With the arrival of spring, Victorian gardens are resplendent with new life: daffodils, bluebells and snowdrops are blooming, having pushed forth from the earth to share their glory with us. Farmers have been experiencing the lambing season as new life revels in paddocks. In winter, it is easy for us to think that nothing is happening in our environment, but the coming of spring lets us know that we need to wait in the darkness and the cold before new life can bloom.
This year, Pope Francis formally inaugurated Laudato Si’ Week, from 16-24 May, which began a year dedicated to implementing the lessons from Laudato Si’, the Pope's 2015 encyclical letter which addresses our relationship with our planet and all of creation. And 1 September is the first day of spring marking the beginning of the 'Season of Creation', a month-long prayerful observance that calls the planet's 2.2 billion Christians to pray and care for God's creation. It is an ecumenical celebration among all Christians, and last year Pope Francis officially invited all Catholics to celebrate.
Through Laudato Si’ Pope Francis expands our view of what is sacramental, viewing the world as sacramental, and that through creation, we encounter God. In his book Pope Francis and the Liturgy: The Call to Holiness and Mission, Msgr Kevin Irwin, Research Professor at the Catholic University of America and scholar in Liturgical Studies and Sacramental Theology, lays the foundations of Laudato Si’’ in a ‘sacramental theology that is based on, immersed in, and a consequence of the celebration of the liturgy.’
In our liturgy, we celebrate what we believe through ritual and in turn, the liturgy shapes how we live our lives. For Msgr Kevin Irwin, Pope Francis believes that liturgy is another way of disseminating his message of mercy and care for our common home.
The Eucharist takes bread and wine – the fruit of the Earth and work of human hands – and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the priest offers the Eucharistic Prayer on our behalf, where these earthly elements become the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the words of the Sanctus, we pray …
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
How often have we heard and sung this acclamation and yet not been moved by its meaning? If heaven and Earth are full of God’s glory then why is our Earth crying out in pain, as our polar circles are melting and the temperatures of our oceans rising? There is a direct link here to the sacramental theology that Pope Francis shares in Laudato Si’ with our human actions. We need to lament our relationship with the Earth, our common home, for we have not treated it with the dignity reflected in the belief that it is filled with God’s glory. Collectively, our actions are out of sync with the words of the Eucharistic Prayer.
In the words of the Eucharistic Prayer III, we hear,
You are indeed Holy, O Lord,
and all you have created
rightly gives you praise,
for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
by the power and working of the Holy Spirit,
You give life to all things and make them holy,
and you never cease to gather a people to yourself,
so that from the rising of the sun to its setting
a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.
‘You give life to all things and make them holy’, invites us to broaden our view of sacramental theology as being larger than the seven sacraments.
Pope Francis also invites us to a greater view: that we encounter God in all of creation. This means that if we have a view that God is in all creation, Creation deserves a capital ‘C’ and how we interact with it and experience it will be revered by us, rather than being ‘used’ and in some cases abused.
Likewise, we need to more fully realise our own identities as part of this Creation. Eucharistic Prayer IV acknowledges God as the giver of all life.
It is truly right to give you thanks,
truly just to give you glory, Father most holy,
for you are the one God living and true,
existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity,
dwelling in unapproachable light;
yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is,
so that you might fill your creatures with blessings
and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.
With them we, too, confess your name in exultation,
Giving voice to every creature under heaven,
Our misuse of creation often reflects a misunderstanding of the Book of Genesis 1:28 ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth”.’
Too often we have not cared for our Earth, but exploited it for our own purposes. In Laudato Si', Pope Francis urges us to shift our understanding of how we experience God, so that we can see God in Creation and repent for how collectively we have mistreated our planet.
In that way, Laudato Si’ holds many challenges for our society, even while we experience Stage 4 lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our communities to a grinding halt and made us question how we have interacted with our planet, society and the global community.
This enforced pause has provided us with an opportunity to reflect upon our human limitations and upon a God who chose to save us through the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, who comes to us in the form of the fruit of the Earth. This pause also provides us with an opportunity to hunger for the Eucharist like we never have before; to savour the prayers of the liturgy, which will nourish and (trans)form our beliefs and behaviour, so that they are in accordance with glorifying all of God’s creation. As we enter the season of spring in 2020, may we see all of God’s creation before us in new ways.
Melbourne Catholic23 February 2021
Caritas Australia16 February 2021