January 5, 2018

Incorporating “Laudato Si’” into the Liturgy of the Word

Pope Francis


In an earlier column I explored incorporating Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” into the Introductory Rites at Lord’s Day Eucharist. In this blog post, I would like to explore how the encyclical might be incorporated into the Liturgy of the Word.

Proclamation of Scripture

Normatively at Sunday Eucharist four selections from scripture are proclaimed: a selection from the First/Old Testament, usually proclaimed by a lector; a selection from the Psalms, usually proclaimed by a cantor with the assembly joining in on a refrain; a selection from a Second/New Testament non-Gospel reading, usually proclaimed by a(nother) lector; and a Gospel passage, usually proclaimed by a deacon or priest. While I would not recommend the use of spoken introductions before the readings are proclaimed, one could use the parish bulletin to highlight aspects of the readings that might further Laudato Si’s teachings. For example, on the Second Sunday of Advent (Year B), when I am writing these notes, a bulletin column could emphasize that the proper transformation of the earth is to reveal the glory of the Lord, not to be exploited for profit (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9 – 11); that Christians, far from being content with the way the earth has been exploited, await “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”(2 Peter 3:8-14); or that John the Baptist’s diet harks back to the time of nomadic hunting and gathering rather than the time of agricultural settlement and thus acknowledges the bounty of God prior to any human manipulation of the earth (Mark 1:1-8).

The Homily

The homily is a privileged place in which to communicate the teachings of Laudato Si’. Some years ago I defined liturgical preaching as “a language event…contextualized by worship,…inspired by the ritual texts proclaimed and enacted,…addressed to believers,…mediated by preachers,…by which God encounters and transforms God’s people.” (J. M. Joncas, Preaching the Rites of Christian Initiation, Forum Essays 4 [Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 1994] 2) While I acknowledge that the primary inspiration for liturgical preaching would be the scriptures proclaimed at the particular worship assembly, a preacher might also be inspired by the liturgical texts proclaimed and/or the ritual event being enacted. Thus in the light of the encyclical’s teaching that we must “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” one might find inspiration from liturgical texts such as: “Grant that all the faithful of the Church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the Gospel. 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 and go forward with them along the way of your kingdom.” (Eucharistic Prayer for Use in Masses of Various Needs III) “Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened. Make us serve them truly, after the example of Christ and at his command. And may your Church stand as a living witness to truth and freedom, to peace and justice, that all people may be raised up to a new hope.” (Eucharistic Prayer for Use in Masses of Various Needs IV) “O God, who willed to subject the forces of nature to human labor, mercifully grant that, undertaking in a Christian spirit what we are to do, we may merit to join our brothers and sister in practicing sincere charity and in advancing the fulfillment of your divine work of creation.” (Collect from Mass Formulary 26 “For the Sanctification of Human Labor”). Preaching on the ritual action of the preparation of the offerings could sketch a theology of ecology: we do not offer nature “raw” (as grain and grapes) but nature transformed by human intelligence and will (as bread and wine) which are the “fruit of the earth/vine and work of human hands” presented to God in praise and thanksgiving and returned to the praying assembly transformed by the grace of God into the body and blood of his son.

The Creed

Pope Francis’ claim in Laudato Si’ is that the ultimate root of our environmental and social difficulties is that we no longer view God as the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe. From this mis-perception we see “other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination” and do not acknowledge that “the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not found in us.” The proclamation of the Creed at Lord’s Day Eucharist and at other weighty celebrations may serve as a corrective to this core problem: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible” INicene-Constantinopolitan Creed); “I believe in God, that Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” (Apostles’ Creed).

The General Intercessions/Universal Prayer

But perhaps the most profound ritual moment in the Roman Rite by which the themes of Laudato’ Si are articulated and brought to prayer can occur in the Universal Prayer/Prayer of the Faithful/Bidding Prayers. “Exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood,” the community “offer[s] prayers to God…, for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the world.” [GIRM 34]. It is here that topics addressed in the encyclical may be turned to prayer: “For the peoples of all the world, that the Lord may graciously preserve harmony among them,”…”For favorable wealth and abundant fruits from the earth, let us entreat the Lord, the ruler of the world,”… “That all of us may learn to distribute the fruits of self-denial for the good of those in need,”… “For the elderly who suffer from isolation or sickness, that they may be strengthened by our love for them as brothers and sisters,”. (Appendix V of the Roman Missal, Examples of Formularies for the Universal Prayer, passim.) Notice how carefully these petitions/intercessions are formulated: a text briefly addresses a single category of petitionary/intercessory prayer; the texts as a whole are balanced among the myriad needs of the praying community; that the formulations tend to the concrete rather than the abstract;

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

Photo of Michael Joncas

Michael Joncas

Best known for popular songs like “On Eagle’s Wings” and “I Have Loved You,” Father Joncas is also a supremely gifted choral composer. For his latest project, he’s writing hymns of the day for every Sunday and holy day of the year.

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