By Frank Wessling
In a few days the seasons will change. Spring goes, summer comes, and our mood shifts — at least it does here in the clearly seasonal Midwest. Then comes autumn, followed by winter, then another spring and the cycle repeats in annual rhythm.
We notice these changes and arrange our lives to flow with that rhythm, shedding the long sleeves in the freedom of summer and bringing out the skis and parkas in winter.
Another rhythm is available to us as Catholics, but that seasonal cycle can pass without our noticing. It doesn’t impose itself as climate and weather do: our spirits can be unaffected. It only invites quietly — so quietly that we can easily miss entire seasons, as when Advent is lost in the long, loud clamor of the commercial “Christmas season” and Christmas itself is reduced to one short day of material feasting.
The seasons of Christian faith are marked out in church as the Mass weaves our attention through the drama of Jesus’ life. Every year this cycle takes us from the Time of Anticipation, just prior to the Christmas eruption of God-with-us, through his entry into ministry, Lent and the journey through rejection and death to Resurrection, and the long Ordinary season of showing the various faces and actions of Gospel, or the Good News of our opening to eternal life.
Like a good rock opera, a regular drumbeat of central energy in the Mass keeps urging us out of our skin, out of whatever limits us, and into the explosive freedom of life in Christ. This central beat of every Mass is the commemoration of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. The reason we are there is to lose ourselves in that beat and become one with the One who gives all.
The kingdom of God is made of such action.
If we don’t notice this drama playing out in regular cycles, and if we aren’t affected by that self-transcending drumbeat in our lives, it may be because the liturgy we’re accustomed to is poorly done. After all, liturgy is drama and should be done well by all the performers.
But even the best liturgy requires an awake, attentive and aware assembly. As the assembly of faith we have a role. We are participants, not an audience. It’s obvious that we participate with a small script of responses and postures, but our principal action is an attentive spirit.
Some of the words and actions in the Mass can change, and they will again as the season of Advent begins late this year. Our primary role as the body of faith won’t change, though. We will still need to open our hearts, our minds and our ears to the drama, to bring a spirit of reception that releases all our desires from the limits of what we know. We come to church with those limits and we may go home again unchanged, which seems like such a waste.
Our full, active participation makes a world of difference. This is true not only for the day, but for a sense of the seasonal spiritual drama in Christ that makes a year more interesting.