PERSON WHOM I greatly respect voiced the opinion that achieving a friendly opening to conversation with an unbeliever or a fallen-away Catholic is a more important task, or at least a more urgent one, than getting the “details” of the liturgy right. Such an opinion is, I believe, extremely common.
But is this not to turn things upside down? The liturgy is the “tip of the spear,” as Fr. Zuhlsdorf rightly says―the alpha and the omega, the source and summit, the primary locus and vehicle of evangelizing hearts. We have books and catechism classes to educate the mind, but the heart is captivated above all by the majesty and mystery of divine worship. Remember the story of the ambassadors of the ruler of Kievan Rus? After witnessing the Divine Liturgy in all its beauty and splendor, they declared that heaven had come to earth and they had to become Byzantine Christians.
We hear a lot these days about the New Evangelization, and how imperative it is for us to roll up our sleeves, get busy knocking on doors, engage the world, change the culture, confront the enemies. But we run a very real and serious danger when we tread this line of activism, which can externalize, disperse, and dilute us if we are not absolutely rooted in and centered on the sacred mysteries. The very Gospel itself is embodied and expressed in the liturgy, so getting it right is not only the most important thing for us to do, but the very first and last concern we should have. Everything else comes after this, and everything should lead up to it.
Two of our most heroic preachers of the faith today concur with this judgment. An interview with the National Catholic Register, Archbishop Alexander Sample was asked: “Can a Mass be a form of evangelization and transform the culture?” His Excellency responded:
I am solidly convinced that an authentic and faithful renewal and reform of the sacred liturgy is not only part of the New Evangelization ― it is essential to its fruitfulness. The liturgy has the power to form and transform the Catholic faithful. We must live by the axiom lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing). What we celebrate in the Mass expresses the essential content of the faith, and it also reinforces our faith when celebrated well and with fidelity.
The liturgy both teaches us and expresses what we believe. If we do not get the sacred liturgy right, I fear that we will just be spinning our wheels rather than getting the New Evangelization going in the right direction. If we are transformed by the sacred liturgy, then we, as believers, can help transform the culture.
THIS IS IT, FOLKS: straight talk that gets cause and effect in the right relationship. Then there are the words of the great Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith in an interview conducted by Edward Pentin for Zenit:
People have misconceptions about evangelization as if it is something we ourselves, with human effort, can achieve. This is a basic misunderstanding. What the Lord wanted us to do was to join him and His mission. The mission is His mission. If we think we are the ones to be finding grandiose plans to achieve that, we are on the wrong track. The missionary life of the Church is the realization of our union with Him, and this union is achieved in the most tangible way through the liturgy. Therefore, the more the Church is united with the Lord in the celebration of the liturgy, the more fruitful the mission of the Church will become. That is why this is very important.
We are constantly being told that “There are things far more important than the liturgy… Charity… Discipleship…. New Evangelization… Natural Law…” But is it really true? How does the Lord come to us? How do we receive His very self―body, blood, soul, and divinity―for our salvation? Where and when do we most perfectly respond to His revelation of Himself in Word and Sacrament, and receive from Him an abundant increase of grace? How do we most of all fulfill the obligations of the virtue of religion and the exercise of the theological virtues? When all is said and done, what are we evangelizing people for the sake of? Answer: their personal encounter with Jesus Christ in his flesh and blood reality, since He Himself says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53) and “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Without the Bread of Life, there is eternal death for us. That is why, as long as the New Evangelization means what it should―the proclamation of the truth that Jesus is Lord and there is salvation in no one else, either for the individual or for society―it will also always and everywhere begin and end in the sacraments, and in particular, the Most Blessed Sacrament, in which, says St. Thomas, the common good of the entire universe is found.
A LAST THOUGHT. What we have said here about the liturgy in general applies in a special way to the apostolate of sacred music, as Pope Benedict XVI explained in an address to Schola Cantorum Pilgrims in 2012. Having spoken of how authentic sacred music gives apt expression to the Faith and supports our life of faith, the Pope Emeritus continued:
The second aspect that I propose for your reflection is the relationship between sacred song and the new evangelization. … [P]recisely in countries, such as Italy, where evangelization occurred centuries ago, sacred music―with its own great tradition, which is our Western culture―can and does have a relevant task of assisting in the rediscovery of God, a return to the Christian message and the mysteries of the faith. We think of the celebrated experience of Paul Claudel, the French poet, who converted while listening to the singing of the Magnificat during the Christmas vespers at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris: “At that moment,” he writes, “there occurred the event that dominated my entire life. In a twinkling my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such a powerful adherence, with such an elevation of my whole being, with such a strong conviction, in a certainty that did not leave space for any sort of doubt that, after that moment, no reasoning, no circumstance of my troubled life, was able to shake or touch my faith.” But we need not have recourse to illustrious persons to think of how many people have been touched in the depths of their soul listening to sacred music; and of how many more have felt themselves, like Claudel, newly drawn to God by the beauty of liturgical music.
Please visit THIS PAGE to learn more about Dr. Kwasniewski’s Sacred Choral Works and the audio CDs that contain recordings of the pieces.