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Dies Domini: Keeping Sunday as a Prophetic Act of Meaning  
Mark E. Wedig, op  
   

Over the last few years, I have conducted focus groups at the university where I teach. I am seeking insights into the contemporary culture and liturgical spirituality of traditional college age students who regularly attend Sunday Mass. Young adults from these groups most consistently answer "yes" to the statement: "I regularly come to Sunday Mass in order to hear the scriptures and to receive Christ's body and blood in order to be the Christian I claim to be" and "no" to the statement: "I regularly come to Sunday Mass simply because I am obliged to do so." This select population of students exemplifies a central principle of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council: the value of the Sunday Eucharist as a consistent experience in the weekly lives of the faithful is linked, not to mere obligation, but to their desire for a comprehensive quality of Christian life. The experience of these students affirms a direct connection between liturgical participation and an integrated Christian life.

These young adults strongly emphasize, however, that their experience at worship is not the experience of most of their peers. They find themselves and their religious experience radically different from many of their contemporaries who do not connect worship to life. To the extent that their peers have a religious identity, it often does not depend on public ritual identity at all. What differentiates this select group is that they grew into making a correlation between liturgy and Christian life as their adult identity developed. For a variety of reasons, these students discovered that the Church's liturgy mediated God's presence in concrete and tangible ways. They found that in order to inculcate the value of liturgical spirituality as fundamental to Christian life, it was necessary to develop the habit of worship simultaneous to developing one's adult identity.

In his 1998 apostolic letter, Dies Domini, Pope John Paul II plumbed the depths of a mature understanding and practice of Sunday. I believe his letter can provide a framework for interpreting the experience of young adults like those in my focus groups. Reviewing some of the salient points on keeping the Lord's Day holy identifies key indicators for modeling a prophetic liturgical spirituality. Examining this Sunday reflection in relation to the contemporary challenges of urban society reveals Dies Domini as a prophetic act of meaning.

The Sunday Mass as a Prophetic Act
of Remembrance

In Dies Domini, John Paul II traces the historical development of Sunday from the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord's Day, a day steeped in "doctrinal and symbolic value capable of expressing the entire Christian mystery in all its newness" (#22). He underscores that Sunday is kept holy precisely because it is an act of remembering. If the Lord's Day is a day to keep the memory of the Resurrection and its significance alive in Christian life (#16 and 17), how can the Church reverence the day if the culture does not set it aside? In a society that often suffers from amnesia when linking past events to present contexts, appropriating a day solely to the master narrative of the Christian faith defies social trends. The Lord's Day challenges us to see even the memory of the Paschal Mystery as "dangerous" anamnesis, in which people dare not forget how the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ give meaning to life, despite the dissent this poses to society and culture.

Sunday as a Critique of Secular Rest and Time
The experience of Sunday can provide a rigorous critique of secular notions of rest and time. In his emphasis on the Lord's Day as the Dies Hominis ("The Day of Humanity"), our late Pope emphasized that Sunday is a day to recognize the inherent dignity of the human person over other forces of society (#55 - 73). Thus, there must be an opportunity to encounter others celebrating the joy, rest, and human solidarity inherent in worshipping God. Offsetting the hyperactive information highway that can distort true experiences of human encounter and solidarity, the Church provides us with an alternative ethos where we are free to value the human dignity and respect that is communicated through the liturgy.

The Church's liturgy accentuates not day-to-day notions of time, but all time as organized around the Paschal Mystery. Sunday points to the primordial Easter event that focuses all time around the de-historicized reality of Christ reigning over the cosmos for eternity (#74 - 80). All time remains eschatological for Christians living daily lives of faith, waiting on the fulfillment of that mystery. Liturgical time critically assesses the monotonous events that often typify our days.

Resistance to Individualism
My focus groups regularly point out the difficulty their peers have understanding how an authentic Christian spirituality arises from the Holy Spirit revealing itself in the assembly and how that experience is different from that of individuals who have taken themselves out of the Church altogether. The religious identity of their contemporaries often develops devoid of corporate identity and avoids the difficult work of fostering community and establishing a common moral vision.

Christian spirituality deeply values the common work of the liturgy as an essential work of the people of God in fostering the shared character of the Church. The values lived out by the Christian community in the Eucharistic Sunday assembly resist the radical religious autonomy and moral relativism of contemporary industrialized society. Instead, the community journeys together at the table of the word encountering the Lord as a dialogue between God and God's people. Likewise, the community journeys together as it eats at the common banquet table of the Lord, where peace and reconciliation overshadow societal difference and alienation.

Appropriation of the Word
Finally, John Paul II identifies the lived appropriation of God's word as the central mark of an integrated Christian spirituality. He sees the contemplation of the scriptures, proclaimed in the liturgical assembly, yet integrated through study and prayer, as another form of resistance to the anti-intellectualism and fundamentalism of the contemporary world:

If Christian individuals and families are not regularly drawing new life from the readings of the sacred text in a spirit of prayer and docility to the Church's interpretation, then it is difficult for the liturgical proclamation of the word of God alone to produce the fruit we might expect. This is the value of initiatives in parish communities which bring together during the week those who take part in the Eucharist - priest, ministers, faithful - in order to prepare the Sunday liturgy, reflecting beforehand upon the word of God which will be proclaimed. (#40)

Contemplation opposes the hyperactivity and superficiality that often characterizes the postmodern world. Text and meaning require a comprehensive relationship. Liturgical spirituality ultimately relies on inner wisdom, insight, and reflection gained from years of shared scriptural reflection and private prayer. When the proclamation and preaching of the word resonate with the quandaries of our lives, the Sunday liturgy forces us to go apart and ruminate over the significance of God's hand in our very existence.

Sunday as a Spiritual Treasure
The students I teach continuously awaken me to the challenges of liturgical praxis in a world where individualism and amnesia dictate cultural interpretations of the human condition. However, the students of the small yet powerful minority who inculcate the values of Sunday worship point to the deep spiritual treasures given to them freely because of their participation. These same gifts are offered to all who dare to savor the richness of the Dies Domini.

© 2013 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications,
3949 South Racine Ave, Chicago IL 60609

Mark E. Wedig, op,
is a Dominican priest and an Associate Professor of Liturgical Theology at Barry University in Miami, Florida, where he serves as Chair of the Theology and Philosophy Department.
 
         
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