This is the first in a new series, offering musings on liturgical formation for emerging adults and the New Evangelization, from the heart of U.S. Catholicism.
We’ve all been there. You slump into the pew on Sunday morning, bleary-eyed and exhausted from a late night out with friends, murmuring prayers inaudibly along with the dull drone of those around you. Your eyes might glaze over during the readings while you contemplate your to-do list, which probably includes a mountain of homework you’ve left to complete at the last minute and figuring out how to nonchalantly ask the super cute guy in Calc class to your dorm’s dance next weekend. You might even “accidentally” close your eyes during the homily and wake up minutes later to the cacophony of kneelers hitting the floor, clumsily staggering to your feet and glancing around to make sure your lapse has gone unnoticed. Before you know it, you’re lining up for Communion; your hands stretch out mechanically to pop the little round wafer into your mouth, its taste dry and vaguely reminiscent of cardboard. You exit the church exactly the way you entered it: unchanged, untransformed, and completely unaware of the glorious mystery you’ve overlooked.
On the other side of the altar, the cantor stifles a yawn during the readings while mentally rehearsing the psalm and staving off pre-performance jitters—the church is fuller than usual, and her friends in the crowd haven’t heard her sing yet. Her proximity to the activity on the altar ensures her distraction for the rest of the hour; after the closing hymn ends, she, too, leaves the church heartbreakingly unconscious of the cosmic nature of what has transpired. She strides briskly away from the sanctuary (where, in Tolkien’s words, one finds “romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth”) to meet her girl friends for Sunday brunch.
Before you start formulating any judgments, I’ll let you in on a little secret…the person in these two stories is me. A graduate student in liturgical studies and “Double-Domer” at Notre Dame, and I can’t even get liturgy right! And so, the idea for this column on liturgical formation and the New Evangelization was born. Racking my brain for ways to write on this without sounding like another Campus Ministry pamphlet, I was inspired by a quotation from the former French Lutheran minister-turned Catholic convert Louis Bouyer: “Jesus dead and risen, Jesus living in the Church, is the explicit sign of our vocation as children of God, and he is also the first and perfect realization of it.” As children who have now grown into adults, and more importantly, as the children of God, we have received an incredible invitation to encounter the truth and heart of our faith: Jesus Christ living in the Church. But seriously, how in the world can we do this?
After countless hours of prayer and often-discombobulated theological musings, I offer you one unimaginably beautiful suggestion: through the liturgy. Yes, that one hour of the week on Sunday mornings that somehow seems to stretch interminably longer than all the rest, especially after a particularly late Saturday night out on the town with friends–because Catholic undergrads and graduate students like myself stand in the midst of a whirlwind of exciting activity within the Church: the New Evangelization has been called, we have the incredible good fortune to have Pope Francis as our new Shepherd, and in response to the great social and political upheaval in our world today, we have the resounding legacies of Blessed John Paul the Great and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI upon which to firmly plant our feet. Through an immersion into the liturgy, we have the opportunity to form ourselves as Catholics in a radically new way.
Many rightly argue that the flagging faith of young Catholics must be reversed through robust catechetical instruction, both in the home and in parochial religious education. Catechesis is, of course, a necessity—but I contend that it is what we pray and how we pray that truly forms us and catechizes us about these profound mystical realities in the liturgy and in our faith. This practical formation in the liturgy is the ultimate catalyst for interior transformation and renewal. This concrete exploration of the Catholic Church’s rich liturgical tradition is what we hunger for.
Each of us is on a pilgrimage of faith in a world rapidly distancing itself from religious attachment—we all bear a complicated entanglement of emotions, habits and desires that prevent us from stemming the overwhelming tide of secularization, but we also have the great fortune to place our complex and confused selves completely before God in our celebration of the liturgy, and encounter Christ living in the Church. For my part, as a liturgical musician I yearn to strike a balance between performance and sincere prayer. As a graduate student in theology, I endeavor to meditate on the readings of the day as an exercise in theological exegesis. Moreover, as a twenty-something, maturing Catholic woman, I hope to attain the knowledge of self-giving love through steadfast prayer and reception of Communion, reflections on the Paschal Mystery, and a growing Marian devotion, that I might prepare for my vocation as a loving wife and mother one day.
Ultimately, the intended purpose of this column is to enkindle a love for the faith, and a love for the liturgy, while navigating the challenges and triumphs of forging a unique and often precarious identity as a young Catholic trying to live in the world, but not of the world. To adopt a phrase close to the hearts of the Notre Dame community, its intention is to “wake up the echoes” of the Church’s liturgical treasury, and introduce fresh ways of thinking about the Mass, the Office, and other liturgical devotions in these pivotal years of college, graduate school, and our forays into the professional world.
Now is the time for us to “wake up the echoes” in the sacred liturgy–to undergo a transformation that will allow us to enter more freely than ever before into the divine mysteries of our faith. The treasures of the Church are lying in wait for us: all we have to do is explore them.