The Jesuit Examen and the Liturgy: A Case Study in Liturgical Spirituality

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

(Acting) Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Liturgy and Evangelization

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During my time as a doctoral student at Boston College, I participated in a number of initiatives through Intersections, an office whose purpose is to reflect upon the Catholic and Jesuit identity of the University.  At the beginning of each meeting, no matter how mundane the agenda, we practiced a modified version of the Jesuit examen.  Pausing for five minutes of silent reflection, we considered where we felt God’s presence acutely in our life that day (when we felt most alive), as well as where we experienced desolation (as a doctoral student, I had a steady supply of such moments to draw upon).  Despite being someone highly uncomfortable with the more affective features of faith sharing (we always shared the fruit of our reflection), I discovered this to be the highlight of my experience in the program.  Through establishing the practice of daily reflection, I discovered that I was more attentive to my desires, how I interacted with other people, and more open to the ways that God was actively communicating with me through the created universe.

Yet life interrupted this practice, and as I left the community of Intersections behind for the isolation of dissertation writing, I ceased my practice of the examen.  Until this year when I began to read James Martin, S.J.’s book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything:  A Spirituality for Real Life.  In the context of reading this text, I realized how essential the practice of the Jesuit examen is to the connection between liturgy and life integral to a robust liturgical spirituality.  As we enter any liturgical experience (the Liturgy of the Hours, a common celebration of the Rite of Penance, the Mass), we are pulled away from the quotidian aspects of the day and enter into the sacred space of the Church’s prayer.  But, it is extraordinarily difficult to move from action to contemplation, from critical thought to contemplative beholding.  To the one unpracticed in such reflection, the distractions that come during this prayer take over the entire experience.  At the conclusion of such unfocused prayer, it becomes difficult to connect liturgy and life not because of a lack of desire.  Rather, we barely found ourselves participating in a liturgical rite in the first place.  On any number of occasions, the Eucharistic liturgy became time for me to write the next paragraph of my dissertation.  To plan a conference.  To think about setting up a meeting.  Not to be transformed through Word and sacrament.

So, how might the Jesuit examen assist us in developing a disposition toward a contemplative liturgical prayer?  First, we need to ask how to pray the examen.  As with much of Ignatian prayer, the stress is less on method than certain features that may be improvised depending upon the context.  I arise each morning at 5:00 AM (not because I’m naturally an ascetic; I tend to love the darkness and quiet of morning).  For the first twenty minutes of my day, I make coffee and read online news.  Then, I turn off the computer and close my eyes (not to sleep, though the temptation arises now and again).  In the first five or so minutes of the prayer, I thank God for the small joys of existence.  Wakefulness.  The rising sun.  The rhythm of breathe.  Moments in which I feel the presence of God even at this early hour.  The quiet permeating my home.

Then, I “attend” to each part of the previous day.  I find quite naturally that each day of our life (particularly those of us with calendars) fits into small segments.  Going for a jog.  A conversation.  A meeting.  Through each moment, I ask questions of God?  Why did I enjoy my jog this morning so much?  What was it about that meeting, which left me invigorated?  Why did I have such a hard time giving adequate attention to the friend, the colleague, whom I encountered in the hall?  In essence, each of these questions are directed toward an assessment of where in the previous day did I perceive God’s love (or not).

These questions are not a matter of psychological examination or an over scrupulous conscience of an Irish Catholic (though the latter is alive and well in my psyche).  Rather, by focusing in particular upon how I felt, thought, understood throughout the day, I come to see the various ways that the Triune God seeks to attune me to the gift of self-giving love.  Think of the human being as an instrument.  Our bodies, our thoughts, our words, our deepest affections, our volition are each oriented toward praising God.  When we are attuned to the divine will, those of us still young in the spiritual life in particular find that consolation flows with ease.  The effortlessness of our love of God and neighbor begets joy to those that we meet and ourselves, and we share deeply in the communion of human life that God intends for creation.  We can say with Augustine, “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (conf. I.1).  But throughout the day, we are not always “in tune.”  We think one thing, and then do another.  We love one person, and decry another.  The examen is akin then to a kind of tuning of an instrument, reorienting us to the radical self-love to which we are called.

Following this examination of the previous day (often takes me twenty minutes) and concomitant conversation with God, I ask God’s intercession for those whom I met throughout the previous day, those who asked my prayers.  I also ask for the desires that I wish to have in order to more deeply love God and neighbor.  And I seek God’s healing of those places in my life in which I’m broken.  I close my time with the Salve Regina, a prayer that focuses my attention on the Scriptural phrase that I use to recall myself to prayer throughout the day:  “Let it be done to me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38).


How does this prayer transform my participation in Mass, the liturgical rite that I attempt to attend on a daily basis?  First, before praying the examen became a daily habit, I rarely had any sense of my own sinfulness in the Penitential Rite.  I mean, I knew that I had sinned at least in principle.  But, on any particular day, I couldn’t isolate one moment in which I chose not to love.  Having practiced the examen for a bit now, I’m clearly aware of those moments in which I engage in senseless gossip or judgment regarding colleagues, ignore or use the neighbor for my own entertainment, fail to adequately love my wife, become annoyed by students who want nothing more than my attention, and on and on.  During the Kyrie eleison, I now really seek God’s mercy, not in a perfunctory manner, but because I know that I require God’s tender mercy (another reason I love the Salve regina, mater misericordia) in order to practice the radical love that is the heart of existence.  I need to receive God’s merciful grace that I might love unto the end.

Second, in the busyness of the day, it is exceptionally difficult to listen to the Scriptures in a sacramental mode.  I hear the words proclaimed, but I often think to myself in the secret of my heart, let’s get on with this, I have places to be.  Through attending to my own desires throughout the day, I have become more attuned (there’s that word again) to how small phrases of even the most bizarre reading of daily Mass are intended to form me in divine desire.  A phrase from the psalms.  The words of Christ from the Gospel.  An off-hand comment in the homily.  Each of these can fill me with immense gratitude that the Word of God became for me a word, became flesh.  No wonder tears flowed so often from Ignatius while participating in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Third, before practicing the examen, I loved the texts of the Mass but rarely saw a connection between these texts and the rest of life.  Over the summer, I went on a “hiking” vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains.  One morning, my wife and I went out for a hike early enough that the evening’s dew had not yet evaporated from the forest’s foliage.  The hue of the plants around us, through the gift of the dewfall, was stunning.  As the soft light met the dew through the canopy of the trees above, the green of the plants became even more vivid.  The earth took on an almost ethereal quality, transformed through the transcendent rays of light illuminating the dew.  I noted this in my morning examen, expressing gratitude for this gift.  Several weeks later, in the midst of Mass, I attended a parish that had begun to use the new translation of the Mass a bit early.  Initially I was surprised to hear these words that I had studied for months now being really prayed (and actually done quite beautifully).  But, in the midst of praying the second Eucharistic prayer, I heard the priest pray:  “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Suddenly, my memory recalled the moment in Tennessee weeks before.  I perceived anew what took place in the Eucharist.  The Spirit “falls down” upon the gifts of bread and wine, transforming them in the same way that dew covers the earth.  The dew that fell in the mountains of Tennessee had thoroughly transfigured creation, bestowing to it a splendor previously unimagined.  So too, the Spirit of the Lord rains down upon bread and wine resulting in Eucharistic splendor.  Bread and wine are transfigured through the life-giving power of the Spirit, becoming the fullness of Christ’s body and blood.  Yet unlike the created order, the dew that falls upon the gifts of bread and wine is not visible to the eyes.  Instead, the splendor of the Eucharist is only visible through the poverty of faith.  I may not have known the sweetness of this theological insight, as performed in the Church’s prayer, if I had not attended to the morning dew in the foothills of Tennessee.  And it is now an insight that I was take to each Eucharist, as I imagine the transformation of these gifts (and my own self) taking place through the Eucharistic prayer.

Finally, in the Eucharist, we are to bring our entire being (body, soul, affections, and will) to the central sacrificial act.  We are to pray that Christ’s sacrifice of self-emptying love, given to us in the body and blood of Christ, might become our sacrifice.  As I have begun to attend to my desires, my affections, areas of my life in which I fail to conform my will to God’s, I see those places in which true and radical sacrifice, self-emptying love, is possible.  I have begun to perceive the Eucharistic opportunities of daily life.  Did I even notice these needs before?  Did I note my real desire to be with the poor, yet my fear that such a gift would make me vulnerable?  And in conjunction with a spiritual director, I hope to assess those areas of my life in which I need to become ever more what I receive in the sacrament.  That I may learn to offer, like Christ, a more perfect sacrifice of love.

So, despite all the jokes about Jesuits and liturgy, perhaps it’s time to enrich our liturgical formation with the Jesuit examen.  If we seek full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical rites, we need to engage in a spiritual formation that teaches us full, conscious, and active participation in human life in the first place.  For the Triune God that comes to us in liturgical prayer never ceases to seek us.  And the more we are aware of how desperately the Father desires to unite us to himself through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, the more truly we may find ourselves making this prayer our own:

You are indeed Holy, O Lord,

and all you have created

rightly gives you praise,

for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,

by the power and working of the Holy Spirit,

you give life to all things and make them holy,

and you never cease to gather a people to yourself,

so that from the rising of the sun to its setting

a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.



Living from Mass to Mass as a Way of Ceaseless Prayer (Part IV)

Sr. Ann Astell, PhD

Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author


Part I           Part II           Part III

In their practical little book, Living the Mass, Grassi and Paprocki argue that a proper liturgical participation in the Mass itself depends upon one’s prior response to the commission at the closing of every Mass.  If one has taken seriously one’s commission to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” and has tried to do what the Lord has commanded, witnessing to Him in the world, giving His gift of peace to others, then one can return to the altar of the Lord, again and again, with a heartfelt acknowledgement of one’s sinfulness and weakness, with a hunger to be guided and instructed by the Word, with an offering of thanksgiving, a gift of joyful service and suffering to be transformed and rendered fruitful through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the words of consecration.  If one has lived out of one’s Holy Communion during the week, then one can easily return to be with the community at the next rite of gathering.  The form of the Mass, in short, determines the form of one’s life during the week, from Sunday to Sunday, or from Mass to Mass.

Grassi and Paprocki’s little book gives a popular expression to what Dom Gregory Dix, more learnedly, in the final chapter of The Shape of the Liturgy. “Every rite which goes back beyond the sixteenth century,” he observes, “is to a large extent the product not so much of deliberate composition as of the continual doing of the Eucharistic action by many generations in the midst of the varying pressures of history. . . . and human life as it is lived.”[1]  Moved by this traditional continuity and by the constant interaction between the Eucharistic liturgy and life, Dix concludes, “It is not strange that the eucharist should have this power of laying hold of human life, of grasping it not only in the abstract but in the particular concrete realities of it, of reaching to anything in it, great impersonal things that rock whole nations and little tender human things of one man’s or one woman’s living and dying—laying hold of them and translating them into something beyond time.  This was its new meaning from the beginning.”[2]

Like Dix, Grassi and Paprocki emphasize the practical “doing of the Eucharistic action” in everyday life. “When we hear the words, ‘Do this in memory of me’ in Mass, we are being reminded,” they write, “that, in baptism, we made a promise to do certain things as followers of Jesus.”[3]  As sacraments of initiation, Baptism and Eucharist are meant to start us off on a way of life that requires practice, even as an apprentice is trained through constant practice.  Thus the words at the end of every Mass:  “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Grassi and Paprocki’s book is structured in short chapters according to the parts of the Mass:  the penitential rite, the scripture readings, the homily, the profession of faith, the prayer of the faithful, the preparation of the gifts, the Eucharistic prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the rite of peace, Holy Communion, and the dismissal rite.  Each chapter meditates on a single part of the Mass, provides an illustrative anecdote or two from real-life experience, and concludes with a list of seven or eight suggested practices.  To practice the entrance rite of the Mass, they suggest, for example, (1) “Take time on a daily basis to prayerfully gather ourselves. . . .(2) Extend hospitality to those we encounter at work, on the street, and in our homes and communities,” etc.

Like lists in many books of this kind, Grassi and Paprocki’s “to do” lists can sound dry and, when taken all together, overwhelming.  But that impression is a misleading one that misunderstands the authors’ intentions.  Their suggestions are meant as prompts—a kind of brainstorming—to help each one to formulate his or her own concrete resolution.  I can easily imagine a small group of people meeting together over the course of a year to give themselves a kind of extended retreat, following the outline of this book.  The book is short, but it is not meant to be read all at once.  Instead, a proper reading of it requires one to go slow, to take up each part of the Mass with reverent attention, to think about its meaning and its implications for one’s own life, and to choose a resolution, phrased in one’s own words, to practice.

The book is also adaptable (although Grassi and Paprocki do not themselves highlight this feature).  Depending on one’s present state, one might choose to focus on one part of the Mass, instead of another.  Someone who’s struggling with guilt and remorse, for example, might want to live the penitential rite constantly for a while, as people do who pray the “Jesus Prayer”—“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner” repeatedly, until it becomes “second nature” to them and a cause of joy.  The Jesus Prayer, like many traditional prayers, can be understood as a personal translation or application of the liturgical rite.  The penitential part of the Mass is, of course, also especially suited to personal practice during the penitential season of Lent.

If I were to offer a criticism of Grassi and Paprocki’s book, it is, first of all, that they do not explain well enough how to use it, how to make its message personal.  Second, the book is good in breaking down the individual parts of the Mass, but it does not suggest how they are to form a single organic whole, a single act of worship, in the life of someone who wants to live the Mass as a way of ceaseless prayer.

If I myself were to write a practical book about the art of living the Mass, I would encourage every person to choose a symbol from among those used in the Mass in accord with their specific personality and mission in life—a symbol that has a mysterious appeal for them as a symbol of themselves.  A friend of mine, who is often tempted to feel like an outsider, has chosen the church door as a symbol for herself, in accord with her desire to welcome others and to be welcomed.  She connects this image to the Scriptural image of the gate and to Jesus’s word as the Good Shepherd:  “I am the gate” (Jn. 10: 7-10).  Given this personal ideal of hers, it is clear that the rites of entrance and of dismissal are especially meaningful to her, but other parts of the Mass can also be suddenly illumined by this symbol—the Scripture reading, the homily, the opening of the tabernacle door.  Another friend of mine has chosen the cross, another the chalice, another the flowers on the altar, another the lit candles.  If resolutions for living the Mass are chosen in accord with one’s own personal ideal and symbol, they will be more deeply and faithfully kept and offered.  Through the array of symbols, too, the community learns of the beauty of its many members and of their mutual dependence, each upon the other.

I hope I’ve given you, in the end, some stimulation for thought about why and how the Mass is indeed given to us as a way of constant prayer.  Dom Gregory Dix, as Robert Taft has written, probably overstated things when he set the Divine Office next to the Eucharist as two different “departments” of the liturgy, with complementary “world-affirming” and “world-ending” functions.  It might be better, in the end, to see the Office—the continuous praying of the Psalter—as a way of living the Paschal Mystery at the heart of the Mass, of preparing through the scriptural Word for the Eucharist, where time and eternity meet.  But I leave that debate for consideration at another time.  In the meantime, for all time, let us “pray the Mass without ceasing.”

[1] Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 743. Emphasis added.

[2] Ibid., 746.

[3] Grassi and Paprocki, Living the Mass, xvi.

Living from Mass to Mass as a Way of Ceaseless Prayer (Part III)

Sr. Ann Astell, PhD

Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author


Part I         Part II

In their 2005 book, Living the Mass (to which I will return in Part IV), Fr. Dominic Grassi and Joe Paprocki list a number of reasons that have been proposed for this decline.  Some say that the change in the liturgy from Latin to the vernacular is the cause of the trouble.  Others explain that the liturgical changes were instituted at the parish level with insufficient explanation. Others refer to demographics—the movement of Catholics out of the ethnic, Catholics ghettos that had provided homes for a predominantly immigrant population in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, into the pluralist, American mainstream and its capitalist values.  The answer chiefly favored by Grassi and Paprocki, however, is a theological one: the supposed shift in people’s piety from a vision of God as “judgmental” to one of him as unwilling, or as simply unconcerned enough, to punish anyone for missing Sunday Mass:  “As many Catholics discovered that they were not struck by lightning when they missed Mass, attendance deteriorated.”[1]

The sentence I have just quoted suggests another reason not mentioned by Grassi and Paprocki, but which has been stressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his many writings about secularism. The ancient Greeks, who knew nothing of the laws of electricity, attributed the thunderbolt to the god Zeus.  The image used by Grassi and Paprocki of being struck by lightning calls up the question of causality in the natural order and evokes the modern contest between the explanatory powers of religion and science.  In that contest, faith itself—more than any particular image of God—is challenged.

In a haunting passage on the last page of The Shape of the Liturgy, Dom Gregory Dix affirms this threat.  Writing in England in the midst of the Blitzkrieg of World War II, Dix refers to “the pagan dream of human power [that] has turned once more into a nightmare oppressing men’s outward lives. That will pass,” he opines, “because it is too violent a disorder to be endured.  But elsewhere and less vulgarly, as a mystique of technical and scientific mastery of man’s environment, it is swiftly replacing the old materialism as the prevalent anti-christianity of the twentieth century.  In this subtler form it will more secretly but even more terribly oppress the human spirit.”[2]  In the world that absents itself from participation in the Eucharistic liturgy, Dix suggests, people test out their “dream of the self-sufficiency of human power”—a dream as old as Adam and Eve, who wanted to be “like gods” (Gen. 3:5); by contrast, Dix proposes, “in the eucharist we Christians concentrate our motive and act out our theory of human living.”[3] 

According to that “theory” (a word Dix chooses fittingly as an expression of tested faith), humans resemble God not as his rivals, but as “His creatures, fallen and redeemed.”[4] We have been predestined in Christ for good works, for spiritual fruitfulness, and salvation, “but our obedience and our salvation are not of ourselves, even while we are mysteriously free to disobey and damn ourselves.  We are dependent on Him even for our own dependence.  We are accepted sons [and daughters] in the Son, by the real sacrifice and acceptance of His Body and Blood.”[5]

When atomic bombs fell on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August, 1945, the year of the publication of The Shape of the Liturgy, the Catholic painter Salvador Dali was inspired by the terrible destruction wrought through nuclear fission to consider the Eucharist as the unparalleled source of positive energy—the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ having the power to effect “a creative explosion of energy and beauty into the world,”[6] transfiguring the lives of its recipients in communion and, through them, altering the course of history.  His most famous Eucharistic painting, The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955), links the four traditional qualities of the resurrected body of Jesus—subtilitas (the ability to walk through walls), agilitas (the ability suddenly to appear and to disappear at multiple locations), claritas (the ability to radiate light, as in the transfiguration), and impassibilitas (the final freedom from suffering and death)—to the Body of Christ received in the Eucharist.

For the early Christian martyrs, as Dix instructs us, the reception of the Eucharist, the “food of martyrs,” was an expression of, and a sacramental means of grace for, their readiness to live out their Baptismal commitment to the utmost in the midst of a hostile world—to die in, with, and for Christ, in order to rise with Him.  His glorified body, received in the Host, gave them the power to lay down their lives for Christ, in order to take them up again in Him, in the age to come.  Perhaps it is easiest, in a way, for a martyr—then and now—to live the Mass as a form of ceaseless prayer.  Facing death, the martyr knows that time is short, that every minute counts, that there will be no time left in eternity, when the Bridegroom has come, like a good “thief in the night,” to take him or her to Himself.  Facing death in and for the faith, the martyr’s life is drawn deeply into the Pascal mystery at the heart of the Mass.  To offer one’s very life is the greatest possible participation in the offertory, consecration, and communion of the Eucharistic celebration.


[1] Fr. Dominic Grassi and Joe Paprocki, Living the Mass: How One Hour a Week Can Change Your Life (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2005), xiii.

[2] Dix, Shape of the Liturgy, 752.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ann W. Astell, Eating Beauty:  The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 2006), 42.  I discuss Dali’s work on pages 41-43, 256-57.

Call to Grace: Sacramental Preparation to Those with Disabilities

Michele Chronister

Graduate of Echo 6

Catechist and writer

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“My grace is enough for you, for power is made perfect in weakness…” I remember encountering this passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians during my first experience working with people with disabilities. If you aren’t familiar with this passage, St. Paul is struggling with a “thorn in his side” (could have been anything, but it was some weakness that was making him feel incapable of doing what God asked of him), and he begs God to take it away. He’s so insistent that he even admits that he asked God to do this “three times.” God doesn’t remove the “thorn,” though. Instead, he gives St. Paul this message – a reminder that He chooses the weak, not the strong.

This particular reading shows up once in the Sunday lectionary cycle, and it happened to show up when I was doing a Summer Service Learning Project through Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns at a summer camp for people with disabilities. It was my first encounter with individuals with significant mental and physical disabilities, and the revelation that Paul shares in this passage proved true not only for my own work as one who was ministering, but also for those whom I was ministering to.

It is through this lens that I want to consider ministry for people with disabilities/special needs. No doubt there is some recognition that we owe these individuals something, but little recognition is made that they owe us something. And by us, I mean the Church, and by “owe something” I mean that they owe us what we all owe the Church and what we owe God – the total gift of ourselves and our vocation. Ministry for those with disabilities/special needs is not just important because of what we can do for these individuals, but it is important for helping them to do what God is calling them to do.  By right of their baptisms, these men, women, and children deserve to be formed in their faith and prepared (to the best of our ability and acknowledging the role that God’s grace plays in this) to hear God’s call in their lives.

In recent decades, there has been a definite acknowledgment of this on the part of the Church. The General Directory for Catechesis, states, “All the baptized, because they are called by God to maturity of faith, need and have therefore a right to adequate catechesis. It is thus a primary responsibility of the Church to respond to this in a fitting and satisfactory manner” (GDC, no. 167). Included in those who have a “right to adequate catechesis” are those with special needs/disabilities. Why?  They are “called by God to maturity of faith.”  Simply put, we must invest our time and energy into this ministry because God is calling these individuals in a very special and particular way and God is calling us to help them prepare for and discern what that is. There is a lot of talk today about “vocation” but it is sometimes forgotten that this talk includes those with disabilities! As Paul reminds us, God especially calls those whom the world views as little and weak, and – with or without our help – He will use them to accomplish His will in a special way. How remarkable, though, that God calls us to be a part of helping these individuals mature in their faith?

To better understand what I’m talking about, I’ll go the route of bringing up a topic that a lot of people in the catechetical world wonder about today – who is able to prepare to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist? The Church’s guidelines are clear on this. In their document Guidelines for Celebration of the Sacraments with People with Disabilities, paragraph 20, the United States’ bishops write, “Parents, those who take the place of parents, and pastors are to see to it that children who have reached the age of reason are correctly prepared and are nourished by the Eucharist as early as possible. Pastors are to be vigilant lest any children come to the Holy Banquet who have not reached the use of reason or whom they judge are not sufficiently disposed.” This would seem to exclude those who suffer from severe mental retardation, but the document takes it a step further, and continues paragraph 20 by saying, “It is important to note, however, that the criterion for reception of holy communion is the same for persons with developmental and mental disabilities as for all persons, namely, that the person be able to distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary food, even if this recognition is evidenced through manner, gesture, or reverential silence rather than verbally. Pastors are encouraged to consult with parents…diocesan personnel involved with disability issues, psychologists, religious educators, and other experts in making their judgment…Cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the sacrament.”  The Sacrament of the Eucharist, the third of the Sacraments of Initiation (although often the second one celebrated in our experience) is the pinnacle of the Sacraments. One could argue that this is the Sacrament the other Sacraments point to, for through it we attain a union with Christ (and in turn with each other, who are His Mystical Body) that can not be attained in any comparable way elsewhere, save in heaven. It is because of the significance of this Sacrament – because of the fact that through it we receive life itself through our union with the Word Incarnate – that the bishops can say that, “Cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the sacrament.”

To illustrate this, I’d like to share a story.  A few summers ago I was working for the ministry department of Misericordia, a Catholic-run residential facility for individuals with disabilities in Chicago. (They do phenomenal work!) One of my assignments that summer was to prepare a teenage boy – who we’ll call Paul for the sake of respecting his privacy and because we’ve already established that St. Paul is a pretty cool guy– to receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist. Paul used a wheelchair, and in addition to his physical disabilities suffered from pretty significant mental disabilities. He would be the classic case of the sort of individual who is typically turned away from preparation for receiving the Eucharist because of his mental delays. However, Misericordia  is very adamant about helping individuals who have been baptized into the Church complete their initiation into the Sacramental life when it is possible. (This is in keeping with what the bishops recommend!) So, I worked with Paul for two months, preparing him to receive the Eucharist and Confirmation. We prepared together with weekly classes, held in the chapel of his residence. We spent that time each week, in the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle. That time with Jesus changed Paul! He may have been laughing with me in the hall only moments before but when we crossed the threshold into the chapel we entered a peaceful space where we were with Jesus in the Eucharist. Each class session began and ended with prayer to Jesus in the Eucharist. Yet still, when the days drew near for him to receive the Eucharist for the first time I was apprehensive, wondering if I’d prepared him enough but believing him ready. I trusted that surely, all that time with Jesus in the Eucharist would give him the grace he needed to welcome that same Jesus into his heart. When it came time to practice with pieces of unconsecrated host I was dismayed by the look of disgust on his face when I put the host in Paul’s mouth. Would he react the same way when he received the Eucharist, I wondered? The day of his First Communion came, and when the priest gave him the Eucharist, Paul looked startled for a moment…and then he began to smile! It was a large smile, almost on the verge of laughing for joy. Paul who couldn’t say more than the occasional “yeah,” Paul who many would think incapable of receiving the Eucharist, it was this same Paul who witnessed to the truth of the Eucharist to me by the inexplicable joy he showed upon receiving Jesus for the first time!

This is just one example of the kind of vocational call I’m talking about – God calls those who are little and weak to witness to the truth of His love in a very particular way. By ministering to those with disabilities we accept God’s invitation to be a part of this work He is doing in those whom the world calls little and weak – for, in God’s eyes they are men and women on the road to sainthood.

In the coming months I look forward to exploring various aspects of this area of ministry, but for today just bask in the glow of that vision of the baptismal call we are are called to and bear it in mind as you continue to do the good work you do!

Living from Mass to Mass as a Way of Ceaseless Prayer (Part II)

Sr. Ann Astell, PhD

Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

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Part I

(This essay was given at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy’s annual conference on pastoral liturgy, Formed for the Liturgy, Reformed by the Liturgy from June 20-22, 2011).

In the meantime, of course, the reforms of the second Vatican Council have taken effect.  It

is easy, in reading the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963, to see the influence of Dix’s historical reconstruction and of the much larger, international, liturgical movement that had preceded the Council. In Pope Paul’s preface to that Constitution, he speaks of the liturgy itself as revealing both “the mystery of Christ” and the “true nature of the Church” as a hypostatic union of things eternal and temporal:

It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly endowed, eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it.  She is all these things in such a way that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek (cf. Heb. 13:14).  Day by day the liturgy builds up those within the Church into the Lord’s holy temple. . . .At the same time the liturgy marvelously fortifies the faithful in their capacity to preach Christ.[1]

The document famously calls the liturgy the “source” and “summit” of the Christian life, because it bestows and nourishes in this life the life of grace that is and will be eternal, anticipating in the here and now of earthly existence the “heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims.”[2]

The document calls for a “restoration” of the ancient liturgy in its two parts, as described by Dix in The Shape of the Liturgy, namely, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in such a way that they are “so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship.”[3]  Striking is the emphasis placed upon the Scriptures and the homily:  “The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly. . . .The homily . . . is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy.”[4]

Everywhere, the “public” nature of the liturgy is emphasized by the Council Fathers, who call for the “devout and active participation by the faithful.”[5]  Not “silent spectators,” the faithful present at Mass “should participate knowingly, devoutly, and actively” in the “rites and prayers.”[6]  It is the duty of pastors “to ensure that the faithful take part [in the Eucharistic celebration] knowingly, actively, and fruitfully,” because “the sacred liturgy” can only produce “its full effect” if “the faithful come to it with proper dispositions,” ready to “cooperate with divine grace,” their thoughts matching their words.[7]

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, however, has relatively little to say about how those “proper dispositions” for public worship are to be formed.  It mentions, briefly, in this connection the life of private prayer:  “The Christian is assuredly call to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father in secret (cf. Mt. 6:6); indeed, according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, he should pray without ceasing (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17).”[8]  The practice of ceaseless prayer, in short, bridges the gap between the public and the private and ensures that the faithful have the “proper dispositions” for Eucharistic celebration.  But how?

Vatican Council II famously and importantly proclaimed a “universal call to holiness,” extended to the laity and well as to priests and religious, in Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.  Among the means to this holiness—defined as conformity in Christ to the will of God, who “is love” (1 Jn. 4:16)—Lumen Gentium refers to the liturgy, prayer, and good works: “Each must share frequently in the sacraments, the Eucharist especially, and in liturgical rites. Each must apply himself constantly to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service, and the exercise of all the virtues. For charity, as the bond of perfection and the fulfillment of the law (cf. Col. 3:14; Rom. 13:10), rules over all the means of attaining holiness, gives life to them, and makes them work.”[9]

This passage, just quoted, does not draw any direct connection between the liturgical participation, on the one hand, and the listed personal works of prayer and service, on the other, except to say that charity unites them all.  The document, moreover, affirms the laity’s call to holiness without pointing to the corresponding new “schools of holiness” in which the laity are to receive spiritual formation appropriate to their specific calling in the world—“schools of holiness” comparable to the religious rules and communal practices of the traditional religious orders.  In what follows, I want to argue that the Mass itself can and should be such a “school of holiness.” Supporting that claim will require us to think about living from Mass to Mass as a way of ceaseless prayer, about how the “public”/”private” modalities in the life of prayer are interrelated from the Eucharistic liturgy as “source” to the Eucharistic liturgy as “summit.”.

Much is at stake here.  As my former colleague at Purdue University, Jim Davidson, a well-known Catholic sociologist of religion, reports in a recent study (“American Catholics and American Catholicism: An Inventory of Facts, Trends, and Influences”), weekly participation in Sunday Mass has declined drastically since the 1950s, when 75% of U.S. Catholics attended Mass weekly.  Today only about 35% do so, and the statistics across generations paint an even bleaker picture, with the younger generations less likely than the older ones to fulfill their Sunday obligation. The “proper dispositions” are so lacking, it seems, that many Catholics not only do not participate fully in Mass; they do not participate at all.


[1] “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” Documents of Vatican II, edited by Walter M. Abbott, S.J. and Joseph Gallagher (Baltimore: America Press, 1966), 137-138.

[2] Ibid., 142, 141.

[3] Ibid., 156-157.

[4] Ibid., 155.

[5] Ibid., 155.

[6] Ibid., 154.

[7] Ibid., 143.

[8] Ibid., 143.

[9] Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in Documents of Vatican Council II, 70-71.







Editorial Updates: 8/24-26


Welcome back to another week of publishing.  This morning we have an essay from Sr. Ann Astell of the Notre Dame department of theology on ceaseless prayer.  Later this week, we will feature our first essay from Michele Chronister on sacramental formation for those with special needs.  And lastly, Friday will see a theological reflection on “send down your Spirit like the dewfall” by Tim O’Malley of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.  Until then, hope that our readers on the east coast are faring well after yesterday’s earthquake.


Living from Mass to Mass as a Way of Ceaseless Prayer (Part I)

Sr. Ann Astell, PhD

Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

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A way of ceaseless prayer.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Saint Paul exhorts the Christians of that persecuted community to “pray without ceasing.” The earliest of the writings that make up the New Testament, the epistle provides “the oldest literary evidence of the significance attached to the death and resurrection of Jesus by the early Christians,”[1] who lived in the expectancy that Christ would return soon, but “like a thief in the night” (5:3), suddenly, in an hour impossible for them to know.  The epistle witnesses to their belief that the same Christ who died and rose will come again to raise the dead and all those yet alive who have died in him through Baptism.  Fragmentary creedal formulas (1:9-10, 4:14, 5:10) are interwoven throughout the letter, as Raymond F. Collins notes, bringing us close in contact with the gospel as it was preached “in the period between the death and resurrection of Jesus and the written works of the NT (i.e., AD 30-50).”[2]  St. Paul encourages the disciples to live as people belonging “to the day” (5:8) as they await “the Day of the Lord” (5:2)

In this eschatological, “world-ending” context, the exhortation to “pray without ceasing” sounds with a special urgency—like a wake-up call, perhaps, for people who have begun to doze during a night-long vigil or at a wake.  The Gospel According to Saint Luke confirms this.  Just as Paul tells the people of Thessalonica to “pray without ceasing” (5:18) and to “comfort one another” (4:18), Luke records in Chapter 18 Jesus’ parable “about the need to pray continually and never lose heart” (18:1).  In that parable a widow knocks again and again at the door of the judge until he gives her “her just rights” (Lk. 18:5); so, too, Jesus explains, the Lord will see that justice is done in answer to “his chosen who cry out to him day and night,” if only the Son of Man, “when [he] comes, will . . . find . . . faith on the earth” (Lk. 18:7-8).  Ephesians 6:18 similarly exhorts, “Pray all the time, asking for all you need.” In that letter, as in his first epistle to the Thessalonicans, Paul calls upon his fellow Christians to “wake up from [their] sleep” (5:14) and to “go on singing and chanting to God in [their] hearts,” thanking him “always and everywhere” (5:20).

The call to constant prayer, then, is certain in the teaching of Jesus and in the life of the early Church, and it sounds most urgently in an eschatological context of vigilance for the Lord’s coming to judge the living and the dead.  Many questions remains, however:  what did Saint Paulreally mean in practical terms when he said, “Pray without ceasing”?  How have Christians understood this exhortation throughout the two millennia that have passed since the Incarnation of the Son of God changed human history forever? What does this exhortation to pray ceaselessly have to do with the Mass?  What does it have to do with the Mass as it is celebrated—or not celebrated—by Christians today?

In a now-classic study by Dom Gregory Dix entitled The Shape of the Liturgy, first published in 1945, the famous Anglican scholar and monk outlined a history of the development of the Eucharistic rite that has come to underlie contemporary revision of the Eucharistic liturgy in virtually every denomination, including the Roman Catholic revisions set forward by Vatican Council II.  In that book, Dix argues (among other things) that during the first three centuries of Christianity, the celebration of the Eucharist had a strongly eschatological, world-ending character.  A memorial of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, the Eucharist offered the “food of martyrs” and the “bread of life” to Christians whose Baptismal commitment entailed a readiness to suffer and to die for the faith in the expectancy of a share in Christ’s resurrection.  The Eucharist was celebrated in private homes or in hidden places, the Catacombs, often at or upon the tomb of a martyr, to signify that the faithful departed had died in and for Christ and awaited the “resurrection of the body” guaranteed at the Second Coming of Christ by Christ’s own Resurrection and Ascension.  According to Dix, the personal prayer-life of Christians—what he calls the “life of edification”—was closely related to the Eucharist, because both the personal prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist took place “under much the same conditions,”[3] in the midst of a pagan world, largely hostile to the faith.

In the fourth century, the Edict of Milan issued by the Emperor Constantine ended the centuries of persecution, initiated the period of the Church’s public worship, and effectively offered the Church the task to establish a “Christian civilization,” “of baptizing not the human material only but the whole spirit and organization of society.”[4]  When the celebration of the Eucharist became an act of “public” worship, it took on a quality of “magnificence,” of world-affirming beauty, in accord with the Church’s new position at the heart of a society that it aimed to transform and to uplift.  “The church of the fourth century did not hesitate to be magnificent,” writes Dom Gregory, “just because she did not refuse to be public.”[5]

This trend coincided, however, with a new “world-ending” movement—the monastic movement, started by St.Anthony of Egypt and other desert fathers, which also spread to urban centers like Rome, where pious men and women established monasteries, some of them in their own homes.  Vowing poverty, chastity, and obedience, these Christians voluntarily embraced a “change of life,” an ascetical conversatio, that meant a death to this world, a freely chosen martyrdom, and an eschatological anticipation of the heavenly world-to-come, especially through a discipline of constant prayer.  Whereas Christians in the first three centuries had paused for personal prayer at set hours during the day (for example, morning, noon, and night), the zealous monks of the deserts—and there were thousands of these—aimed at continual prayer, especially through the daily recitation of all 150 psalms, with short pauses for personal prayers (silent and voiced) interspersed between each of the psalms, and with pauses for other necessary activities (sleeping, eating, etc.) kept to an absolute minimum.

Taken together, the “world-affirming” and the “world-ending” liturgical expressions of the Paschal mystery—for they are both that—affirm that the Son of God became human through his Incarnation in Mary’s womb, suffered death, and rose again that there might be “new heavens and a new earth,” a redeemed and a renewed creation in Christ.  “It is this double and mutual repercussion of time and eternity upon each other,” writes Dom Gregory Dix, “in that act of God which is the redemption of the world by Jesus of Nazareth, that is the essence of Christian eschatology.  And of this,” he adds, “the supreme expression from the beginning is the eucharist.”[6]

The creative interplay between these “world-affirming” and “world-renouncing” movements in the life of the Church accounts, in Dom Gregory Dix’s analysis, for liturgical developments through the Middle Ages.  The monastic movement, which greatly affected and inspired the public worship of the Church, protected the newly “secular,” more ceremonious celebration of the Eucharist from losing its eschatological, world-ending character.  The monastic aspiration toward a life of continuous prayer, hour by hour, also offered Christians involved in work in the world a model for discovering analogous ways of constant prayer through the sanctification of time.  The monastic emphasis on the Scriptures affected the liturgy of the word within the Mass in its public celebration, while the Eucharistic rite as such “finally remained the centre of monastic devotion.”[7]

All of these interactions between what Dix calls “the puritan and ceremonious theories of worship” were possible, according to him, and produced “a most fruitful alliance in the same church,” because “both were alike catholic in doctrine.”[8]  The doctrinal split in the sixteenth century, he comes on to argue, divided the church in a complex way precisely along these two lines, leaving the Protestant churches, in particular, vulnerable either to a fundamentalist eschatology (evident, for example, in those sects that have embraced the idea of a Rapture) or to a secularism that too easily conforms to the dominant culture.

And what about us Catholics?  Writing as an Anglican in 1945, before Vatican Council II, Dix implies that the “ceremonial” theory of worship, so strongly emphasized in the Catholic Mass and in the Church’s sacramentalism, had come to be developed in a one-sided way that needed to be complemented by a renewed “Puritanism” in the liturgy of the Word and in the personal witness to Christ of the individual person, if the Church’s mission to consecrate the world to Christ, and to transform its culture was to be accomplished.

Essay will continue with part 2 on Friday.

[1] Raymond F. Collins, “The First Letter to the Thessalonians,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 773.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (New York: Seabury Press, 1982), 316.

[4] Ibid., 315.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 747-748.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

Editorial Updates: 8/18/-8/23


Just wanted to let you know that we posted today the final part of Fr. Brian Daley’s series on the Eucharist and Eschatology delivered at our June conference, Formed for the Liturgy, Reformed by the Liturgy.

We won’t be able to post on this Friday or next Monday, because our senior editor (Tim O’Malley) will be defending his dissertation out in Boston.

Also, if you like what you read on these pages, send links on to friends and family.  In the next month, we’ll be continuing with our series on radical gratitude, starting a column on sacramental catechesis to those with special needs, and featuring more columns from our June conference.  Until Wednesday…

The Drug of Immortality: Eucharistic Liturgy and Eschatology (Part VIII)

Fr. Brian Daley, S.J., D. Phil.

Catherine F. Huisking Professor of Theology

University of Notre Dame

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Part I        Part II       Part III       Part IV       Part V

Part VI     Part VII

In these few examples of the continuing sense among early Christian Fathers that the Eucharist we celebrate, and the Eucharistic food we share, are directly connected not only to Christ’s redemptive act but to the future realization of our own redemption in resurrection and life with him, we see – as so often – both continuity and difference.  In Paul’s letters and in the Didache, the emphasis seems to be on the present gathering around the table of the Lord, as an anticipation of the final gathering of God’s people when Christ comes again:  mainly ecclesiological, one might say, rather than soteriological.  The Church itself, as it celebrates the Eucharist in memory of Jesus’ last supper and death, is reminded effectively that it lives on the brink of a new, eschatological reality.  In the more narrative or symbolic-dramatic approach of Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Antiochenes, this sense that the full soteriological meaning of the body and blood of Christ, present here in our liturgy, will still only be fully realized in the life to come, continues:  here in this life, the Spirit is given, Christ’s death is really made present in sign, in order to draw us into the process of moral conversion and growth that will become the fullness of life only at the end of history.  The Eucharist expresses the transitory character of the Church’s present existence, even as it points to a new age for which the Spirit now prepares us.

In the works of Ignatius of Antioch, on the other hand, or of Irenaeus and (much later) Cyril of Alexandria, the emphasis is rather on the Eucharist as the way our Savior, God the Son made flesh, now touches our flesh with the transforming, immediately effective energy of healing and endless life.  Even though the believer continues to live bounded by weakness and death, his assimilation of Christ’s risen flesh into his own body through the Eucharist is a clear guarantee, for those who understand what they are doing, that victory is already theirs, that resurrection is already working as a power within them.  Like an effective antibiotic in a time of infection, the Eucharistic species, in Ignatius’s phrase, is “the drug of immortality.”  As Cyril would argue, we already participate in the life of God that Jesus has enfleshed in our midst, the life that never ends!

As so often seems to happen, it is Augustine – the professional rhetor, the energetic pastor, the philosopher and mystic and Scriptural commentator – who seems to bring both these streams of Eucharistic hope together seamlessly: the “eschatological” and the “incarnational,” the reality and the promise.  In Sermon 227, for instance, one of his numerous “mystagogical catecheses,” – explanations given to the newly baptized, on Easter Sunday or during Easter week, of the significance of the rites by which they have become part of the Church – he draws on his favorite image for the Church, the real and organically unified Body of Christ, the totus Christus, to remind them that what they now are as Christ’s Body is both what they receive in the Eucharistic species, and what they will be, in a visible yet transfigured way , at the end of time.

That bread which you can see on the altar [he begins], sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That cup – or rather, what the cup contains – sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ.  It was by means of these things that the Lord Christ wished to present us with his body and blood, which he shed for our sake for the forgiveness of sins.  If you receive them well, you are yourselves what you receive.  For the Apostle says, “We, being many, are one loaf, one body” (I Cor 10.17).[i]

Augustine goes on to develop a picture of the sacraments of initiation, in all the material language of water and oil, bread and wine, as representations of the Church as it is:   separate elements brought together, ground (by contrition) and moistened (in baptism), blended and baked (by the fire of the Spirit), to form a single loaf and cup, a single people who are together Christ, present in the world.  But by a perceptive focus on the words – already traditional in the Latin liturgy – with which the Church’s prayer of thanksgiving begins, Augustine urges his hearers not just to focus on the present reality to which they have been joined – the sacramental Church – but to see it in its eternal implications:  the bishop has invited them to “lift up their hearts,” and they reply, by God’s grace, “We have lifted them up to the Lord,” because they realize their hearts must not simply be preoccupied with things on earth.  If they are the body of Christ, they must have their hearts where their head is. Christ, our head, is risen from the dead and is in glory with the Father; ergo in caelo caput nostrum, he says, and our hearts must be lifted up to heaven as well!  In that awareness, the significance of our identification, as Christ’s body, with his own sacrifice for us and for the world, becomes clearer.

Then, after the consecration of God’s sacrifice, because he wanted us to be ourselves his sacrifice, which was indicated when it was first instituted as God’s sacrifice and our own – that is, as the sign, which we are, of a deeper reality – behold, when the consecration is finished we say the Lord’s Prayer…[ii]

We join with Jesus himself in calling God our Father!  Augustine draws his conclusion:

So they are great sacraments and signs, really serious and important sacraments… Don’t let yourselves think that what you can see is of no account.  What you can see passes away, but the invisible reality signified does not pass away, but remains.  Look:  it’s received, it’s eaten, it’s consumed.  Is the body of Christ consumed?  Is the Church of Christ consumed?  Are the members of Christ consumed?  Perish the thought!  Here they are being purified, there they will be crowned with the victor’s laurels.  So what is signified will remain eternally, although the thing that signifies it seems to pass away.[iii]

The Body of Christ, he seems to be saying, is both an earthly, human, sacramental and social reality, and a heavenly, eternal one.  The liturgy presents both these realities to us:  a material representation of Christ’s sacrifice for us, which forms us even now into the means for continuing that sacrifice, that purifying gift, in present history; and Christ himself in glory, nourishing us with the life that even now, surrounded by death, lets us share his eternal victory.

In the world of later Greek theology, the fourteenth-century Byzantine spiritual writer and theologian Nicholas Cabasilas (b. 1319-23, d. 1391) suggests, in Book 4 of his work Life in Christ, something of this same conviction we find in Augustine’s sermons:  that the concrete sign offered us in the Church’s liturgical rhetoric accomplishes both present and eternal transformation, through union with Christ.  Drawing on Jesus’ apocalyptic saying, “Where the body is, there the eagles will gather” (Matt 24.28), he applies the image of a rejuvenated eagle, an eagle growing new wings, to the faithful gathered here at the Eucharistic table, and later on at the heavenly feast around Christ’s Body:

 They will move from table to table:  from the one still veiled to the one that will then be clearly visible, from the bread to the body.  For now Christ is bread for them, as they still live this human life; and he is Pascha, as they cross over from here to the City in the heavens.  But when “they renew their strength, and grow wings like eagles” (Is 40.31), as the admirable Isaiah says, then they shall sit down around the Body itself, free from every veil…  There is, after all, one meaning of the table, one host in both worlds.  The bridal chamber is one thing, our preparation for the bridal chamber another, but the Bridegroom remains the same.[iv]

For one who understands sacramental reality, the eternal banquet is already under way.

In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel – the Lord’s profound and challenging discourse on “the bread of life” – Jesus identifies the “work” he has come to accomplish in the world, as Word made flesh, as providing his disciples with “bread from heaven,” which will nourish them unfailingly, just as the manna nourished Israel on its desert journey:  bread that will lead, on “the last day,” to resurrection and to eternal life. The response of his hearers is eloquent in a way that only simplicity can be:  “They said to him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always!’”  Our own formation – our “capacitation,” as David Fagerberg would say – to understand and share in the liturgy that forms the heart of the Church’s life, comes, I think, in the end, from joining in that simple prayer.

[i]  Augustine, Sermon 227 (trans. Edmund Hill; The Works of Saint Augustine III/6 [New Rochelle, NY:  New City, 1993] 254; for the Latin, with French translation, see the edition of Suzanne Poque [Sources chrétiennes 116; Paris:  Cerf, repr. 2003] 234-236.)  This sermon is usually dated between 412 and 417, and represents Augustine’s mature preaching as bishop of Hippo.

[ii]  Hill 255 (altered); Poque 240.  I have made some changes in Hill’s translation of this difficult passage, on the basis of the Latin original.  The point seems clear enough:  God wants the sacrifice of Christ to be both God’s offering and our offering of ourselves; that is the sacrifice he has instituted or “laid down” for the people of God.   This unity between Christ and ourselves in the act of sacrifice is what enables us, with Christ our head, to pray to God as “Father.”

[iii]  Manebit ergo quod significatur, quamquam transire videatur quod significat.  (Hill 255; Poque 242).

[iv] Nicholas Cabasilas, Life in Christ 4.106, 109 (ed. Marie-Hélène Congourdeau; Sources chrétiennes 355 [Paris: Cerf, 2009] 354-356).





Do This in Memory of Me: Teaching Liturgy in High School

Eric Buell

Head of the Department of Religious Studies

Director of the Liturgical Band

Presentation High School, San Jose, CA

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There is a wonderful scene in the movie Hook where an adult Peter Pan sits down for dinner after a long day of trying to relearn how to fly, crow, and swordfight.  The table is set and the steam rises from all of the dishes as the Lost Boys gather around for the big feast (envision a new age Babette’s Feast with Robin Williams).  When the covers on the food are removed, despite the steam and aroma – there is nothing there.  The disappointment on Peter’s face is palpable.

As I walk through the halls of the high school where I work, I notice every morning the plethora of photos that are attached to the lockers of students.  It is apparent that these young women record every significant moment in their life and then look back on it immediately to reminisce about the good times.  This experience is helped by the availability of digital cameras and smart phones that allow us immediate access to our memories.  I recently played off of this idea in class when I asked my students to recall their favorite experiences and remember those experiences by trying to bring to mind any sights, smells, sounds, tastes, or touches that accompanied the experience.

The point of this exercise was to engage students in a moment of anamnesis, the deepest way to remember an event even to the point of making it real again.  I described an experience I once had of getting sick from eating too many Fruity Pebbles as a child.  My parents had left me in the charge of my twelve year old brother who had no interest in feeding me breakfast.  I took it upon my five year old self to consume an entire box of this multi-colored sugar-coated puffed rice.  The results were tragic.  But even to this day, every time I smell or taste a box of this cereal I get a feeling of nausea.  I have encountered this re-living in many other food-borne ways:  the smell of a roasting Turkey at Nana’s house for Thanksgiving or the taste of chocolate chip cookies on a hot summer day after swimming in a pool for hours.  When we remember these experiences we do not only recall something true about ourselves but in a way relive the moment.


And so there Peter sat in front of a table full of empty bowls while everyone around him was eating.  The kids looked at him wondering why he did not enjoy the feast.  Exasperated but willing to try what the kids were saying, Peter Pan had to remember who he truly was before he could join in the feast.  Once recalled, the food came alive and he could now participate fully in the meal.

This is the same type of memory that Jesus demands: to do this in memory of me.  It is a memory to relive your baptism, your own participation in the Paschal Mystery.  It brings to the front our true baptized selves.  The ‘this’ and the ‘in memory’ are pretty straight forward.  I take comfort in the letters of St. Paul and the Didache when episodes of Eucharistic memorial were occurring in its earliest stages.  The framework for Eucharistic celebration in the Gospels and these other writings is the cornerstone of our Tradition.  Without the Eucharist, the question of Catholic self identity is bizarre and unanswerable.

It would be unfortunate to gloss over the word ‘do’ in Jesus’ command.  It is our responsibility as catechists, liturgists, and clergy ‘to do’ an engaging celebration of liturgy.  Jesus did not recline at the Last Supper and say “do not worry about doing anything while you remember, I will take care of it.”  It is not God’s action and our reception, it is our collective action.  The framework for collective liturgical action is provided in the rite, but as a teacher, I would never go into the class with a framework that someone else had provided me and not try to make the material applicable or to not try and engage the people who are sitting before me.  Over the past two years I have heard and read multiple sermons and articles stressing the point that the Mass is not entertainment.  I agree.  However, I sit in the pew wondering if this point is a clouded attempt at an excuse for falling attendance, poorly rehearsed music, or unintelligible sermons.  The point is accepted and fairly obvious that those looking for entertainment should not choose Mass as their primary outlet, but that should not push us to strive for a celebration or memorial that is boring.  Who remembers that which bores them?

The point of all of this Peter Pan babble and memory stories is engagement.  People who continue to attend Church need to be engaged, most importantly our students in high school during school liturgy because for a good portion of the school, these are the only experiences of liturgy they will ever have.  The four years in Catholic school are perhaps the one chance the Church has to engage teenagers in the foundational identifying mark of a Catholic.  This means putting effort into crafting meaningful and engaging moments that these young people can delve deeper into, we need to craft an intimate anamnesis moment so the memories our students are taking away from the Church are not ones of boredom and meaningless motions or a cacophony of noise and extravagance that can overrun teen-centered liturgies.  The best way to teach liturgy to high school students mirrors the best practices of teaching anyone about liturgy.  The one thing we all have in common is a desire to be understood, to be welcomed, and to craft meaningful memories for their lives.  This is the responsibility of the priest to craft a sermon that actually speaks to a fifteen year old girl.  It is the task of the musician to seek out and practice music that can be sung and expressed by people who have no understanding of music.  It is our task to not turn off or zone out during Mass.

These things do not need to happen to make liturgy work.  But it is our work to make liturgy happen, and if each liturgy is not our best effort to engage the true spirit of this memorial, than the memories we are leaving in the hearts of our young people will soon be forgotten.