Before reading this chapter, ask yourself or share with others: In what way, if any, does the Mass continue for you after you leave the Church? What does the Sunday Mass mean for you Monday to Saturday?
Liturgy of the Neighbour
It can be said there are three parts to the Mass: liturgy of the Word, liturgy of the Eucharist and liturgy of the Neighbour. The liturgy of the neighbour is almost certainly the most neglected. This phrase was coined by Louise-Marie Chauvet of L’Institut Catholique in Paris and used in his book Symbol and Sacrifice (Collegeville, Minn., 1995).
Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming his intentions at the synagogue in Nazareth when he read from the scroll
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18–19)
Jesus set himself the task of liberating his people from the oppression of the civil and religious leaders of his day. He attempted to give women the same status as men by allowing Mary of Bethany to sit at his feet as a disciple, by allowing the woman who had a bad name in the town to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair, by daring to have a conversation alone with a woman at a well – and a Samaritan woman, a half-caste, at that. He broke down the barriers between Jew and Gentile by healing the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, healing the son of a Roman centurion, a soldier of the occupying army, and by a parable in which he praises a Samaritan for helping a man in distress when a Jewish priest and a Jewish Levite pass him by.
Many times Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, the lawyers, the scribes and the elders for their failure as leaders and for their legalism. When he liberated people from their disabilities, these men complained he was working on the Sabbath.
These challenges to authority came to a climax when Jesus cleansed the temple. His righteous anger boiled over when he saw the house of prayer being used for financial profit. The people were obliged to change their daily Roman money into temple coinage before making their offerings, and the money changers charged a day’s wages for this service, while those selling animals for sacrifice charged exorbitant prices. And the priests of the temple were complicit in this scam.
Jesus challenged the whole military, business and religious complex of his day. The strength of his verbal attack on the scribes and Pharisees, as described in Matthew 23, is quite extraordinary. He called them hypocrites, blind guides, full of greed and selfishness, whitewashed tombs, snakes and a brood of vipers. It’s no wonder they decided to get rid of him!
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. (Matthew 26:3–4)
Jesus continued his ministry of setting up the kingdom of God in spite of the death threats. His loyalty to the mission the Father had given him had priority over the threat of being killed. But eventually he paid the price with his life.
Jesus’ example has been the inspiration for countless numbers of people who have been angered by injustice or who have seen the need to help the disadvantaged and have dared to do something about it. A number of the stories in this book witness to the way in which ‘ordinary’ people follow up their participation in the Eucharist by helping others.
Our attendance at Mass fuels our desire to carry on Jesus’ ministry of correcting injustices and reaching out to the needy. The Eucharist does not end when the dismissal is announced; the Liturgy of the Neighbour continues throughout the rest of the week.
After Mass, What?
The energy we pick up from the Eucharist is to be used to carry the good news to others, especially to the most neglected in the community. The task of taking communion to the sick is now a regular event in all parishes, and there are a million other tasks as well.
Pedro Arrupe, a former leader of the Jesuits, said
If there is hunger anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the eucharist is somehow incomplete everywhere in the world …. In the eucharist we receive Christ hungering in the world. He comes to us, not alone, but with the poor, the oppressed, the starving of the earth. Through him they are looking to us for help, for justice, for love expressed in action. Therefore we cannot properly receive the Bread of life unless at the same time we give the bread of life to those in need wherever and whoever they may be. (Address at Eucharistic Congress, Philadelphia, August 2, 1976)
The compelling need to complete the Eucharist with some form of ministry to others has always been a tradition in the Church. In the fourth century, Saint John Chrysostom wrote these powerful words:
What use is it that Christ’s table glitters with golden cups, if he himself is dying of hunger? First of all relieve his need; then, with what you have over, deck out his table as your will. No! You offer him a golden cup and refuse him a glass of cold water? Be consequent! Adorn the house of God, but do not despise your needy brother. For this brother is a temple more precious than that you have built for God.
The liturgy encourages all to ministry. The Prayer over the Offerings in the Mass for the Laity, says: ‘O God . . . grant through the power of this oblation that your servants living in the lay state, whom you do not cease to call to the apostolate, may imbue the world with the spirit of Christ and be the leaven of its sanctification.’
On the twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B, the prayer says
Lord, you renew us at your table with the bread of life. May this food strengthen us in love and help us to serve you in each other.
A ‘Life in the Eucharist’ (LITE) member presenting a teaching.
The Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs IV has this beautiful and challenging section
Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labour and are burdened. Make us serve them truly, after the example of Christ and at his command. And may your Church stanad as a living witness to truth and freedom, to peace and justice, that all people may be raised up to a new hope.
See Michael’s Story.
In case you think you are not sufficiently qualified to do anything for others just remember
- Noah was a drunk
- Abraham was too old
- Isaac was a day dreamer
- Jacob was a liar
- Leah was too ugly
- Joseph was abused
- Moses had a stuttering problem
- Gideon was afraid
- Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
- Rahab was a prostitute
- Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
- David had an affair and was a murderer
- Elijah was suicidal
- Isaiah preached naked
- Jonah ran away from God
- Naomi was a widow
- Job went bankrupt
- John the Baptist ate bugs
- Peter denied Christ
- The disciples fell asleep while praying
- Martha worried about everything
- Paul was too religious
- Timothy had an ulcer
- No more excuses now. God can use you to your full potential.
- Besides you aren’t the message, you’re just the messenger.
(Sent to me by email; author unknown, but not to be taken too seriously).
A healthy spirituality must include an outreach to others and not focus exclusively on one’s own development.