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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.