We are calling this Sunday morning Faith formation program Faith in Mission because we want to focus on the critical role the laity plays in the work of the Church Militant, the Church of the people who are alive in the world. As Catholics, we believe the fullness of the Church includes the Saints in Heaven, which we call the Church Triumphant, the Souls in Purgatory, which we call the Church Suffering, and the people of faith on Earth, which we call the Church Militant.
The Church Triumphant are those souls who have arrived in their Heavenly home, and Death lost its battle for their souls. The Church Suffering are those souls who died and are on their way to Heaven but still have to make satisfaction for the sins they committed while alive on Earth. Death has lost the battle here, and the souls are completing their preparation for being with God and beholding him in all his glory in Heaven. The Church Militant is us: people who claim Christ and try to serve him and love him as he deserves. We have received the sanctifying grace of Baptism, and we are supposed to spend the rest of our lives growing in holiness so we can be with God in Heaven when we die. Death has not yet given up the fight for our souls, which is why the fighting imagery is appropriate for our condition.
Over the next few sessions, we will examine the reasons why we chose Faith and Mission as our program title, but today we can introduce them as the tools we need to do the job we were given upon our baptism. We need to know our faith, and we will certainly spend a good amount of time on the faith the church confesses, but knowing the doctrines and practices of the church is only part of our call as lay people in the world. We need to know what we are to do with that knowledge, and we need to know how to use it, when to use it, and where to do our ministry, our apostolate.
I’m going to use the term apostolate rather than ministry because lay people are not ministers but they are apostles. So let’s take a look at that last statement. What can I mean when I say, lay people are not ministers but they are Apostles? I mean that the ministerial clerical state is not the same as the lay state but the lay people are – just like the ordained ministers – called to a vocation. From the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium, we are told that there is a universal call to holiness. How the various parts of the church live out their call to holiness will differ, but every baptized catholic christian shares in that one call.
For example, Bishop Jones is the pastor of his diocese. He is the shepherd of his flock. Jesus was speaking to him when he spoke to St. Peter at the end of the Gospel of John and said, “if you love me, feed my sheep.” The imagery of a shepherd can be a guide for any bishop trying to be a holy bishop: he cares for his flock, he feeds his flock, he protects his flock from external threats, he guards against internal threats and removes them when he finds them, he goes after the lost sheep and rejoices when it is found.
Father Smith is called to offer the sacraments, reverently praying the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and offering Absolution of sins in the confessional, but also conferring grace through the sacrament of baptism and anointing of the sick. All these basic activities of the Priest can be done in a holy way or in an irreverent way. So, the priests live out the universal call to holiness in a specific way on account of their priestly vocation as they offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God for the people, and serve in the person of Christ to be a channel of his grace to his people.
The deacons are ordained to service, at the altar in service to the priest, and outside the sanctuary in service to the people in whatever way the Lord, through the bishop and his priests, deems needed. In this ministry of adult Faith formation, I am serving as a deacon according to what the bishop and my pastor have asked me to do.
The bishop can be a loving father to his priests and care for his diocese in all the little and unremarkable ways of episcopal service, or he can choose other priorities. Father can administer the sacraments in a reverent way or not; it is in these activities that he will respond to the universal call to holiness. The Deacon can serve at the altar reverently or not. He can prepare carefully for his other service ministries or just wing it. But that is how he will respond to his call, by serving or ministering to the people of his parish and diocese.
People who are not ordained are not absolved of the universal call to Holiness and the service that Holiness entails. It’s just different from the call of the ministerial clerical state. It is certainly not less important. Everyone should keep at the forefront of their minds that the apostolate of the laity and the apostolate of the ministerial clergy are of the same worth in the eyes of the Lord. Just because you and I are not priests and therefore cannot confect the Eucharist, that doesn’t mean our role in God’s plan for Humanity is in any other way less than the role of an ordained priest. A great number of the saints and Doctors of the Church were not priests or bishops, and here our parish patron saint should spring to mind. We are all called. We are all Apostles even if we are not all ministers.
Notice in the quote from Lumen Gentium that growth in holiness depends upon receiving Gods’s gifts and then cooperating with his will. This is an active call. And Scripture confirms that this call is not reserved to a few but is for everyone.
Perhaps you have noticed I have been using the terms Apostle and apostolate, and you might wonder why. Apostle comes from the Greek language, and it means someone who is sent. Remember from the gospels how Jesus sent the Twelve out two by two to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick. They were sent. They were apostles. Later, after the resurrection, he sent them on a global Mission: To Jerusalem, the whole of Judea, and even to the ends of the world.
Apostles are sent people, and our English word has Greek origins. But our church is the Roman Catholic Church, and the official language of our church is Latin. That is why we are called the Latin Rite Catholic Church. In the dogmatic constitution on the liturgy, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council gave permission to say some parts of the Mass in the vernacular, so an English community might hear the gospel proclaimed in English and the Polish parish might hear Polish. As was so common after the Council, people who were given an inch took a mile. So now we have English Masses and Spanish Masses where perhaps not one word of Latin is ever heard. Thankfully, that is not the case here at St. Catherine’s.
Even in English, we call our central liturgy “The Mass.” Did you ever wonder why? It’s almost entirely prayed in English, but we still call the thing Mass, which comes from the Latin word missa which is the Latin equivalent of the Greek word apostolos, which means sent. The English word mission is from the same Latin word. As lay people, you have a mission. It is the last thing you hear at Mass. And it is why we call the source and summit of our faith the Mass.
Missionaries are people sent with a purpose to share the good news with people who have not really heard it yet. And that’s what the lay people are. They are missionaries, sent to share the good news. How do we know this? It is the very last thing you hear from the sanctuary at Mass. The Deacon says in Latin ite missa est. In English, “go forth, the mass is ended.” Sometimes you’ll hear, “go, glorifying the Lord in your lives.” But the connection to Mission is much clearer when you translate the Latin plainly. Ite Missa est is simply “GO, it is the sending.”
What a great reminder to the people of God sitting in the pews of their vocation: Go! You are sent! You are a sent people. You are the branches, still connected to the vine for sustenance but expected to bear fruit. You are a people giving thanks, a people of Faith with a mission. Your mission is to take the graces you received by participating in the sacrifice of the Mass and share those graces with the people who were not there.
As a permanent deacon, I am also working in the world, and I share in that call to infect the world with gospel values by how I live my daily life at work and in my family. Marriage is my first vocation, and serving as a deacon can never become more important than my calling to glorify God as a husband and a father to my wife and to my children. So, even as I tell you to go, I am also telling myself to go. But father stays. His call is to the ministerial priesthood, and he gives up the good of traditional secular family life for his Priestly call. He is the vine, and we are the branches. He stays near the church so he can offer the mass, baptize our children, hear our confessions, and anoint us when we are gravely ill. We don’t want him to go because we want him to be here when we come to church to be renewed and refreshed in the sacramental life.
So, Father is not sent out into the world but stays here like a gardener tending the garden to keep it beautiful so we can savor it when we need renewal. For this reason, we certainly cannot outsource to the priests the job of bringing the Light of Christ to the world that is darkened by sin and ignorance. The world needs Jesus but it doesn’t know Jesus because the world turned its back on him and has now forgotten what it once knew about him. The world needs Jesus, but it doesn’t remember him enough to recognize that it needs him. So, if not Father, why not us?
The world needs missionaries, and we have over two thousand lay people in our parish and two priests. So we know who can go out into the world and share the good news. It’s us. We are a sent people. We are missionaries. This is our mission.
In future sessions, we will return to the themes of Faith and Mission. If we are sent, we need to know where. We need to know what. We need to know what we are seeking to complete our mission. We need to know our faith. Our faith in mission.
There are many good books that are sources of knowledge about the Catholic faith and other good books that can encourage us as we try to follow our vocation to holiness in our lay apostolate. In fact, we have some for sale in our renovated store just down the hall.
The primary sources for what we talk about during our time together Sunday mornings will be the books of the Bible. The Bible is the word of God. We accept it as it was given to us, and we believe it is the word God chose for us to hear through the human writers he inspired. We will definitely go through how what we know as the Bible came into its current form, for that is the kind of question all of us might encounter if we dare to reveal that we are Catholic Christians.
The Bible is a fixed anchor, part of God’s good news that is never updated. Even if we find certain imagery confusing or out of date, we do not change Scripture. It is not a book; it is truly God’s word.
Sacred Tradition is the unwritten teachings of the Apostles handed down from them to us through the centuries. Sacred Tradition is the Church applying the unchanging and complete revelation in Jesus Christ to the dynamic environments in which the Church lives out its mission. This can be a very confusing subject even for Catholics but especially for our Protestant friends who were told that the Bible alone is the authoritative source of all Christian teaching.
Various people at various times wrote down what the Church was grappling with, and those closest to Jesus and the Apostles are called the Fathers. You will also come across the word Patristics, which is the same thing. The Patristic period ends about 700 years after the Crucifixion, but wise and deep thinkers kept on. Some of these men and women were later judged to be so wise that their teachings are especially worthy of study, and we call them the Doctors of the Church. Our parish patron saint, St. Catherine of Siena, is a Doctor of the Church.
The fourth pillar of our program is sometimes the hardest to grasp because it is the prayer books we use in our public liturgies. For people raised in the modern world with its fascination with anything new, respect for old and familiar things because they are old and familiar is a challenging proposition. But this is how things used to be.
We must be able to defend how we pray because how we pray is linked to what we believe. You’ve probably heard the term “lex orandi lex credendi” from Fr. Neil. This is what he was talking about. So we will want to go over the liturgy, where it came from and how it changed or did not change over the centuries.
Finally, a point on the structure of our Sunday morning sessions. I want to have an opportunity to present some material. I also want us to have some time for questions and comments. Some Sundays I will be serving at the 7:30 Mass, and others I might be serving at the 10am Mass. So we will plan on me leaving at 9:45. If we gather for tasty treats after 7:30 Mass, and I start talking a few minutes before 9, then we should have 20 minutes or so for question and answer. Our program should cover areas that you believe are important, and those will come up naturally during our discussions.