Anchor your parish in faith
A participative community is filled with faith. Participative communities fully live out the call of Jesus, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). The General Directory for Catechesis says, “The Christian faith is, above all, conversion to Jesus Christ, full and sincere adherence to his person, and the decision to walk in his footsteps” (53). Participative communities, then, will be instantly recognizable as communities of Jesus Christ. Strangers will see ready evidence of Christ-like activity in the community. They will see a community that is transformed in mind and heart to Gospel values.
Faith is a gift from God, and with the aid of God’s Spirit, we say “yes” to that gift as Mary did. But faith must be nurtured, especially in the liturgy. Faith can be weakened and even lost. “Faith” is a difficult virtue to measure or gauge simply by the liturgical celebration alone. It is possible for a community to be competently celebrating liturgy, making good use of the liturgical arts, while at the same time their faith remains somewhat insular and isolated from their lives outside the liturgy. The liturgy might be a superficial “show” that masks a weakened faith of its members. In reality, I don’t think this can go on too long. A community that does not have a strong faith cannot sustain the energy it takes to celebrate a radically participative liturgy for very long. But during a given time, in a given community, it might exist for a little while.
Strong liturgy indicates strong faith
It is more often the case that liturgy that is well celebrated is an indicator of a strong faith community. The U.S. bishops tell us, “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken and destroy it” (Music in Catholic Worship, 6). There are some dangers to our faith when liturgy is poorly celebrated—individualism, piety, apathy, and oppression. A community that is celebrating liturgy well will strengthen their faith. A participative community that is growing in faith will be characterized by several indicators, including these:
- There will be a strong interest in the Gospel. The interest of faithful Christians is not merely in the texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but in the Logos, the living Word of God in the community and the world.
- There will be signs of conversion. A faith-filled, participative community will commit to measurable change every year and use the liturgy as a place to both effect and celebrate that change. A participative community will be able to clearly answer the question, “How are we different now than we were before?”
- There will be an ongoing profession of faith. This is more than the ability to recite the Creed. It is the ability to say clearly and meaningfully what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Members of participative communities will be able to say why they believe in Jesus in a way that sounds interesting and attractive to those who do not believe. They will be able to profess their faith in such a way that it gives hope and encouragement to one another.
- There will be faith-filled homilies. The one who preaches the homily at Eucharist is a symbol of Christ. As such, he lays open his heart for the sake of the community. He is the leader and model of how one professes one’s faith in a believing community.
- The multiple ways we profess our faith during the liturgy will spill over into a regular sharing of faith throughout the community during the week. This will happen in households and at parish meetings and gatherings. It will also happen in casual conversation both with believers and non-believers encountered in daily life. Liturgical faith will become a model for household faith.
- Every “Amen” will be a statement of faith and never a perfunctory response to a liturgical formula.
- Participative communities will worship and live in such a way that strangers and guests will ask, “Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst?” (On Evangelization in the Modern World, 21).
- Participative communities will be noted for “having “˜your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have’ (1 Pt 3:15)—and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus” (On Evangelization in the Modern World, 22).
A glimpse of life in Christ
In the liturgy, we learn what faith “looks like.” That is why good celebrations foster faith. Faith “looks like” the Body of Christ worshiping God.
- Faith is both heartfelt and sensible.
- It is both a divine gift and a human act.
- It is supernatural revelation and common sense.
We practice and celebrate all these dualities in the liturgy. The liturgy gives us a glimpse, in a mirror, dimly (1 Cor 13:12) of how life in Christ will ultimately be, and that gives us hope. There are many definitions of faith, and one that I think is especially liturgical is found in the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). The liturgies celebrated in participative communities are the living embodiment of that idea.
Is that your experience? How does liturgy strengthen your faith? Does liturgy give you hope? In what ways could liturgy improve?
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