Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Janet Benestad, Secretary for Faith Formation and Evangelization of the Archdiocese of Boston
Today’s topics: Cardinal Seán’s Pastoral Letter on Sunday Mass participation
Summary of today’s show: Cardinal Seán O’Malley has issued a major pastoral letter on the importance of Sunday Mass participation. Scot Landry, Fr. Chris O’Connor, and Janet Benestad devote an hour to discussing this very personal message from the Cardinal’s heart, which is also filled with intimate pastoral advice and practical suggestions for priests, parish staff, and parents, such the revival of monthly coffee hours after Mass and a link to a Mass times website for travelers.
1st segment: Scot said St. John’s Seminary had their big seminary dinner last night, giving thanks for everyone who is a part of that family. The seminarians were heading out to be with family and friends for the holiday. The Master’s in Ministry Formation and TINE had a concert over the weekend to pray for deceased loved ones and people sponsor particular songs in memory of the deceased.
He said Bishop Hennessey told them that one of the things happening in the Archdiocese that Pope Benedict particularly wanted to know about during their ad limina visit earlier this month was the work of the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization. He asked for them to send materials to Rome to learn more about it.
Fr. Chris and Scot talked about the transition to the new translation of the Mass coming up on Sunday. Priests will have to get used to reading the prayers from the books just as much as the parishioners. Next Monday will discuss how the first Sunday goes.
2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Chris welcomed Janet Benestad to the show. Scot said the Pastoral Letter is the Cardinal’s second this year. The first was on the Feast of Pentecost and this version is longer than the first by far.
Scot said the letter begins by referring to the Thanksgiving holiday and what we put up with to attend that family celebration. Janet said it’s a very personal letter where the Cardinal reminisces about his own childhood and events of his life. She said we work very hard to come together, even if the food isn’t as great as we want it to be or the conversation won’t be as great as it could be. But we do it because it would be unthinkable to be apart from these people. The same is true of the Mass. When we’re away from the Mass, we start to feel disconnected from the Church, our parish, and the Eucharist. Scot said it’s not the same when a member of the family isn’t there on Thanksgiving, and it’s the same when our brothers and sisters in Christ aren’t present at the Eucharist, a Greek word which means Thanksgiving. Fr. Chris said St. Paul speaks of this; when a member of the Body of Christ is missing, the Body is lacking.
The next section is called “Jesus’ Eager Desire— Do This in Remembrance of Me”.
The Thanksgiving meal of our Catholic family occurs every Sunday. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), which literally means “thanksgiving.” Jesus Himself instituted this family tradition on the night before He died. When He gathered the disciples in the Upper Room for the Last Supper, He told them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with you.”1 He taught them the importance of humble service through washing their feet.2 Then He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and through His divine power transformed it into His own body, blood, soul and divinity. He told them, “Whoever eats this bread and drinks this blood will have eternal life.” 3 He then instructed them to, “Do this in memory of me.” 4 Since that day almost 2,000 years ago, the Church has carried out Jesus’ command.
As Catholics, we pray in so many ways, but Jesus told us to pray this way. This is the prayer he most wants from us. Janet said all the grace we receive flows through the Eucharist. All the grace of the work we do flows toward the Eucharist. In that section, Cardinal Seán speaks to those who might feel disconnected. If you feel spiritual, not religious, then this is for you: You recognize your hunger for God, you feel your need for the Eucharist. Please know God hungers for you.
Fr. Chris the Catechism tells us the Eucharist is the apex of prayer. He is truck when Christ asks the apostles, do you believe? And they reply, where else can we go? He recalls Elizabeth Ann Seton, who converted from Episcopalian. She would pray in an Episcopal church, but would be physically oriented toward the Catholic Church where the tabernacle lamp was burning.
Scot the Cardinal goes on to talk about the unhealthy individualism in the practice of Catholic faith.
But Christian discipleship is never a solo flight; it is a lifelong family pilgrimage. At the heart of that adventure is the Eucharistic banquet where the Last Supper and Calvary become present. … Some people say, “Mass is boring” or “I don’t get anything out of it” or “I pray in my own way.” Consider for a moment how parents would feel if their children said similar things about the family celebration of Thanksgiving or a birthday party. “I don’t get anything out of the celebration” or “it’s boring” or “I’ll celebrate your birthday in my own way.” We would feel disappointed, incomplete, and certainly hopeful that the family would be fully reunited at the next gathering. Similarly, Jesus’ eager desire is to have us all present each Sunday for His thanksgiving meal.
Scot said when asks his parents what they want for birthdays or holidays, they tell him all they want is for everyone to be together. It reminds him how deeply how much his parents love their kids and grandkids. Janet said in her family, they always manage to get together, but one of her children last year was in Iraq for all major holidays and they all miss him when he’s not there. St. Therese said she learned to love the Mass from watching her father’s face at Mass. She loves to take her grandkids to Mass and see them experience the beauty of the Eucharist. These gifts are the most important gift we give to our children. Fr. Chris said a father was telling him that he brought his 4-year-old to Mass and after seeing the father genuflect before entering the pew, insisted that they both do the same thing together.
Fr. Chris likes the words the Cardinal chose: Do this in remembrance in memory of me. On Veteran’s Day we remembered the men and women who have sacrificed for the sake of freedom. How much more has Christ sacrificed for us and how much more we should remember it. Speaking of freedom, the Cardinal asks us not to take for granted the gift of the Sunday Mass. Scot once calculated that within 15 miles of his home in Belmont, there are more than 100 Catholic churches and more than 500 Masses every Sunday. Cardinal Seán recalls Roman martyrs who risked death to go to Mass and who said, “Without Sunday, we cannot live.” He then recounts the people throughout the world today who risk their lives to go to Mass on Sunday.
Fr. Chris said St. Augustine said, the sacraments signify what they effect. It means that what we see happening is actually happening. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, it is the Lord nourishing and sustaining us. Without God, nothing happens. With God, all things are possible.
The Cardinal ends this section thus:
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often spoke about how precious each Mass is. Frequently she would instruct newly ordained priests to “celebrate each Mass as if it is your first Mass, your last Mass and your only Mass.” In other words, she implored priests never to take the celebration of the Mass for granted and let it become routine. I ask the same of every Catholic in the archdiocese. Just as we should be grateful for each day God grants us, let us anticipate and participate in each Mass as if it could be our last or our only Mass. Let us never take for granted the wonder that is the encounter we have with God each Sunday that we celebrate the Eucharist together.
Scot said this is one of his favorite paragraphs in the letter. It’s like a splash of cold water in the face. There have been times he’s attended Mass when it wasn’t like the first or last Mass he’s ever participated in. Janet said she thought about it last Sunday, asking herself how that would affect how she participated. In the Eucharist, Christ is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
Fr. Chris said Christ thirsts for souls. Through the Eucharist, Christ communes with us: “We have received and we have been received” in the Eucharist.
3rd segment: In the next section of the letter, the Cardinal explains the nine reasons Catholic give for coming to Mass:
- We desire to respond to God’s love
“God so loved the world that He sent His only son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”9 Jesus’ love for us led Him to offer Himself on the cross for our salvation. The same saving love of Jesus leads Him to continue to give Himself through the gift of the Eucharist.
The word “love” in English, particularly today, has been stripped of much of its beauty and meaning. It often is reduced to a “feeling.” In Greek, there are seven words for love and the word for the love God has for us, agape, connotes action, a self-gift. The love we want to have for God is a self-gift in return, of our time, energy, worries, hopes and joy. The Mass is the best place to thank God for the gifts besides Himself that He gives us — especially life, family, friends, faith and love.
Scot said we come to Mass because we desire to respond to the love God has had for us. Janet said when we look at the story of the 10 commandments, God says to do these things because “I love you.” This notion of agape as the highest form of love is what we respond to.
- We desire to encounter Christ in the most profound way possible
The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy explains that Christ is present to us in four ways during the celebration of Mass: (1) in the community celebrating; (2) in the Word proclaimed; (3) in the priest presiding; and (4) in the Eucharist.
Fr. Chris said Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches. We graft ourselves to the vine. We pray in the Mass for forgiveness and to be brought together in Christ. In the second way, Fr. Chris encourages people to pray before the Mass to ask God to bring us deeper into his mystery through his Word that is preached. Then recognizing that when the priest celebrates the liturgy, he is in the person of Christ. This is why he says, “Do this in memory of me.” When the priest says that he is reciting the words of Christ, but he is also giving up his own life for the community, leading them closer to God. Finally, he notes that tabernacles often have images of the pelican piercing its breast to feed the young, based on an ancient myth. Christ becomes the Bread of Life that nourishes us. By encountering Jesus in these four ways, there is no more profound way to encounter God.
Scot said there is a hunger ingrained in us to meet God in heaven, but the best way short of heaven is meeting him in the Mass. With regard to Christ being present in the community, it means God is present in everyone. Fr. Chris we talk about the Church on a journey to heaven. It is both human and divine. Some people reject the Church because of scandal or the sins of individuals, but just as the cross is a stumbling block for many (how could the Lord die on the cross?), the fact that Christ dwells in the community and we are called to be his hands, feet, and mouth. Scandal overshadows Christ’s indwelling.
- We desire to gather and pray with our parish family
The celebration of Mass has horizontal and vertical dimensions.
We desire to strengthen our particular family
We desire to witness to our faith and provide a living legacy to our children and grandchildren
Janet said Cardinal Sean makes the observation that he didn’t need to bring the apostles all together for the Last Supper. Our presence to each other is the fullest expression of our Christian identity. He reminds parents that they are to be the first and best teachers in the faith for our children. Janet said she liked the story of the teacher who said she grew up in a family where going to Mass together was as optional as breathing. It wasn’t imposed. It just was. “To miss Mass is to stop breathing; it is the sure path to a spiritual asphyxiation.”
Children are always watching their parents and grandparents. We form our young people by the way we participate in the Mass. Children who see that their parents get to Church early to pray before Mass will want to imitate them. Children who observe parents and other adults reverently receive the Eucharist will more readily realize that the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ. The example of parents is an essential part of preparation for receiving First Holy Communion. Children who hear from their parents how much, and why, they love Mass will be less inclined to compare Mass to television and consider it “boring.”
Scot thinks that last is a very strong line. It strikes him as his kids love to watch TV and play video games. Without trying to differentiate Mass, sometimes we come to Mass expecting to be entertained. Fr. Chris said God is worthy of praise and thanksgiving. Everything we see is total gift from God and we remind our children to be thankful for his blessings. Similarly, for families to stop throughout the week, bringing their sadnesses and hopes and prayers to the eucharist and energize them and bring them together, what more could we do? At the end of the day, God will only ask us how great a Christian were we?
- We desire to be transformed by Christ’s sacramental grace
- We desire to participate in Jesus’ victory over death and the salvation of the world
- We desire a foretaste of Heaven
Sports fans in Boston over the past decade have had the good fortune to celebrate many championships. Our victory parades have been incredible gatherings. No sports fan in the nation would deny that Boston knows how to celebrate victory. Wouldn’t it be great if others said that about us for the way that we celebrated the biggest victory of all — Jesus’ victory over death?
Janet said she happened to be at Fenway Park on Father’s Day when the Bruins came to celebrate the Stanley Cup with the Red Sox and she said if we could celebrate the Mass with the same energy and enthusiasm as she saw that day, how wonderful would it be?
- We desire to follow God’s loving guidance and to commit to deepening our relationship with God
Cardinal Sean talks here about honoring the third commandment to honor the Sabbath. Fr. Chris said the commandments are not suggestions. This is God’s word: Keep holy the Sabbath and remember the need to rest and give God praise. The Eucharist allows is to thank the most important person in our life and give gratitude to him for the blessings he bestows on us.
4th segment: The next section of the letter is addressed to particular groups. The first is to Catholics who’ve been away from Mass.
My dear brothers and sisters: please know that we miss you, we love you, and we hope you will rejoin our Catholic family for our Sunday Mass.
Some of you have drifted away from the Church and have been waiting for a good time to return. I pray that you will consider this the time to join us on our faith journey toward Heaven. …
Some of you have made a choice to stop coming to Church because you have been hurt by the actions of someone in the Church or because of a difficulty with a Church teaching. From my first day as Archbishop of Boston and perhaps for the rest of my days, I will always be asking the forgiveness of all those who have been hurt by the actions, or inaction, of people and leaders in the Church. Please do not let those experiences and memories separate you from the love of Christ and of our Catholic family and prevent you from receiving the grace of the sacraments.
Scot said this comes from the deepest recesses of Cardinal Seán’s heart. Janet recalled that during the launch of Catholics Come Home that Cardinal Seán said that if people aren’t in the Church, he can’t have conversations with them about that which hurt them or that which they disagreed with. It’s a better conversation when we are receiving the Eucharist together because it brings us into communion.
He addresses priests and then parish staffs and parish councils. He’s very practical, asking them to put MassTimes.org in the parish bulletin in the summer for those traveling on vacation to take Christ with us.
Please make lists of those we want to invite. Parish record books and censuses can be helpful. We certainly want to reach out to people who have baptized their children, brought them for First Communion and Confirmation, enrolled children in religious education, been recently married, attended funeral liturgies, and those who in the past used offertory envelopes.
Please plan a major neighborhood outreach, perhaps as a prelude to a parish mission, day of recollection, or evening of prayer. … Please discuss with your receptionists, greeters, ushers, volunteers, ministry leaders and parish staff members the best practices of hospitality toward newcomers and the skills needed to invite, engage and involve parishioners in your parish life. … Ride-sharing programs can become a more important ministry at most parishes. There are many Catholics who would be grateful for a ride to and from Mass and for the company of a friendly fellow parishioner. … Coffee receptions after Masses at least monthly, weekly if possible, have been shown to deepen the sense of community.
Fr. Chris said it’s best practices being put forward by the Cardinal Seán. It’s not just 10,000-foot theology, but boots-on-the-ground practice. It shows it’s not just the priest’s responsibility, but each of us has a role and a part to play. When the body is healthy and vibrant, it can’t help but attract people to it.
Janet said the Cardinal also speaks very directly to parents.
Your good example of faithfulness to Sunday Mass, prayer and moral decency preaches more eloquently than the homily of any priest. When children see that their parents love Sunday Mass they likewise will grow to love it too. Too often parents “come for the kids” and kids come because “Mom and Dad brought me.” Articulate to your children your love for Jesus, why you attend Sunday Mass as a family and why their instruction in the faith in school or at CCD is one of the most important gifts you can give them. I ask that you live Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day that includes Holy Mass, religious instruction, leisure activities, a family meal, spiritual readings, and acts of charity.
She said it’s a beautiful passage and encouragement, especially for young families. Cardinal Seán is calling us back to remember Sunday as the Lord’s day.
The Cardinal concludes with the story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus who rushed to tell the world that Jesus had been risen.
Let us all do what those two disciples on the road to Emmaus did. Let us rush to tell the world that Christ is alive and eagerly desires our family to gather at the Lord’s Table to experience God’s love, to discover our identity as Catholics and to fulfill our mission together. Let us proclaim that we desire to live each Sunday with the Lord and with each other in the supreme prayer of the Church, the Eucharist, our Thanksgiving celebration.