Stephanie A. Mann is the author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, available from Scepter Publishers. She resides in Wichita, Kansas and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com.
National Catholic Register blogger Monsignor Charles Pope gave a parish mission at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Wichita, Kansas from Feb. 6 through 8. He used the three themes of our parish priority plan to improve our spiritual and prayer lives, enhance our liturgical experience, and live out the new evangelization. The church, a basilica style nave with a clear view of the ambo in the raised sanctuary, was nearly full each night.
Monsignor reminded us of the basics of the Christian life so that we may develop our prayer life more fully, answering the question: what is the life that Jesus lived and died to give us? Monsignor called these the normative Christian life: deliverance from sin and the world of sin; walking in newness of life; experiencing ever deeper transformation in our moral lives; loving God and our neighbor—even our enemies—more deeply, and knowing that our faith is confirmed by the experience of our lives.
He challenged us to change our expectations when coming to Sunday Mass. Why don’t we have higher expectations of all that we are about to receive? We should recognize the glory of the liturgy, the awe-inspiring experience of Mass, and the transformative power of the Sacraments. Monsignor Pope gave us an inspired interpretation of the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32) as an outline of Holy Mass, from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Risen Jesus comes among us every Sunday (or weekday) on our journey, teaches us, feeds and then expects us to go out (“Ite, Missa Est”) and tell everyone the Good News.
The third topic, “Living the New Evangelization” requires us to experience the first two themes and be ready to give the reason for our hope to our families and our communities. Monsignor offered some examples from his own parish’s efforts, but left the implementation of what Blessed Sacrament is going to do up to us. All three talks, and other materials, are available on our Parish website.
The Parochial Mission
Although one of his themes was the new evangelization, the re-evangelization of the West to restore the Catholic faith encouraged by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Monsignor Pope was using a tool developed for earlier re-evangelization efforts in the West: the Parochial or Parish Mission.
The Franciscan and Dominican orders were known for itinerate preaching during the Middle Ages: St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Anthony of Padua are just two great examples of great preachers in that era. The parish mission developed in post-Reformation and post-Revolutionary Europe because Catholic preachers had to re-evangelize and re-catechize the lost flocks of what Blessed John Henry Newman would later call the “one true fold of Christ”.
The influences first of Protestantism beginning in the sixteenth century and then of atheistic skepticism and unbelief in the late eighteenth century meant these preachers had their work cut out for them. Several orders started just to meet this crucial need and several of the founders of those orders have been canonized.
In France, St. Vincent de Paul founded the Congregation of the Mission in the 1620’s and it was approved by Pope Urban VIII; almost a century later, St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Redemptorist Order (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer and St. Paul of the Cross’s Passionists (Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ) were approved in Italy.
St. Gaspar de Bufalo founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in 1815 and St. Charles Mazenod founded the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1816. The orders founded in the 1800s were responding to the loss of faith after the French Revolution when its leaders attempted to de-Christian France, destroying churches, changing the calendar to eliminate Sunday and Feast Days, and celebrating the “Goddess of Reason”. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate wanted “To revive the spirit of faith among rural and industrial populations by means of missions and retreats, in which devotion to the Sacred Heart and to Mary Immaculate is recommended as a supernatural means of regeneration.”
The Society of Jesus, the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Capuchins also conducted parish or parochial missions. In his comprehensive history of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, The World of Catholic Renewal 1540-1770, R. Po-Chia Hsia describes how dramatic and effective these parish missions were, especially in rural areas. They were “elaborate theaters of redemption” that brought not only the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion to the people, but food, clothing, and alms, “nourishing the body while healing the soul, preaching reconciliation and mending feuds” even as they adopted a “rhetoric of brimstone, damnation, and redemption.” In their wake they left “catechism schools, confraternities, congregations, and retreats,” especially when the Redemptorists followed the Capuchin and Jesuit mission trails with catechetical missions, building upon the revival of faith among Catholics. (pages 223-234)
From the Old World to the New
The colonial New World in the Americas was mission country for centuries, as the Franciscans, like St. Junipero Serra in California, and Jesuits, like Father Paul Mary Ponziglione in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, established missions on the continent. According to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia:
There was no systematic popular missionary work until about 1860, though missions had been given earlier. The Lazarist Fathers arrived in 1816, the Redemptorists in 1832, and the Passionists in 1852; but, although missions and spiritual retreats are the special work of these congregations, the scarcity of priests in this country compelled them at first to postpone such work to the ordinary spiritual wants of a scattered population.
Parish missions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often emphasized Hell and Damnation, warning the laity attending to avoid mortal sin, confess their sins, and amend their lives.
Monsignor Pope's focus was a bit different; he was responding to our parish’s plan for spiritual, liturgical, and evangelical excellence. To me, this seems just another example of how the Catholic Church constantly renews and revives our traditions, adapting them to new challenges and opportunities.