Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium and the Liturgy: First Thoughts

Today Fr. Christopher Smith has published at Chant Café a reflection on Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, taking a close look at the document’s liturgical teaching and in particular at the areas of music, beauty, preaching, devotion, and balance. Fr. Smith's analysis of the relationship between liturgy and evangelization is particularly key. It is a magnificent piece. A sample:

Liturgy and Personal Relationship
         One of the things I find fascinating here is that nowhere is the liturgy seen as a source of evangelization itself, nor is it seen as an end towards which evangelization should strive.  Am I to conclude from this that the Bishops at the Synod and/or Pope Francis do not consider the liturgy to be even a part, much less central, to the New Evangelization?  This certainly seems to be distanced from the one of the central themes of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum concilium: “The liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed: at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows.  For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s Supper.” (SC 10).  Is the liturgy as fons et culmen of the Christian life merely taken for granted in this document, or is its omission indicative of a shift of perspective on the role of liturgy in the life of the Church which evangelizes and is evangelized?
         Throughout Evangelii gaudium there is an insistence on a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  As early as paragraph 3, Francis writes, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ . . . every day.”  There is great emphasis on the fact that the Church is a place of encounter, where human being must personally witness to their faith from a place of this relationship with Christ.  The notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is a very familiar one in evangelical and charismatic circles.  It is also one often described in emotional terms to describe an essentially spiritual experience.
         There is certainly an aspect of this personal, emotional, spiritual experience, which is an undeniable part of Christian faith and its presence is a sign of its vitality.  It also, however, can easily remain individualistic, even atomistic.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ, for the historical Catholic faith, is never set up against or separate from the ecclesial, sacramental, doctrinal and liturgical aspects of that faith.  They are all part of one whole.  EG notes that “secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and the personal” (64), yet it is not apparent that the document considers the personal transformative relationship of an individual with Christ in the context of his encounter with a visible, institutional Church that lives the sacraments and the liturgy of the Church.  Baptism is seen as the door to the Church (47), but the deeper implications of the connection between Baptism, professing the integrity of the faith as handed down from the apostles, and the rest of the sacramental economy, are only vaguely hinted at.
         If the objective of the New Evangelization were merely to introduce the non-believer to the person of Jesus to begin some form of relationship with Him, it would be hard to find the difference between it and the admirable forms of evangelization already done by our Protestant brethren.  But if its objective is full communion with the Catholic Church, it is hard to see how the New Evangelization can ignore the fact that the liturgy is not tangential to it, but part and parcel of it.