World Youth Day, Liturgy, and the
New Evangelization | Dr. Leroy Huizenga | CWR
Well-formed disciples are shaped and taught through good liturgy: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi
By the measures of attendance and enthusiasm, World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, was a smashing success, as organizers report well over three million energetic youth on Copacabana Beach for the Saturday vigil and Sunday’s closing Mass. World Youth Day was conceived by John Paul II as part of his strategy for a “new evangelization,” a term he first used in 1983 in an address to Latin American bishops. As he later described in Redemptoris Missio, a “new evangelization” or a “re-evangelization” was needed “particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.”
From the first official World Youth Day in Rome in 1986, then, the events have taken place not in far-flung virgin mission fields where Christian faith has been unknown but in cities in countries of longstanding Christian tradition where the faith has been forgotten, among them Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987); Czestochowa, Poland (1991); Denver, USA (1993); Manila, Philippines (1995); Paris, France (1997); Rome (2000); Cologne, Germany (2005); and Madrid, Spain (2011). And World Youth Days have born fruit for the New Evangelization. Taken out of the narrow confines of Catholic life in their particular parishes and communities and given a grander vision of the Church universal, many younger priests, seminarians, and religious trace their vocational discernment to their attendance at a World Youth Day, while many younger laypeople claim to have discovered a deeper, or even initial, conversion to the Lord and His Church.
Mountaintop experiences do matter: they shake youth (and adults) out of the boredom of quotidian routine. But mountaintop experiences are not the norm, as Scripture attests; the theophany on Mount Sinai was not enough to sustain the people for the long term, and even after witnessing Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Peter, James, and John failed again and again. Mountaintop experiences are not enough to sustain a person, a parish, a Church. Indeed, one sees in the Gospels that even repeated encounter with Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was not always enough to sustain the disciples. But from a passage late in the Gospel of Luke, which Pope Francis presented as part of his program for the New Evangelization, we learn that moving from despair to courage for mission involves an encounter with the risen Christ in the Eucharist.
The Backbone of the New Evangelization
If encountering Christ in the Eucharist empowers mission, liturgy matters, for the Eucharist is celebrated and generally received in the Mass, now often called the eucharistic liturgy. In his prepared remarks as well as his off-the-cuff comments, Pope Francis did not mention liturgy as such. But liturgy formed the necessary subtext of many of Francis’ remarks, given his emphasis on the importance of mystery, the imperative of formation, and the graces of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Liturgy thus necessarily forms the backbone of the new evangelization.