When I speak publicly about the mission of lay Catholics, I sometimes get blank stares. Assuming that I am not boring people to death, it might be that their perspective on being Catholic is focused almost exclusively on being present at the liturgy.
This is understandable. The liturgy is a manageable quantity, so to speak. We know when it starts and when it finishes. No great demands are placed on us during the liturgy, at least at the most superficial level. And then we leave and get on with life.
In fact, bishops and priests are in the same boat. Although liturgy is time consuming and though it is the heart of some cleric’s lives, it is manageable especially if the servers know what they are doing.
But the Eucharist, for example, is never described in terms of being manageable or isolated from life. Rather, it is “the source and summit of the whole Christian life.” (Vatican II) The words “the whole Christian life” are consistent with the rest of the document, which speaks of things such as: “the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join[ing] in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.”
This is relevant because I often have to deal with Catholics who, let us say, “pray on their knees on Sundays and prey on their neighbors the rest of the week.” The grotesque and highly offensive contrast between participating in the loving sacrifice of Christ at the Eucharist and the unloving sacrifice of others for one’s own advancement is disturbing to say the least.
But just on the question of being merely liturgical Catholics: no surveys in the United States show any difference between Catholics and the general population in terms of moral thinking. So I have to imagine that there are many merely liturgical Catholics.
For the most part, 24/7 Catholicism is missing. Vatican II sums up what the real thing means to lay people:
all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne – all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.
It is a life framed by love, not the emotion but the love described by Saint Paul: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8)
There is self-sacrifice in each of these actions. And self-sacrifice clashes with the daily pressure to schedule everything. We frequently face unexpected decisions that do not fit on a schedule – to help this person, to find a dollar for that person, to listen to so-and-so, to stand up and speak.
All of this is inconvenient – and even risky. But we follow someone who was crucified, and crucifixion is highly inconvenient. A good test of our level of Catholicism is whether it is inconvenient or not.
Of course, clergy face exactly the same challenge. By Baptism clergy are to be followers of Christ 24/7. Clergy have the additional office of teaching, to bridge the liturgical experience and daily life and then they have to live it out themselves. Christ did not die so that clergy could enjoy brandy and cigars, or become interior decorators. Christ died so that they could constantly preach the Gospel.
Happily, the HHS mandates now threatening religious liberty have driven some 24/7 Catholic business people to stand up publicly just as we have providentially seen generations of 24/7 Catholics building families who consecrate the world to God.
Of course, there is no guarantee that these business people will inevitably do better than those who cut corners and treat their employees like Kleenex. There are too many variables in the business world. But from many points of view, including service to their customers, the quality of life of their employees and the service of the company to society, they shine, as the 24/7 Catholic families do.
Yes, the Eucharist is an incomparable moment of grace but the rest of the day is for cooperating with that grace in the other things – all the other things – of life.