope John Paul II had written an apostolic letter “Dies Domini” (“The Day of the Lord”). Pope Benedict refers to it.

“Speaking of the various dimensions of the Christian celebration of Sunday, he said that it is Dies Domini with regard to the work of creation, Dies Christi as the day of the new creation and the Risen Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit, Dies Ecclesiae as the day on which the Christian community gathers for the celebration, and Dies hominis as the day of joy, rest and fraternal charity (n. 73).

“Sunday thus appears as the primordial holy day, when all believers, wherever they are found, can become heralds and guardians of the true meaning of time. It gives rise to the Christian meaning of life and a new way of experiencing time, relationships, work, life and death …

—while recognizing that Saturday evening, beginning with First Vespers, is already a part of Sunday and a time when the Sunday obligation can be fulfilled—we need to remember that it is Sunday itself that is meant to be kept holy, lest it end up as a day ‘empty of God’ ” (n. 73).

The pope raises the issue that Sunday also ought to be a day of rest from work. He acknowledges that this is a matter controlled by civil society. He asserts that recognizing the Lord’s Day as a day of rest from daily exertions “relativizes work and directs it to the person: work is for man and not man for work” (n. 74).

His exhortation addresses the problem of Christian communities which lack priests and where, consequently, it is not possible to celebrate Mass on the Lord’s Day. “Here it should be stated a wide variety of situations exists. The Synod recommended first that the faithful should go to one of the churches in their Diocese where the presence of a priest is assured, even when this demands a certain sacrifice” (n. 75). After adequate instruction about the difference between Mass and Sunday assemblies in the absence of a priest, the local Ordinary may grant the faculty of distributing communion in liturgies without a priest.

Pope Benedict reminds us that the importance of Sunday as the Dies Ecclesiae (the day of the Church) brings us back to the intrinsic relationship between Jesus’ victory over evil and death and our membership in his ecclesial body.

“On the Lord’s Day, each Christian rediscovers the communal dimension of his life as one who has been redeemed. Taking part in the liturgy and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ intensifies and deepens our belonging to the one who died for us… Secularization, with its inherent emphasis on individualism, has its most negative effects on individuals who are isolated and lack a sense of belonging. Christianity, from its very beginning, has meant fellowship, a network of relationships constantly strengthened by hearing God’s Word and sharing in the Eucharist and enlivened by the Holy Spirit” (n. 76).

The Synod Fathers said “the Christian faithful need a fuller understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and their daily lives. Eucharistic spirituality is not just participation in Mass and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It embraces the whole of life” (n. 77).

Pope Benedict says this observation was particularly insightful because one of the serious effects of secularization in our culture is that it has relegated faith to the margins of life as if it means nothing in everyday life, as if God did not exist. He says “Jesus Christ is not just a private conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life of every man and woman” (n. 77). †

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