April 2, 2018

Singing, Praying, and Preaching Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home


Why I Wrote 26 Ordinary Ways to Live the Liturgy

 

Some Highlights

Laudato Si’ invites us to re-envision our relationship to creation. We are to see first, the problem of environmental degradation and the harm it does to the poor. Second, we are to see anew the “The Gospel of Creation” (the title of Chapter 2 of the encyclical), and how this sacramental vision guides our response to the problem.

We are not other than, or above creation, but members of it. We drink from our own wells, and if we poison them, we poison ourselves. “We have forgotten,” Francis says, “that we ourselves are dust of earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters” (Laudato Si’, 2; hereafter, LS). Such forgetfulness leads us to view the rest of nature as a mere thing or object for our use. “Modernity has been marked,” Pope Francis says, “by an excessive anthropocentrism . . . once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble” (LS, 116-117).

Appealing to the example of Saint Francis, the pope underscores our deep kinship with nature: “to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection . . . he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’” (LS, 11). Pope Francis sees an essential link between Saint Francis’ love of creatures and his devotion to the poor. When we degrade the environment, it is the poor who suffer first and most. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world . . . There is also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries and by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home” (LS, 51). It follows that a true and integral ecological approach must hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (LS, 23).

Singing, Praying, and Preaching

Does the call to hear the cry of the earth and the cry of poor have relevance to the liturgy? If so, would that mean an “ecology” themed Mass once or twice per year? Or rather, since as Pope Francis says, “the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ” (LS, 99), should not all creation be in view every time we celebrate the Eucharist? In Romans 8:19-21, Paul says that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Other creatures are not left behind in the drama of salvation—they are included within it. So, ecological spirituality, embodied in care for creation and those harmed by environmental degradation, is central to the meaning of the Eucharist. On a regular basis, how we sing, pray and preach, should include this cosmic dimension of the paschal mystery.

This conviction inspired me to compose a song based on Laudato Si’, “Every Creature Is Sister and Brother” (ocp.org/en-us/songs/88377). I then invited a number of composers to contribute additional songs for a collection entitled Our Common Home: Songs for Liturgy and Prayer Inspired by Laudato Si’ (ocp.org/en-us/collections/pg/G30). These songs for gathering, the presentation, Communion, post-Communion, and sending, can be used on a regular basis throughout the Church year. In the reflection that follows, I offer some words from “Every Creature Is Sister and Brother” to encourage both homilists and composers in their own creative response to the encyclical.

Gathering

Beyond merely physically assembling in the church building, the Gathering Rite symbolizes the redeemed and gathered communion toward which God calls us. Precisely in this act of gathering, “the church, in Christ, is a sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and the unity of the human race” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1). Pope Francis reminds us that this communion embraces all creation: “when our hearts are open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one” (LS, 92). He elaborates as follows:

“Thus the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them toward fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.” (LS, 100)

Songs for gathering need to celebrate not only being gathered with God and neighbor, but in “fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river, and mother earth” (LS, 92).

Every Creature is Sister and Brother
Every creature is sister and brother to us,
made through the Word of God, spoken in love, made anew when the Word a creature became, bearing creation’s travail and pain.
Every creature is singing the goodness of God, the Love that moves the sun and the stars, giving us eyes to see, beyond ourselves, this great communion in which we dwell.

With a few introductory words after the gathering song and before the Sprinkling or Penitential Act, the presider can call us into an awareness that we gather not only with each other, but with all of humanity and all creatures. Similarly, the invocations of the Penitential Act can be worded with the need for ecological conversion and spirituality in mind.

Liturgy of the Word

The relation of Christ to creation in the seasonal readings might be brought out more clearly in preaching and song. During the Advent/Christmas season we celebrate the Incarnation, in which the Eternal Word becomes one with material creation. In Lent, the call to repentance should include the harm we have done to creation, and to the least among us. During Holy Week, preaching and music can evoke reflection on the cosmic significance of Christ’s death as the Savior of the world, or to use Karl Rahner’s words, “When the vessel of his body was shattered in death, Christ was poured out over the whole cosmos” (On the Theology of Death, [New York: Seabury Press, 1973], p. 66). Similarly, for the Easter Vigil and Easter season, the Resurrection might be more explicitly celebrated as the cosmic event that it is.

Pope Francis writes, “Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light” (LS, 221). The nature symbolism of the Exsultet says as much: “let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with the light of her eternal King,” and “accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and your servants’ hands.” Of this candle, which is “to overcome the darkness of this night,” it also says, “let it mingle with the lights of heaven” (Exsultet from The Roman Missal [p. 356]).

Liturgy of the Eucharist: Preparation of the Gifts

The gifts brought to the table represent our interaction with nature, for bread and wine are “fruit of the earth and work of human hands.” Does our interaction show responsible stewardship of the earth, as well as concern that all share in the gifts God has given for all? Laudato Si’ quotes these words from Pope Saint John Paul II: “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone…it is not in accord with God’s plan that these gifts be used in such a way that its benefits favor only a few” (Laudato Si’, 93). A complete ethic of hearing the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor is implied in this rite!

From the grain of the harvest, the grapes of the press, we bring to Christ these gifts now to bless. Let them be gifts that show our care for the earth, labor that serves the common good.

Eucharistic Prayer and Communion Rite

Just before the final doxology, Eucharistic Prayer IV echoes the passage we heard earlier from Pope Saint John Paul II. Looking toward the life of the world to come, we hear and pray these words: “There, with the whole of creation, freed from the corruption of sin and death, may we glorify you through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.” (Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition, 2011)

Pope Francis writes, “The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation” (LS, 236). What is it, precisely, that embraces and penetrates all creation? It is an action—Christ’s self-offering for the world. Consider what it means, then, to receive the Risen Lord, who “chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter,” as Pope Francis says in the same place. Paradoxically, we consume Christ’s act of self-emptying, his giving away of self in service to God and others. In so doing, we allow Christ to enact in us—the Church—a counter-symbol to our culture’s obsession with consuming to the point of wasteful over-consumption, while sisters and brothers go hungry.

“When people become self-centered and self-enclosed,” Pope Francis says, “their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own, consume” (LS, 204). But the Eucharist impels us, in Christ, to go “out of ourselves toward the other” (LS, 208). We use the word “communion” so often that we may lose sight of its full meaning: “The human person grows more, matures more, and is sanctified more, to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures” (LS, 240). Without this counter-movement, environmental degradation will deprive future generations of “the fruits of the earth.”

When the hungering child cries out to be fed, What parent would give her a stone for bread? How can we, then, deprive our children to come, Of the fruits of the earth, our common home?

Sending Forth

The Dismissal or Sending Rite signifies the ethical follow-up implied in celebrating the Eucharist: agapic love in action, in imitation of Christ. Laudato Si’ ends in a similar vein. Urging us to “sing as we go,” Pope Francis offers two action prayers, one for all who believe in the Creator, and one for Christians (LS, 244, 246). He prays “that we may protect the world and not prey upon it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.”

Holy Spirit come kindle a fire in our hearts,
wisdom and courage to take nature’s part.
Come awaken your people from their sleep
this redeemed world to guard and keep.
Bob Hurd

Bob Hurd

Bob Hurd has served as a teacher, composer, and liturgist in various pastoral and academic settings, including Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, and Saint Patrick's Semi­nary in Menlo Park, California. He currently teaches in the Graduate Pastoral Ministries Program of Santa Clara University. He lives in Claremont, California with his wife, Pia Moriarty.

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