What can we do at Mass to help with the New Evangelization?

by Father Matthew Kraemer

Father Matthew Kraemer

Last month many priests, deacons, and lay representatives from the dioceses of Fargo and Crookston gathered for an event centered on evangelization called the “Convocation of Parish Leaders.” Statistics clearly indicate that religious affiliation is decreasing, and Catholics are no exception. It is insufficient for clergy and the faithful to simply maintain the Church. Rather, they must go on mission to those who do not know Christ, or who have fallen away. Hence, there is need for a “New Evangelization.”

Evangelization has many components: the witness of authentic Christian living, the proclamation of the Gospel, strong catechesis, and personal relationships. The work of evangelization is also intimately tied to the liturgical life of the Church, most especially the Eucharist. Pope St. Paul VI writes in Evangelii nuntiandi:

“The role of evangelization is precisely to educate people in the faith in such a way as to lead each individual Christian to live the sacraments as true sacraments of faith — and not to receive them passively or reluctantly.… In its totality, evangelization –— over and above the preaching of a message — consists in the implantation of the Church, which does not exist without the driving force which is the sacramental life culminating in the Eucharist” (paragraphs 47 and 28).

In other words, the liturgy, and most of all the Mass, is the source and summit of all evangelizing efforts. So, what can we do to make sure our parish Masses truly are helping with the New Evangelization?

One who leads an authentic Christian life attracts others to the Gospel. In the same way, an authentically celebrated liturgy helps others to encounter Christ. There are two levels to this authenticity. The first level is simply “saying the black, and doing the red,” in other words, respecting the integrity of the liturgical texts and observing liturgical laws. We should not change the liturgy for the sake of evangelization. We should change ourselves. The second level consists in personal involvement, often called active participation. It is easy to go through the motions at Mass and never dive deeply into the mystery of Christ, but that is exactly what we must do if we are to be transformed into his authentic witnesses.

Our mission as baptized Christians is to participate more deeply in the mystery of Christ and to lead others into that same participation. Every one of us, called to be an evangelizing Christian, draws strength and life from the Mass, and with that strength and life, we go out to bring others to the same source. To live the liturgy is to evangelize and be evangelized.

For the liturgy to have its full effect on us and on those we evangelize, we need to be internally disposed. Our heart needs to be attuned to the prayer of Christ to his Father. However, we are composite beings made up of body and soul. The internal is intricately connected to the external; what we perceive with our senses affects our soul. Consequently, we also need to attend to the externals of Christian worship.

There are many elements to consider: liturgical catechesis, extending a warm welcome to newcomers, and gently integrating those who join us into the life of the Church. One that rises to the top is re-claiming the beauty of the Mass. To focus on beauty is particularly opportune for two reasons: 1) it has been downplayed, misunderstood, or outright rejected in the recent past, and 2) the attractive power of beauty is particularly important for evangelization. The liturgy is a place where beauty is native. The mystery of God is beautiful. The Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, the selfless love that goes to the very end, is achingly beautiful. The long experience of the Church has taught that this beauty is not transmitted to us in the abstract but in ways that engage the senses. Isn’t it true that gazing upon an image of Christ crucified is more beneficial than staring at a cinder block wall? The beauty of the singing Church was a profound part of St. Augustine’s conversion: “How I wept to hear Your hymns and songs, deeply moved by the voices of Your sweetly singing Church! Their voices penetrated my ears, and with them truth found its way into my heart; my frozen feeling for God began to thaw, tears flowed and I experienced joy and relief” (Confessions IX 6,14).

If we are to be evangelization-minded, we must prioritize beauty in the liturgy. This includes appropriate architectural design of the church, the correct layout and adornment of its interior, and music that is well-suited to the liturgical action. Our Lord’s sacrifice was not cheap. May our art not express the contrary! Not all churches have the same level of resources, but it is always obvious when a church was built or renovated with personal sacrifice and careful attention to detail.

Evangelization consists of inviting others to go to the depths and draw deeply from the source, which is Christ himself. We must go there ourselves first, and pave the way for others to follow. To do this, we must attend to both the internal and the external, disposing ourselves to enter into communion with the Lord, and making sure the lived experience of the liturgy is fertile ground for others to encounter God.

Father Kraemer serves as the Secretary to the Bishop, Master of Ceremonies, Vice Chancellor, and Director of Liturgy for the Diocese of Fargo.

Editor’s Note: If you have a question about the Catholic faith and would like to submit a question for consideration in a future column, please send to news@fargodiocese.org with “Ask a Priest” in the subject line or mail to New Earth, 5201 Bishops Blvd. S, Suite. A, Fargo, ND 58104, Attn: Ask a Priest.