Note: This letter is a response to Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese's pastoral letter “Gather Faithfully Together.” The letter is available on his arhdiocese's Web site; click here to read it. If you want to come back to this page when you're done, simply click your browser's “Back” button.

“New Wine Into Fresh Wine Skins” 

The Role of the Celebrating Community At the Table Of the Lord

  Your Eminence Cardinal Mahony, brothers and sisters in the ministry of Christ: 

 I thank you for your enthusiastic welcome. That gracious introduction reminds me of what I would tell seminarians when I taught the Book of Genesis: Everything in the story of creation is true, but it all didn’t happen. 

 The people of Los Angeles have always demonstrated great resourcefulness. You have handled earthquakes, mud slides, brush fires, the O.J. Trial, and now you are bracing yourselves for El Niño. And so, I have a question for you. What can provoke more change, stir up more storms, cause more commotion and be more threatening than El Niño? The answer: Liturgists. 

 I would like to preface my address with a word of gratitude to all of you that are engaged in the liturgical ministry of the Church, especially at the parish level. I think of parish liturgy coordinators and liturgy committee members, music ministers and Eucharistic ministers, readers and servers, greeters and ushers. I think of my brother priests, who act in the person of Christ when celebrating the liturgy and deacons who are the visible sign of Christ the Servant. The liturgy is the exercise of the priesthood of Christ and all of us -- the entire celebrating community -- participate in Christ’s priesthood 1. In the name of God’s people, I affirm and commend you for your work and witness, in furthering the liturgical revival of the Second Vatican Council. 

 A Christ-centered people is a Eucharist-centered people. You are the ones who have taught and led God’s people to that truth. You are the ones who have made the liturgy vibrant and vital in the lives of your people. 

Sunday liturgy is the heart of the parish. Sunday liturgy is the privileged place for our encounter with God and the Son whom God sent, Jesus Christ. You have struggled each weekend to produce full, conscious and active participation by all the people in a culture that dislikes community celebration -- in a culture that promotes individualism, a Lone Ranger mentality -- in a culture indifferent to transcendence and mystery -- in a culture that seeks an entertainment model, with the assembly as audiences and ministers as performers. Against this backdrop, you have taken the renewal and reforms of Vatican II to the people with great success. However, you know from firsthand experience, that liturgical renewal is far from complete and still is wanting in many parishes. 

 Despite all the ritual reforms of the past thirty years, we are still missing, at times, spiritual renewal -- the transformation of attitudes -- the deeper understanding of the sacred mysteries intended by ritual reforms. The Archbishop of Los Angeles understands this pastoral problem and has proposed a pastoral solution in “Gather Faithfully Together -- a Guide for Sunday Mass.” 

 My purpose today is to motivate you, excite you, and enable you in taking responsibility for implementing one of the finest pastoral letters I have ever read. “Gather Faithfully Together” offers a pastoral vision that can set on fire every faith community that gathers around the Lord’s table to celebrate Sunday Eucharist. This archdiocese has reason to be proud of the author of this pastoral letter, your own, Cardinal Roger Mahony. 

 How do we make the words of this pastoral letter come alive? How do we put flesh on its bones? How do we make the vision into reality? Brazilian Bishop Helder Camara has said, “When one dreams alone, there is only a dream, but when we dream together, we have the beginning of reality.” That is what we are about today. Cardinal Mahony’s vision and plans for revitalized Sunday Mass are only a dream, a concept, a vision, a hope, a challenge. But today, with the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will begin to dream together, plan together, work together, and we will have the beginning of a lived reality. 

 When it comes to motivating people I think of the old Southern preacher who looked out at the people in the pews. They looked disheartened, disillusioned, dejected. Maybe it was after a long, revival-type sermon on sin. But he picked up the Bible, thumbed through the pages, waved it above his head shouting “I’ve looked in the back of the book and you know, we win, we win!” We need to look in the back of the Bible and understand Christ has conquered. Christ will come again in glory. We are on the side of the winner. With Christ we can do anything. If there are new problems in our day and age, there are also new helps and graces. We can breathe new life into our liturgical celebrations. We have good reason to hope. Hope is the courage under pressure. Hope is the art of perseverance. Christian hope says, put aside your negative attitudes, put aside your well-meaning excuses and practical objections and let the Lord have the last word, which will always be a word of victory, a word of alleluia. Let his spirit empower and unite us that we might do a great service for the Lord and be instruments of new life for our liturgical celebrations. When one dreams alone, there is only a dream, but when we dream together, we have the beginning of reality. 

 I have entitled this keynote presentation: “New Wine into Fresh Wineskins.” This is a biblical reference to Matthew 9,17, where Jesus says: “People do not put new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the (old) skins burst ... rather they pour new wine into fresh wineskins.” Matthew uses the word “old” and “fresh” to contrast Judaism and Christianity. The new wine stands for the Gospel and the old skins represent those who blindly defend the ways of the past; those who are closed to new ideas, those incapable of acquiring new, fresh ideas. Jesus is saying in effect, every attempt to blend the good news of the Gospel with Judaic legalism is doomed to failure. Jesus did not reject the Old Testament, but the religious practices of his time as fostered by Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus is saying, people are standing on the threshold of a decisive hour of history. The Kingdom of God has arrived. Turn to God and believe in the Good News. The rigid Judaism of the Scribes and Pharisees is unsuited to receive Christ’s new teachings. And so Jesus says, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins.” The pressure of the fermenting wine would break the old wineskins. “New wine goes into fresh wineskins.” 

 The Second Vatican Council gave us new wine in its reform and renewal of the sacred liturgy. This new wine launched a liturgical revival that brought to us the vernacular, the restoration of the role of the assembly with full, conscious and active participation. The new wine restored the prayer of the faithful and restored the Eucharistic cup to the assembly. This new wine gave us the Church defined as people of God and lay people in various liturgical ministries. This new wine restored for us the preeminent role of sacred Scripture, and opened the storehouse of Scripture in the three-year cycle of biblical readings. This new wine led to the renewal of biblical preaching, the restoration of noble simplicity in liturgical rites, ecclesial recognition of liturgical adaptation and inculturation, and the reform of liturgical books. Our people have tasted this new wine and found it to be very good. 

 We are using the new liturgical forms, but often we are not using the new liturgical principles that go along with the new rites. We have “new wine” but we are using “old skins.” One of the purposes of Cardinal Mahony’s pastoral letter is to enable us to have a greater ownership of the liturgical principles behind the new forms of worship. In fact, the “new” is not new. It is a return to an older, more authentic tradition in the life of the Church. What this pastoral letter promotes is really a call to go back to the early Church, to the living liturgy. The pastoral letter directs us to recapture the spirit of the first Christians in the celebration of the Eucharist. The early Christians knew that liturgy was the “work of the people” -- the celebrating community. Liturgy gave them meaning and purpose. Liturgy gave them strength and courage to be followers of Christ. 

 To recapture that Spirit we must go back to the early Church, to those who stood closest to Christ and the apostolic Church. “Back to the early Church” is the guide of all reforms and the watchword of all renewal. To understand the Church at any point in her 2000-year history we must always return to this formative period. This is the apostolic era, the time immediately following Jesus’ return to the Father, the time when the infant Church was groping to understand its mission. The New Testament is our source book for the words and works of Jesus. Among the authors of the New Testament, St. Paul was the first to write. In the year 55 Paul wrote a letter to the church of Corinth. In this letter (1 Corinthians 11,23-26) Paul gives us the earliest account of the institution of the Eucharist. Paul refers to a liturgical rite which has been “received from the Lord.” 

 The first three Gospels also record the living tradition of the early Church’s liturgical practice. They describe the gestures and words repeated at each celebration. The same four words in the same sequence mark all the biblical accounts, namely: 

 1. Jesus took bread, then a cup of wine 

 2. He gave thanks pronouncing the blessing 

 3. He broke the bread 

 4. He gave the bread and cup to His disciples 

 The use of these four key words suggest that the writers were repeating a memorized text, one they were familiar with from celebrating the Eucharist. 

 “Do this in memory of me” -- What does this mean? What is the “this” of the command of Jesus? He “took” his very self -- by his “yes” to the Father, by his Incarnation, and by his mission and ministry to the world and offered himself to his Father. He “blessed” his life -- by his constant reference to and praise of the Father. He “broke” his life by his service and most of all by his passion and death. He “gave” his life to his Church and to the world for its salvation. 

 In taking, blessing, breaking and giving of the bread and of the cup, Jesus was acting out ritually what his life was all about. He asks us to “do this in memory of me.” So the Eucharist is an action out of what we will do “through Him, with Him, and in Him.” 

 “Do this ... “ means Take. Bless. Break. Give -- your life, yourself, your parish, your Church -- in memory of and in the image and likeness with the Lord Jesus. 

“Do this in memory of me.” Has there ever been another command so faithfully obeyed? For 2000 years Christians of every race and nationality have gathered around the Lord’s table to fulfill that command. For 2000 years Christians from every continent and country have assembled on the Lord’s day to break bread. Christians from every walk of life have gathered around the Lord’s table in magnificent stone cathedrals and bamboo mission chapels. They have celebrated Eucharist in parish churches and private homes, in prisons and schools, in hospitals and nursing homes, in open fields and on top of mountains, on ships and on the hoods of jeeps during war. In times of persecution, the early Christians came together around the Lord’s table in catacombs, burial places beneath the ground. Even today persecuted Christians in China have gone “underground” celebrating Eucharist in secret places on makeshift altars. Week by week, month by month for 20 centuries, Christians have met Christ -- Risen. Alive, and present to us in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. 

 “Do this in memory of me” -- with 2000 years of experience the Church knows the meaning of these words. And so contemporary Christians come to the Lord’s table; they come from condos and shelters, from urban and suburban homes, from farm houses and tenements, neatly-dressed professionals and shabbily-clad homeless, rich and poor, young and old, saints and sinners, prominent parishioners and social outcasts. They come to the Lord’s table where all divisions and differences cease. You and I are among them. We come to dine with Jesus and receive Him as food and drink, the abundance of life. If we are willing to be transformed, we will become what we celebrate and receive -- the Body of Christ, His presence in our world. 

 “Do this in memory of me: Do we fulfill these words with the same Eucharistic faith as those who ushered in the first millennium? To what extent do we imitate the sacramental practices of the early Church? Do we come to the Lord’s table with the same courage and conviction, with the same eagerness and enthusiasm, as the first Christians? Are we, the contemporary disciples of Christ, a Eucharist-centered people? 

 The Acts of the Apostles, the history book of the early Church, describes the life of the first Christians in these words: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to prayers” (Acts 2:42). The New Testament clearly shows the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the early Church. They were “doing this” in memory of Jesus. 

 Unfortunately, during he Middle Ages there was a progressive decline in the Latin rite with reference to active participation of the faithful in the Eucharist. An increasing distance developed between sanctuary and nave. During the Middle Ages, we saw the abandonment of the faithful of bringing gifts to be offered during the Eucharist. We saw the use of a liturgical language increasingly different from that spoken by the people. Chanting became the prerogative of trained bodies of singers and cantors. The choir replaced the congregation. All these factors turned the laity into spectators so passive, that liturgical books no longer even mentioned the presence of the laity. 

In two years and three months we will celebrate the year 2000, the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity. On New Year’s Eve 2000, Christians around the world will inaugurate a year of jubilee, “a year of the Lord’s favor.” We make clocks and calendars, but only God makes all times and seasons. Only God makes the seconds and minutes and hours. Only God makes the days and weeks, the months and years. God has given us time -- time to love Christ -- time to meet Christ in the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread -- time to fulfill the Lord’s command at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.” 

 Thanks to the movement of the Holy Spirit, Vatican Council II brought about a reform of the Eucharistic liturgy. On April 3, 1969, Pope Paul VI promulgated the Roman Missal revised by decree of the Second Vatican Council. This document introduced a restored order of mass which was accompanied by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. These documents stress the active participation of the faithful. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, we read: “The celebration of the mass, the action of Christ and the people of God, arrayed hierarchically, is for the universal church and the local church ... the center of the whole Christian life.” 

 What does it mean to be a priestly people, a celebrating people in today’s culture? How do we teach Eucharist as a meal to families who rarely eat together? No one can escape being conditioned by the culture in which we live. No one can remain untouched by the mentality, the intellectual climate of our contemporary culture. If our liturgy is to be intelligible, if it is to speak effectively to our age, it must speak in the language of our culture. We must be ever conscious that liturgy has two dimensions, divine and human, unchanging and changeable. What is of divine institution is unchangeable, but the signs and rites and language created by humans can grow old and outmoded and often need to be revised and updated. We need to recall the words of Pope John XXIII: “The liturgy must not become a relic in a museum but remain the living prayer of the Church.” And, I would add, in the living language of God’s people. 

 Americans are a practical people. Our budgets often reflect our priorities. Do our budgets show the priority of worship? Does the deployment of personnel show the priority of worship? If we believed the words of Vatican II, that the liturgy is the summit and source of Christian life, we might well have to rewrite our parish vision statements and reestablish the centrality of Eucharist in the shepherding of God’s people. 

Liturgical reform and renewal have been well established. Those who want to turn back the clocks are few, but vocal. There may be some setbacks but there can never be an undoing of the work of an Ecumenical Council of the Church. Many who reject the liturgical reforms, do so because of our past failure to provide an adequate catechesis. The pastoral letter before you provides a renewed catechesis on the nature of liturgy. The way we celebrate liturgy is the way we catechize our people. Cardinal Mahony’s Guide to Sunday Mass gives hope to all liturgical ministers. 

Listen to the words of Pope John Paul II: “Do not fear to take up your role in the Church. It has need of you. You are the Church. Place your talents at its service and help to create vibrant Communities.” Let us do this by pouring new wine into fresh wine skins. 

What remains to be done? The liturgy must be moved from something the priest does alone, from one activity among hundreds of things the parish does to the primary activity of the parish. The liturgy must be the primary focus for all people, all day, all year, all cultures, all languages. We can do nothing better than to give thanks and praise. If there is to be peace and justice, service to the poor and the elderly, Christian education and formation, schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, these will be fed by a meaningful celebration of the liturgy. 

 At a time when people are expected to live longer, perhaps in nursing homes, and residences for the elderly, we must increase our ministry to this segment of the Body of Christ: the elderly Body of Christ! At a time when our youth are exposed to a broader spectrum of life by means of the electronic media, television, computers, travel, etc., we must make special efforts to impact the youthful Body of Christ and make youth part of every Sunday Eucharistic celebration. Catechesis is to end in conversion of heart. Priority must be given to the catechesis of our youth so that they can hear and respond to the voice of the Lord, rather than to the multitude of other worldly voices. The best of our catechetical methods must be used with the young people. A book and a chalkboard limp in comparison to other methods of communication. Imagine what the transformation of the “youth culture” would mean to the Church, to the world. Music is key to attracting youth to the Lord’s table. Church music needs to have some of the sounds and instrumentation and beats that catch young people’s ears. 

In each Eucharistic Prayer we pray not only for a transformation of the bread and wine, but for a transformation of ourselves through the Eucharist. Each Eucharistic celebration should bring an intensification of our transformation into Christ which began in baptism. Each Eucharistic celebration should produce a deeper understanding of what discipleship means. The Eucharist sustains the baptized and keeps alive the gift given in baptism. 

 Why do people today go to Mass? Why did the early Christians go to Eucharist? For the same reason, survival. We cannot make it in this world without divine help. We cannot make it on our own. We live today in a secular culture, just as the early Christians did. Our work environment, our home environment, our music, our entertainment, our shopping malls, our media, often do not reflect the values of Christ. We cannot escape our culture. To witness to the faith, we need a strong support group. We need people who share the same values and attitudes as ourselves. For the Church, the gathering at Sunday Mass must be what it was for the early Christians, a support group. The early Christians gathered around the Lord’s table to be strengthened for their next contact with the secular culture of their day. The Eucharist was the launching pad which sent them forth with new grace and guidance. When Christians were bruised and battered and broken by the world around them, they came to the Eucharist to be fortified and encouraged. We need participation in the Sunday Eucharist more than ever so that we might have God’s support and strength for our faith-journey. We cannot make it on our own. 

 How do we as disciples of Christ maintain a Christian identity in our contemporary world? How do we survive in a world no longer Christian? How do believers keep faith and remain faithful to Christ in a culture of unbelief? What is the greatest help we have to reach heaven? The answer to all these questions is the Eucharist. We gather around the Lord’s table with the assembly on the Lord’s day and renew our baptismal commitment and eat the bread that is broken and drink the cup that is shared. That has been the right answer for 2000 years. 

All of us here know that liturgy is the focal point of our faith. All of us here work hard to make liturgies inspiring and invigorating. All of us have heard the memorable words of Vatican II, that liturgy is “the summit tower which all the Church activity is directed, and at the same time, the source from which all her power flows.” 2 These words are in our head and in our heart, but do these memorable words reflect the lived reality in our parishes? Are all of the parish activities directed toward the liturgy? Do parishioners see the liturgy as the one source from which all the Church’s power flows? St. Thomas Aquinas put it very concretely. He said the purpose of all pastoral effort is to lead to the Eucharist. That means: all teaching and counseling, all food pantries and soup kitchens, all charitable work, all care of the sick, all evangelization, all administration, all fund-raising, all youth work, all religious education, all ministries lead to the table of the Lord. All are directed to the table of the Lord. And from this table of the Lord goes forth divine life, flowing back into all our pastoral efforts and parish ministries. Is this the perception in our parishes? Are we a Eucharist-centered people? 

Theologically, we know that the Eucharist is the center and the heart of the Church. But do church-life and our faith-lives reflect this? Liturgically, we know that we are not to be spectators or strangers at the Eucharist. But what is our experience at Eucharist? Would we say that those around the table of the Lord fully, consciously and actively participate? Pastorally, we know we care for more of God’s people at liturgy than at any other time, but do we see all of our pastoral efforts linking to the Eucharist and flowing from the Eucharist? In other words, to what extent do we celebrate a living liturgy? The shepherd of this archdiocese knows the implications of this question and has proposed a thoughtful answer -- an answer that now becomes the priority of this local Church. The Cardinal’s pastoral letter notes the many practices and principles that can be applied in our parishes for the improved celebration of Sunday Mass. That application is to be our work even if other work must be put aside over these years that take us to the Jubilee year. That’s leadership. That’s establishing priority. That’s focusing on the heart of the matter. The pastoral letter of Cardinal Mahony seeks the transformation of the entire parish community. This celebrating community has the responsibility of making Sunday worship come alive and of helping produce the experience of God. 

 Californians have a close familiarity with good wine. Your grape vineyards produce some of the world’s best wines. The pastoral letter before you represents more good wine. All of us have the responsibility of sharing this good wine and helping the celebrating community at Sunday Mass. A parish is alive when its liturgy is alive. A parish draws its life from the liturgy. A parish lives from the liturgy and through the liturgy. 

“Do this in memory of me.” To fulfill these words of Christ, we need to recall the liturgical principle: The Church makes the Eucharist and Eucharist makes the Church. What do these words mean? As the celebrating assembly, the Church makes the Eucharist. All the baptized participate in the priestly function of Christ and are appointed for the celebration of divine worship. The priest, acting in the person of Christ, the head of the Church, together with the assembly, the people of God, the Body of Christ, makes the Eucharist. By reason of his ordination, the priest, acting as a representative of Christ, with the assembly fulfills the words of Christ: “Do this in memory of me.” Priests do not do this alone but in union with other members of the Body of Christ. Together they, the local expression of the Church, make Eucharist. Thus the Church becomes concrete in the parish. The parish, the priests and the community of parishioners are the Church, Christ’s body here and now in microcosm. This is the church that makes the Eucharist. 

 When we say the Eucharist makes the Church, we mean Christ gives us all that He won on the bloody cross and in the empty tomb. The Church applies the salvation of Christ merited by His passion and death. And in so doing, the Eucharist gives life, the abundance of life, divine life. The Eucharist makes the Church in the sense that the Eucharist builds up the Body of Christ, the assembly. Christ in the Eucharist brings the Christian to perfection in such a way that the Christian no longer lives but Christ lives in that person. St. Paul says: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” Gal. 2:20. We who receive the Body of Christ become His Body in the world. The Eucharist makes the Church by fortifying, nurturing and strengthening the members of the Church, binding us to the Lord and uniting us as members of the one Body of Christ. 

 A living liturgy builds community. A living liturgy can transform a parish, a neighborhood, a culture. We have evidence of this from the early Church. To do this, a living liturgy must be open to the signs of the times, to the cry of the poor, to the need for social justice, to the plight of minorities and women. Living liturgy goes beyond the sanctuary and church doors. It moves into the streets. Living liturgy gives us a spirituality which targets the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the sinners, the outcasts. When a faith community celebrates living liturgy, transformation can and does take place. The parish community, which celebrates liturgies with full, conscious and active participation of the assembly, will become a powerful sacrament of Christ, a leaven in our midst. The secret of a living liturgy lies in the recognition of the various modes of Christ’s presence. It recognizes that Christ is present in the gathered assembly, in the priest, in the scriptures proclaimed and preached, in the sacraments and par excellence in the Eucharistic elements of the Body and Blood of the Lord 3. The Eucharist provides the best and the most powerful means for forming us as the Body of Christ. 

 Let us thank God for the Second Vatican Council and its renewal and reform of the liturgy. We do not need a nostalgic retrenchment. We need to revitalize the reform. We need to implement the principles of liturgical renewal given us by Paul VI and the Council Fathers of Vatican II. We need to go back to the example of the early Church, not the Middle Ages, and learn the lesson of a living liturgy. The Eucharist is not a relic of the past. The Eucharist is the Risen Christ today, saving us now. The liturgy is the action of Christ, alive and present, made manifest through His Body, the Church. And at the same time, the liturgy is the action of a faith community striving to be the Body of Christ. 

 We are all familiar with people rushing for the church doors before the end of the liturgy. This is the new exodus -- the quick exit to the parking lot. The crowning moment of the Eucharistic liturgy is its ending: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” This is the mission of the community into the world, the sending forth of the assembly to be an extension of Christ, to translate into deeds the words and action of the Eucharist. What has been celebrated at the table of the Lord must now be revealed by those at the table. The end of the Eucharist “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” is the beginning of Christian mission and ministry. 

 If the celebrating Community has poured new wine into fresh wineskins, if people have experienced a living liturgy, they will look forward joyfully Sunday after Sunday to fulfill Christ’s words: “Do this in memory of me.” 

 If the celebrating Community has tasted the new wine of this pastoral letter, they will have the strength for mission and ministry; they will be ready to give witness to Christ in our contemporary world, then I say to them: “Don’t wait, rush for the doors, rush for the doors.” 

Most Rev. Donald W. Trautman, STD, SSL 
Bishop of Erie 
October 10, 1997 
Los Angeles/Long Beach Convention Center 

 1. The term “celebrating community” embraces everyone, without exception, who gathers around the Lord’s table. It includes priest, all ministers and people. 
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 2. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #10 
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 3. Beyond the modes of Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic Liturgy, Christ is also present in the Sacraments. 
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