Mass impels us toward mission
A Chicago pastor who has analyzed vibrant Catholic parishes across the country told the 32nd Annual Hofinger Conference Jan. 10 that the Mass is “the launching pad” for the faithful to propel the challenging mission of Jesus Christ into the world.
Father Ronald Lewinski, who has examined Catholic parishes across the country, told more than 1,200 catechists, teachers and parish leaders from the Gulf South that “the work of our redemption takes place in the liturgy,” and ideally it should lead Catholics into “missionary activity” that hits close to home.
“Missionary activity takes many forms,” said Father Lewinski, pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish in Mundelein, Ill., and the delegate of Cardinal Francis George for a parish transformation initiative in the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Sometimes we give lip service to the notion of mission. We are supposed to be evangelizing in the neighborhood. The liturgy is the ‘sending,’ the launching pad. How fitting is it that the last thing we hear at Mass is, ‘Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.’”
Parish looks outward
In his study of U.S. parishes, Father Lewinski sat in at an orientation meeting for new parishioners at St. Cecilia Parish in Houston. The affluent parish is home to many doctors and nurses, and it saw a growing Hispanic population that needed better access to health care, especially for newborns and toddlers.
After the pastor explained well-baby clinic the parish had established, Father Lewinski, who was “disguised as Joe-wanna-be parishioner,” turned to the young couple next to him and asked if they might be getting involved in the clinic.
“No, not us,” they replied. “We wouldn’t do that.”
When he asked if they were opposed to the idea of a clinic, they responded: “Against it? No way. That’s why we’re joining this parish, because we wanted to join a community that stood for something.”
Pope Francis: Have joy
Since his election, Pope Francis has urged Catholics to be joyful in fulfilling the mission of Christ, Father Lewinski said.
“The word of God brings joy to our hearts,” he said. “It’s not theory, but gift. The word of God challenges our values and complacency. We listen to the word for a reality check – do I value what Jesus values? Am I satisfied or do I see no reason for change in myself? ... Jesus never tires of saying, ‘Give them something to eat.’”
During his parish study, Father Lewinski also visited St. James Cathedral Parish in downtown Seattle, where on Saturday morning he walked to a Starbucks near the church, and he saw a woman, seated near the doorway, with a red scarf wrapped around her neck.
At the vigil Mass later that day, he processed up to receive Communion.
“Who do you think the Communion minister was?” Father Lewinski asked. “There she was, with this red scarf around her neck, saying to me, ‘The Body of Christ.’ This is what I mean about the radicalness of the liturgy as a rehearsal for the kingdom of God. I could never look at the Communion procession in the same way again.”
At the heart of the Mass – the Eucharistic Prayer – Father Lewinski said the church prays that Catholics will be transformed by a missionary spirit. For example, Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs and Occasions No. 3 states: “Keep us attentive to the needs of all, that sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope, we may faithfully bring them the Good News of salvation.”
“Right there, in the heart of the Eucharist, we are putting these words on our lips,” Father Lewinski said. “Do we mean it? Do we really want to become aware? Do we think we can do this without being called to a new conversion ourselves?”
Father Lewinski said if Mass-goers are attentive, they will be blown away by the priest’s words: “Do this is memory of me.”
“I always say if I had the choice to eliminate one sentence in the Mass, it would be this one,” Father Lewinski said. “Why? Because I think it’s one of the most powerful and challenging lines in the Gospel. Why? Do what in memory of me? Come back next Sunday to celebrate the rite again? Yes. But what were the words that went just before this: ‘This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you.’ Now, ‘Do this in memory of me.’
“Whoa. You’re asking me to be bread broken and wine poured out? Yes. How can we say that Mass is boring when we are called to such radical action? This is better known as a wakeup call. May this Eucharist we celebrate be a wakeup call for us.”
Parish mission coordinators
Every mission-oriented parish, Father Lewinski said, would do well to engage someone as a “mission coordinator,” who could help connect parishioners with a work of evangelization suited to their ability and availability.
“Sometimes a person can give two hours of service a week, but “we’re often not ready,” Father Lewinski said. “A mission coordinator acts like a broker of mission and asks the person, ‘What are your gifts?’”
Pope Francis’ preference for a church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty” because it has been in the streets rather than closed in on itself should be another wake-up call to all parishes, Father Lewinski said.
“Remember, Jesus didn’t establish parishes, but he did establish a mission,” Father Lewinski said.