OFFREDO BOSELLI’S NEW BOOK, The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy: School of Prayer, Source of Life (Liturgical Press) due out in September, is likely to take on the essence of living the liturgy and therefore, evangelization. We know a bit about the book as Chapter Ten, “Liturgy and the Transmission of Faith” was originally published in 2008 as Liturgia e transmissione della fede oggi, Testi di meditazione 143 (Bose: Qiqajon) It is written for a post-modern people of the twenty-first century, especially those in an increasingly secularized Western Europe, to say nothing of the United States.
The first paragraph of this chapter states extraordinarily simple, yet profound truth with regard to evangelization:
“One result of the liturgy’s vital relationship with the Sacred Scriptures is that the liturgy is a primary source of the Christian faith; it contains and expresses the most constitutive elements of that faith. If the church believes what it prays, then every liturgy is a profession of faith. In particular, every Eucharistic celebration is the highest profession of faith. The faith of a Christian is expressed in a fundamental way in the Eucharistic prayer. There is, then, an indissoluble link between the liturgy and the transmission of faith. We can say, in fact, that the celebration of the liturgy is the most important act of evangelization.” (pg. 209, The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy)
In citing the “vital relationship” between the scriptures and the liturgy, we gain a greater understanding of the role of sacred music. As the mass is a sung prayer, and scripture the foundation of the liturgy, then it is the scripture that we primarily sing. This is simple, profound, and revolutionary.
In any parish setting, it is incontrovertibly the liturgy that is the front-line of engagement and drawing in the faithful. One generally becomes more involved in a parish after being drawn in by the liturgy. It is a sort of “ministry of first impressions” that matter. This is why preparation is essential which the faithful deserve.
OWEVER, LET US NOT MISTAKE THE MASS for something that we do or create. It is the Eucharist that unites, not something we do. It is God who lives and acts in us—God who is engaging us—God who is drawing us ever towards Him. We do not draw people into the Church. We can only open the door—a vital thing to do. Therefore, our preparation of the liturgy should point towards God instead of a form of marketing our individual parish. (Yet in doing the former, we may very well happily accomplish the latter as a byproduct.)
Yet to focus on the goal—pointing to God—Boselli warns against gathering in the name of ourselves or sentimentality and “human affections,” He emphatically reminds us that we are people “God, and no one else, has called to himself.”
“It is to your parish assembly to which God calls you…Why? Because that concrete assembly, where you encounter people whom you have not chosen, teaches you what the church is. The church is not a club made up of friends who enjoy spending time together, and the liturgy is not a musical concert (although singing and music of high quality is important). In the assembly of the Church we do not gather in the name of human affections and friendships; rather, we gather ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” (pg. 218-219, ibid)
But what about those who insist upon “realism”? That it is not possible to evangelize, to engage people (especially young people—the most sought-after demographic) into the liturgy by focusing on God and reverence? Yet there is an interesting paradox that Boselli cites, something we see all around us:
”There is a paradox here: those young people who embrace masses and spectacular liturgies are in fact in search of a greater interiorization of their relationship with God through a more meditative and contemplative liturgy….Presbyters and educators must therefore confront and manage a new form of devotio—no longer moderna but
Boselli further warns of giving into sensationalism for the sake of transient emotional sentiment.
“…we must be vigilant that an exaltation of the feelings and emotionalism does not come at the expense of rational thought, interiorization, spiritual understanding, and personal appropriation of the contents and the meaning of the liturgy. The Christian liturgy, though not solely a matter of rationality, is a loghiké lattreía, a ‘worship in word’ and ‘according to reason, (see Rom 12:1) Easy feelings and superficial affections do not, in the long run nourish the life of the believer; we need solid food of the word of God and the Eucharist, which have been from the beginning the only solid and substantial nourishment of the Christian.” (pg. 229, ibid)
If the liturgy is a “worship in word” the emphasis of sacred music, therefore, must be on the word and not sentiment. Again, this does not preclude beauty. In fact it demands beauty, as the only thing worthy of the Word of God. This beauty therefore must point to God, not towards our personal feelings, sentiments or a self-congratulatory celebration of community.
HERE IS A DECISION we must make in light of evangelization: Do we focus on ourselves, reaching a mile wide but a centimeter deep, or do we engage fellow Christians one at a time, as we unite in the Word and in the Eucharist? Ironically, if we do the latter, our faith communities will be stronger than ever. Remember, it is God alone who calls us to Himself.