Logo
Print this page

Worship and social justice

The faithful receive Communion at the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel at St. Michael's College in Colchester. "The spiritual treasure we receive at Mass should inspire and inflame our hearts with charity in service to our neighbor," writes seminarian Steven Marchand. (Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban) The faithful receive Communion at the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel at St. Michael's College in Colchester. "The spiritual treasure we receive at Mass should inspire and inflame our hearts with charity in service to our neighbor," writes seminarian Steven Marchand.
By Steven R. Marchand
 
It has been said that one of most striking characteristics of modernity is the fragmentation of the once-cohesive social fabric that held together political, moral and social communities. Concretely, this view of life results in many either-or ultimatums where a truly Christian view would suggest a both-and response.
 
In Catholicism, we hold many paradoxes together -- such as grace and nature, faith and reason, scripture and tradition, body and soul -- in such a way that each element remains in place in tandem with the other. True Christian teaching keeps us from veering into any kind of extremism.
 
Unfortunately, there crept into the minds of many in the Church in the mid and late 20th century a kind of dualism that pitted the worthy celebration of the liturgy against service to the poor and social activism. If one used resources to beautify the liturgy one was accused of stealing from the poor, and conversely, those laity, priests and religious who sought out the poor and marginalized were accused of abandoning prayer and the worship of God.
 
In reality, however, these two missions of the Church -- worship of God and service in the world -- are two sides of the same coin. It is impossible for the Christian community to worship God at Mass, hear the message of the Gospel and ignore those in need around them.
 
In the Old Testament, the connection between worship and justice is clear. In the Book of Amos we read, “Even though you offer me your burnt offering and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:22-24).
 
In the New Testament, St. Paul warns both who would seek to put worship and justice over the other in 1 Corinthians 10-11. He begins by pointing out that it is hypocritical for the community that celebrates the Mass to do so while the poor go hungry. He follows that by stressing the importance of eliminating abuses at the Lord’s Supper and participating in the Eucharist only worthily.
 
In fact, both the worship of God and service to the disadvantaged are aspects of justice and charity. We all have a duty to pray and worship God according to the mind of the Church, to offer to God only the best of what we have in our churches (like music and sacred art) as a matter of rendering to God what is due.
 
These worthy services are for the edification of the whole Christian people, the rich and poor alike. The virtue of religion helps us to grow in our relationship with God through our attention and participation in the liturgy. Our participation in the Eucharist ties us into the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our salvation.
As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the power and life of the Church. The King of Kings deserves all the glory we can render Him as He is made present again on our altars.
 
And serving the Lord at the altar should be part of a seamless life of Christian charity. The spiritual treasure we receive at Mass should inspire and inflame our hearts with charity in service to our neighbor. Indeed, the Christian’s motive for social service and justice is that Christ himself is served when we serve those in need.
 
There is no contradiction then between service at the altar of the Cross and the altar of world, for Christ died that we all might have life and have it to the full.
 
As Catholics, we are all obliged to attend Mass with a pure heart and with great praise. At the end of every Mass, we are equally challenged to bring the
Good News and the love that we have first received from Christ into the world.
 
Let us worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and remember that we serve the same Christ in both our worship and our service.
 
--Steven R. Marchand, a seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington, is scheduled to be ordained to the transitional diaconate by Bishop James F. Checchio, bishop of Metuchen, on Sept. 28 in Rome at the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican at the Altar of the Chair.
 

Originally published in Vermont Catholic magazine, Fall 2017.
 
Submitted Article

Article selections and press releases submitted for publication with Vermont Catholic.

Vermont Catholic Magazine © 2016 Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington