Since his childhood days growing up in suburban Detroit, Archbishop John Nienstedt said he has had a “love affair” with the Mass, and he hopes his first pastoral letter as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will help Catholics renew their own love for Christ in and through the liturgy.
The Mass is “a way of sitting down and telling the Lord once again, ‘Not only I but everybody in this church loves you — and you love me and you love us,’” the archbishop said during an interview Nov. 4 about his letter, “Do This In Memory of Me: The Sacred Liturgy as the Splendor of God’s Eternal Glory,” which is printed as an eight-page insert in this issue of The Catholic Spirit.
The letter is divided into sections focused on answering four questions:
- Why is the liturgy so essential to the well-being of the church?
- How can our unity in worship build up our unity as church?
- Why is it so important that we participate in the weekly celebration of the Sunday liturgy?
- Why must all we do in this great archdiocese, individually and collectively, be informed by the liturgy?
Seizing an opportunity
The letter comes as the U.S. church is preparing for the debut of the new translation of the Roman Missal on the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27. The new missal, however, was only one of the reasons the archbishop said he decided to write about the Mass at this time.
“I wanted to make a positive statement about the fact that I think we do celebrate liturgy well here in this archdiocese,” said Archbishop Nienstedt, who since arriving four years ago has made numerous pastoral visits to parishes, schools and other Catholic institutions. “I do believe that staffs and priests and religious put great effort into it.
“Now that we have this opportunity with the new missal, I think it’s not just a question of the words, as I indicated [in my Oct. 27 column in The Catholic Spirit],” he added. “The words are important obviously and the syntax is important. But can we take this opportunity to celebrate even better?”
Keeping the Lord’s Day
“Do This In Memory of Me” includes citations from the documents of the Second Vatican Council as well as the writings of Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
The letter explains the connection between the Sacred Liturgy and the church as well as the importance of unity within the church and obedience “to the rubrics and the definitive legislation concerning our common liturgical texts, actions and practices.” He also writes about the importance of Sunday Mass to the life of faith.
The letter includes Archbishop Nienstedt’s reminiscences of attending Sunday Mass as a child at his parish church.
“There, at a very young age, I knew that I was entering not just a sacred space, but what I believed to be a vision of what heaven must be like,” he writes. “Every Sunday, the eight members of my family would pile into our station wagon and drive the short distance to the 8 a.m. Mass. We sat in the second row, left hand side of the main aisle, two rows in front of my grandparents. How well I remember those days!”
Later in the letter, the archbishop recalls: “For me, the experience of attending Sunday Mass was not viewed so much as a duty, but rather as something I very much wanted to do. I might say it was a duty of the heart. . . . I looked forward to that Sunday morning worship primarily because it put me in touch with my God.”
The rest of the day was devoted to family time, Archbishop Nienstedt told The Catholic Spirit. His father cooked breakfast and later everyone in the family would sit down for a big Sunday dinner and share conversation.
In his letter, the archbishop says he realizes “there has been an incredible shift in how society views Sunday since I was growing up.”
Weekends are often filled with sports competitions, errands and appointments from morning until night, and “for many, even good Catholics, Sunday Mass can become just one more activity to fit into the schedule,” he writes.
“I believe it’s all about priorities and what’s really important,” Archbishop Nienstedt told The Catholic Spirit. “I know sports are important for young boys and young girls, but God has to be the center of our life, and it’s that Christocentric reality that we need to develop.”
Inspiring our lives
At the same time, the archbishop said, “We need to do more to allow Mass to be inspirational.” In his letter, he cites Catholic author Matthew Kelly’s suggestion to bring a journal to Mass with a cover inscribed with the question: “What’s one thing I need to do today to be a better person?”
“I think Kelly is on to something there,” Archbishop Nienstedt said during the interview. “I think if we ask that question, and it’s something we’re conscious of during Mass, we’ll pay more attention to what’s going on. We’ll pay more attention to the homily. We’ll pay more attention to the readings, and we would be inspired.”
Ultimately, he says in the letter, all we do as a local church should be informed by the Sacred Liturgy.
“Whether it is implementing our strategic plan for parishes and schools, studying the texts for the new Roman Missal, defending the family and the traditional understanding of marriage, working for peace and justice among all peoples, feeding the poor or sheltering the homeless — each of these activities should have a conscious link in our minds and hearts to what we celebrate at Mass.”