Printer Friendly


Archbishop Rembert Weakland says that if going to Mass doesn't shake you up and cause you to reevaluate your life once in a while, then Mass hasn't done its job. He should know: He once said Mass in the private chapel of one of the world's wealthiest men, and the gospel text happened to be "Woe to you rich."

Recently, Weakland and his Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba wrote a pastoral letter to the people of Milwaukee titled Eucharist Without Walls. In it they say that the Eucharist is not for "an enclosed and complacent colony of the self-contented." "Eucharist without walls means we struggle to bring Christ to every act of our day, every doubt, every wish, every effort of unselfishness."

Weakland has been archbishop of Milwaukee since 1977, before which he was abbot primate of the Benedictine order. A distinguished musician, he studied music internationally and at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He was also a member of the Commission for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II.

The editors interview Archbishop Rembert Weakland

How did you come up with the phrase Eucharist without walls?

It's from a story by writer Andre Dubus, who was injured in an accident some years ago and lost the use of his legs. He goes to Mass and Communion every day now and then gets his exercise by wheeling around in the church parking lot, where he watches all the things that happen from the church on out. He calls the story "Love in the Morning," which is a beautiful title because it illustrates how important the Eucharist is in his life. He ends the story with this image that our church is a church without walls.

If read the newspapers in the past year, you might think that our concern about Mass is whether people do or don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, based on a few surveys have come out. Now, I do think we have to teach the Real Presence, but we don't stop there. What does the Eucharist mean beyond that, especially after you leave the church? What's that old saying, it's not what you do on Sunday, but on Monday? So we need to be looking at how the Eucharist influences what we do the rest of the week.

So how should it influence us on Monday?

If Mass doesn't challenge you every Sunday, if you don't go home perplexed sometimes about your own life, then it hasn't been the way the Eucharist ought to be.

Exactly how should the Eucharist challenge us?

The Liturgy of the Word should challenge us, for one thing. Remember that when I grew up, Catholics were technically required to be at Mass only from the Offertory until Communion. One of our great gains since Vatican II is realizing that to be challenged by the Liturgy of the Word week after week is vital. That's also one reason I'm opposed to "theme Masses"--people tend to pick texts that just reinforce where they are rather than picking texts that challenge them.

One of the most moving moments I had in my life was right before I came to Milwaukee as a bishop. I was at a monastery in Germany called Neresheim, and the abbot had asked me to say Mass the next day for the Count von Thurn und Taxis, one of the wealthiest human beings in the whole world, at one of his castles.

So the next morning I go over for Mass in the chapel of the Thurn und Taxis Castle. He had a prie-dieu up front alone, all his relatives were behind him, and in the balcony were all the servants. The gospel text for the day was "Woe to you rich." I'll never forget that. I could see the people up in the balcony smiling.

I said to myself, that's the most important part of the Eucharist--in a way, it's the most democratic process we have. We're all equals before the Lord at that moment. That's all I could think about. You might be up there in the balcony, and he might be down there at the prie-dieu, but in the sight of the Lord you've all received the same Eucharist and the same challenge, which is important.

Coming from a little hometown as I did, this was perhaps more evident to me. We had only one Catholic church. And whether you owned the bank or owned the big mill in the town, or whether you were the poor Weakland kids, we were all equal.

How do you see the state of the Eucharist today in the United States?

My great fear is that we are judging Mass on its entertainment value, not on whether it's challenging. That frightens me because of our tendency to think we have to compete with the big mega-churches that put on a great entertaining show each Sunday.

I'll probably regret saying this, but I think that the Eucharist will always be, from a performance point of view, an amateur effort, because we're all amateurs at worshiping. That's an awful thing for me to say, because it cuts against my grain. I remember once going to a monastery that I thought would have the most superb music in the world, and the choir master said to me, "Don't forget, Rembert, we're all a bunch of amateurs. We're not going to let our Divine Office become the province of just a few experts--the prayer belongs to all of us." Although I hate to say it, I do think that our entertainment will always be a bit lacking in the professional skills, because it's the prayer of the people assembled there. They're doing the praying and the performing, and therefore it will always have a certain amount of roughness. And that's what community needs.

As a musician, how do you see the state of the music at Mass?

I think we've let the liturgy become too commercialized. By that I mean that every parish feels they have to do the latest thing and buy the latest thing. Parishes are constantly pressured by commercial firms to keep buying and buying and buying. I know firms make a living on that, and I'm not against making a living. But as a result, the best doesn't stick. I see this in music all the time.

When I go to the anniversary of a big church or a bishop's installation or some big ceremony, I always look at the date of the music. And almost all the music has been written within the last couple of years. The good old things have disappeared. Just because it's new doesn't mean it's better, nor does it mean that it becomes part of people's heritage, the music that they pass on to their children.

Right now I'm meeting with a group of people to list the music we want everyone to know--a minimum repertoire--so we can preserve the best we have. I laugh to think that we bishops fight like mad over the text of the liturgy, and yet we're singing all these Lutheran hymns. After all, it's the music that stays in your mind long after the Mass.

How do you think we're doing at including social justice in the liturgy?

Our weakness here has a long history. This must have been a problem for Christians even back in the first century, because Saint Paul writes about it in his first letter to the Corinthians. I remember scripture scholar Father Ray Brown saying once, "We've got to thank God for the drunks of Corinth." Already in the early church we see that the Eucharist could become elite and lose its social-justice component.

We have to recapture what the Eucharist means in terms of social justice. The only time this becomes very evident is Holy Thursday, with the image of the washing of the feet.

We need to make sure this emphasis is a part of every Eucharist, not just one day of the year.

Why do you think this is so difficult?

I can understand how the Eucharist can become so fascinating to people that they lose these connections. If adoration becomes the sole aim of the Eucharist, as it has at some points during the history of the church, then the Eucharist loses its connection to the social-justice question.

We have to reconnect with the original concept of the Eucharist in terms of sharing. This is a difficult image for us today, because we no longer see food and sharing at meals the same way they did in the time of Christ. For us, it's picking up a sandwich on the run, and none of us go hungry. But if you think about sharing food around a table, and how important that is, that will guide us toward sharing beyond just our own table.

I think it was Saint Francis de Sales who said that the Christ we meet in the Eucharist has to recognize the Christ we meet in the poor and rejoice. We have to broaden that concept of where Christ is, so that the Eucharist reinforces it in us. A bishop once told me about his visiting a Benedictine community of nuns who had perpetual adoration of the Eucharist. One of the sisters was supposed to be in the chapel and could not be present for his visit. He said to the other nuns, "Tell her to come, and tell her that she has to see Christ in me, as difficult as it might be for her."

Saint Benedict always said you see Christ in the guest. He also said to treat the vessels of the monastery as extensions of the vessels of the altar, so that the Eucharist, then, extends to everything you have and everything you are.

What are some specific ways we can connect the Eucharist with social justice?

One way is hearing the gospel text and also the prophets of the Old Testament. They often shake me more than the gospel does at times. So we need to be challenged by that word Sunday after Sunday.

Another important aspect of the Eucharist that we've diminished, unfortunately, is the kiss of peace. This is a symbol, and like all symbols it needs to have content. But we've made it a handshake. I wonder if we shouldn't go back to a real kiss of peace--a gesture that would symbolize reconciliation and acceptance. Just kissing one person would say a lot. The sterile handshake just doesn't do it for me anymore.

Third, our awareness of the presence of Christ is central to the Eucharist. If you're aware of the presence of Christ in the Word, in the people, and in the Body and Blood, that awareness becomes part of your life and you take it with you outside of Mass.

When we, the U.S. bishops, wrote the economics pastoral in the 1980s, I got letters from all over the country reflecting on it, some in anger, some in appreciation. But I got one letter from a banker that I'll never forget. He was an elderly man, and he said, "I'm a eucharistic minister in my parish now. And after I've given out Communion on Sunday morning, I can't see people in the same way Monday morning when I go to the bank." Isn't that beautiful? When you have given people the Eucharist, you look at them differently. He said, "It's humanized me in a way that I never thought it would."

That's what it's about--the Eucharist becomes a way for us to look at other people differently. And if that happens, social-justice issues surface in a different way. That requires a new kind of training. We can't go on the same way we've done in the past, veering off toward Mass as entertainment.

And yet our culture is very focused on entertainment. So how do you invite people to come to the kind of Mass you're describing?

I have a suspicion that people are beginning to see again that the spiritual part of their being has to be nurtured. For a while there, I wasn't so sure. But the younger generation I find intensely spiritual, and they have a sense that the spiritual side of their nature has to be developed. We have to tell them that just as they eat three meals a day, they have to feed their spiritual hunger too.

How does that translate into inviting them to Mass?

You hear a lot of people ranting and raving about how everyone in our society is overly concerned about "me, me, me," but I think that's where you have to start. When I was a younger priest, I used to be very negative about this, but now I start by saying, "Yes, you are important, and your spiritual life has to be nurtured. You have to begin with yourself. But you can't do this on your own. You need to be challenged to grow, and at the same time you need other people."

When I was a kid there was a barber shop in my little hometown that had a sign in the window: "We need your head to run our business."

I never forgot that. That's not a bad motto for life--that we all need each other if we want to move ahead.

The hardest challenge is to help young people understand that community is necessary for them to grow spiritually. That's what the Eucharist is all about. It's about coming together as a community, not just hyperindividualism. I always say, I joined a big monastery because I needed a lot of people to challenge me. I couldn't live in a little community of four or five; I need the big group. And we do have to support others to be supported by others.

I tell young people that every time they're at Sunday Mass, they don't realize what a gift they are to the others by being there. When I say Mass at the cathedral and see all these young adults, their presence is a gift to me and to everyone there. So by your presence in the community, you help and support the spiritual life of everyone present, in addition to being supposed yourself. So we've got to move from a kind of personalism to a sense of growth in community. That's the tough one.

How do you combat a "consumer mentality' about worship?

I think you have to begin when people are teenagers and still idealistic. We're already doing this. Our teenagers now are much more prone to volunteer, for example, which shows that their idealism is still alive. That's the moment when you have to turn the consumer-type question on its head and keep it turned through the young-adult years.

The young adults are the ones we've neglected the most. We need to see our youth ministry as leading up to young-adult ministry. You know, adolescence is an evil to get out of, not something to perpetuate until you're 35. Certainly in Europe, Catholic movements have found a formula for attracting young adults that parishes have not discovered.

What about introducing children to the liturgy?

This is the hardest issue for me, and it's one that I have not been able to come to any resolution about. Last night I stayed up too late watching Twelfth Night on TV from Lincoln Center. I got my Shakespeare out so I could follow along and see what they omitted, what words they changed, and so on. And I got to wondering, what do you do with Shakespeare and 10-year-olds?

This question applies to our liturgy as well. We've made a children's liturgy and an adolescent liturgy and so on. Should you do that with Shakespeare or even scripture? I've been very opposed to these children's translations of scripture, for example, because if you put something in a child's brain at the age of 10, you can't tell them at the age of 16, "Now change all of that and put something else in." It's not right.

Somewhere along the line we haven't come to terms with children and liturgy. Maybe there was a lot more wisdom in the old custom of not making your First Communion until you were 13. Maybe liturgy is an adult affair. It's got adult implications, adult consequences, and maybe we have to find some other way of introducing children to it. I don't know the answer. I'm nervous about it, especially that we're not trying to do something about it.

Some parishes, with the current priest shortage, may not be able to have a weekly Mass at all. How does that affect our view of the Eucharist?

We've been spoiled in the West with the accessibility of Mass on the weekends. We've got to become more realistic. The difference, I find, between us and Third World nations is that the Third World is moving out of deprivation with the hope of abundance, whereas we're going from abundance to deprivation. That's a whole different psychology that makes everything more difficult.

When I was head of the Benedictine order, if I had a monastery of six monks who thought it was the end of the line, I'd close the monastery. But if I had six gung-ho men who were going to found a monastery, I'd cheer. It's all in the mentality. We have to keep the morale high as the numbers of priests fall and not waste our priest power.

What we're really telling people is that the Eucharist is very important. But at the same time, we're worried about not being able to provide it. Maybe that's a good tension. Maybe we'll find other solutions down the road. But the hunger has to stay, otherwise we won't find the solution.

What is the connection between evangelization and the Eucharist?

Evangelization has to work on three levels. First, every one of us has to be constantly evangelized. Every so often, for example, I'll read a scripture text that just hits me. And I'll say, I've been reading that for 50 years, and it never hit me before. When I was a young priest, I never, ever preached on Hebrews. But recently we've been hearing Hebrews Sunday after Sunday, and I think, wow, this is powerful stuff that I wasn't ready for back then. The same thing with Revelation. I was so afraid of preaching on Revelation, but now I can say, maybe there's something here that I have to think about. The gospel has to continue to hit us.

The second level of evangelization is being Good News to others. I'm not talking about proselytizing here but just about presenting the gospel. We cannot use gimmicks or brainwashing or put psychological pressure on people. We have to proclaim the Good News but not use unfair means. I'm convinced that we do this more by who we are than by what we say. Example is the key.

But somewhere along the line, our church has failed to connect the Eucharist and doctrine with that example of being the Good News. We have probably never done so much good work as we are doing now in the Catholic Church, but people don't see any connection between these good works and our faith. We've got to help people, even those we serve, to see that this is a faith expression, not just a philanthropic good deed that we're doing. We must do a better job of showing that our social-justice work, our advocacy as well as our charity, are expressions of our faith. That would be a significant way to evangelize people.

The third area that needs attention is what we now call evangelizing the culture. We don't live in a vacuum, and our faith has to find some kind of outward expression.

The cultural world we live in either supports that faith or hinders it. A few decades ago, support would come from our ethnic background, the ethnic parishes we belonged to, our extended families, and many of the other Catholic cultural things that supported who and what we were as Catholics. That support system has eroded in the United States since World War II, and now people have very little cultural support for their Catholicism. So when Pope Paul VI talked about evangelizing the culture, I think he was talking about how the Catholic faith finds its expression in that culture.

Think about it: Identifiable Catholic culture is very scarce today. Thomas Merton is one of the few figures that Catholics can hang on to as an expression of Catholic culture that they're not ashamed of. I read every Catholic author I can get my hands on, and I can't say I'm nurtured by many of them. Evangelizing the culture means trying to give people a religious support system in a world that's not always easy to navigate. That involves literature, art, music.

Some people claim that we've lost a sense of mystery in the Mass. What do you think?

We can't reclaim mystery artificially by making up new rules; the only way to reclaim it is to help people understand the symbols. About 30 years ago I read a great interview with Federico Fellini, the Italian film director. He was asked, "If you had to stage an encounter between the human person and God, how would you do it?" What a great question. Fellini, who talked as he thought, started out by saying, "Well, I'd probably stage it like a Shakespeare play." And then he said, "No, that wouldn't work." Next he said, "Although I love them, I certainly wouldn't use an old-fashioned church, because they're so warm that it becomes a womb, and when you leave it's too shocking." So, he said, "I'd probably have a space in which there would be one symbol of Christ and where everybody would be aware of everybody else."

Now, isn't that like designing a church? Where you have the one symbol of Christ at the altar and then have everybody aware of everybody else? I think our problem is that people aren't aware of the symbol, and they're not aware of each other. I tell people, when you go to church, look around. When I was a kid, you weren't supposed to be looking at anybody. But now I say, look around, because the mystery is also in the people, all gathered around that same altar.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Claretian Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Archbishop Rembert Weakland
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Previous Article:10 Ways to improve your prayer life.
Next Article:Three Mile Islands to go before we sleep.

Related Articles
All in all we need another breach in the wall.
Who will follow (George) Carey?
Life after Canterbury unlikely to be retiring (for George Carey).
Primates decline to support same-sex rites: statement not a repudiation: peers.
Divisions over same-sex blessings deepen over 'illegal' actions.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters