Posted by: Titus Presler | November 10, 2009

Evangelization and “the missions” are highlighted in a Roman Catholic parish

“For the Church’s work of evangelization, that it will continue through our missions in all parts of the world, and in prayerful support of those missions.”  Hearing that caught my attention!  It was the first petition in the intercessions, the Prayers of the People, at a eucharist on Oct. 18 at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Georgetown, D.C.  The intercessions went on in a fairly standard way to lift up the baptizands, the sick of the parish and the departed, but the first petition was for evangelization and “our missions”!

Then at the offertory there was a “second collection” – sure enough, for “the missions”!  What the missions were was not explained, nor was there any specification in the service leaflet.  On the other hand, it was not presented as anything out of the ordinary, so I assumed that the several hundred people filling the sanctuary at 5:30 on a Sunday evening were accustomed to the practice and hence needed no explanation.  The collections plates went around a second time, and most parishioners participated as they had the first time it came around.

Several things struck me:

– Frank promotion of “evangelization,” using that word in prayer during a principal liturgy, is not very common in Episcopal or mainline Protestant congregations today.  The concern is certainly present in Episcopal intercessions, but not by that name.  Form II of the Prayers of the People in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, for instance, includes: “I ask your prayers for all who seek God, or a deeper knowledge of him.  Pray that they may find and be found by him.”  Form V includes: “For the mission of the Church, that in faithful witness it may preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth . . .” and, “For those who do not yet believe, and for those who have lost their faith, that they may receive the light of the Gospel, we pray to you, O Lord”, petitions that are replicated, by the way, in the Litany for Ordinations, which is used at the Celebration of a New Ministry as well as at the ordinations of bishops, deacons and priests.

– A “second collection” for whatever purpose is proverbially associated with revivalist churches, often with an attendant joke about locking the doors until the desired sum is raised.  Anglican and mainline Protestant congregations don’t use the term or promote the practice.  What has developed instead is the habit of special envelopes for special causes.  In the Episcopal Church, for instance, envelopes are distributed for church-wide special collections for Episcopal Relief and Development, the United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church Women, and Theological Education Sunday.  Dioceses often generate envelopes for diocesan causes, like a companion diocese relationship, construction of a camp and conference center, and the like, and parishes generate envelopes for their own capital campaigns and so on.  A case can be made that envelopes help parishioners plan ahead in a committed way and ensure proper credit for tax purposes.  The point is that the envelope system functions as a virtual “second collection.”

– Use of the plural term “missions” has declined in missiology relative to the singular “mission,” referring to God’s mission, in which we participate as the church.

As an Anglican missiologist visiting a Roman Catholic parish, I was curious about the local take on these matters at the parish level.  So later I talked with Mr. Jim Wickman, Pastoral Associate for Liturgy at Holy Trinity, which happens to be the oldest Roman Catholic parish in continuous operation in Washington, and is run by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) on the doorstep of Georgetown University.

Jim confirmed what I expected about the prayer, that the petition in support of evangelization was added for that particular Sunday in connection with the second collection that was to be taken for “the missions.”  He noted that evangelization is understood to be both internal, reaching the faithful of the church itself, and external, reaching beyond the church.  To this I would add that evangelization since Vatican II has been understood holistically as including both gospel proclamation and work for human flourishing, the latter being the kinds of initiative currently understood through the lens of the Millennium Development Goals.  In that sense, a prayer for evangelization is broader than a prayer for evangelism, though advocates for holistic evangelism would make the same point for evangelism.

Lots of second collections!

It turns out that there is a second collection 12 times a year!  The October occasion is World Mission Sunday, as designated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and the second collection is for world mission, intended specifically for “the missions,” Jim said, that is, the various USAmerican Roman Catholic mission outreaches to other parts of the world.  USCCB’s website has this to say about the World Mission Sunday Collection: “By Baptism, all Catholics are called to participate in the mission of the Church, called to share their faith as missionaries.  World Mission Sunday gathers support for the pastoral and evangelizing programs and needs of more than 1,150 mission dioceses in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and remote regions of Latin America.  The funds gathered on World Mission Sunday are distributed in the pope’s name by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith – a Pontifical Mission Society.”  That society, sometimes dubbed the Propaganda, was founded in 1622, so it has a long history in the Roman Catholic Church.  Thus, while this collection is listed by the USCBB as a “national collection,” its website notes that it is “not managed by” the USCBB.

A churchwide collection has the advantage of consensus and coherence but the disadvantage, obviously, of impersonality and distance.  For instance, the members and leaders of Holy Trinity are not aware of what the designations are, so the opportunity for personal engagement with the cause is minimal, and that may affect the level of giving.  Most of the other 11 USCCB national collections are for missional initiatives, but in different ways: the Church in Latin America, the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, Black and Indian Missions, Catholic Relief Services, the Holy Land (on Good Friday, as in many other churches), Home Missions, the Catholic Communication Campaign, Peter’s Pence (the Pope’s emergency assistance to those affected by “natural disaster, war, oppression, and disease”), Catholic University of America, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the Retirement Fund for Religious.

World Mission Sunday is a fairly recent innovation in the Episcopal Church, having been established by the 1997 General Convention and fixed on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the season of the showing forth of the light of Christ in all the world, and the gospel for the last Sunday always being the Transfiguration.  It will be good to ascertain when the Roman World Mission Sunday was instituted.  If recollection serves well, the Episcopal World Mission Sunday originated out of the Standing Commission for World Mission, and it will be interesting to ascertain whether there was any influence from the Roman side.

Parish exposure and education in world mission at Holy Trinity, Jim said, occurs in several ways.  Once every three years the Archdiocese of Washington itinerates among the parishes a mission speaker, who is usually a missionary serving in some part of the world.  A number of parishioners are interested in congregations in other parts of the world that are led by Jesuits, and it is probably such interest that has resulted in a “sister parish” relationship with a congregation in El Salvador.  Some parishioners are interested in the work of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, and there tends to be interest in various Jesuit publications that highlight mission and the world church.

It is worth noting here, by the way, that Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1534 primarily as a missionary order, which is why Jesuits are found all over the world.  The popular association of Jesuits with education and high intellectual standards is a byproduct of the educational work that was integral to their foundational focus on mission.

Beyond the USCCB second collections, Holy Trinity tithes its regular collections to local outreach in the Washington area, and this 10% tithe amounts to over $300,000 a year.  Jim said parishioners are naturally much more aware of the details of the local mission effort, since it connects with local organizations they know and wish to support.

As for “mission” vs. “missions,” the theological emphasis on the singularity of the one mission of God in the world, and on our participation in God’s mission, contrasts with earlier emphases on “the church’s mission,” “our mission,” and “our missions,” some of which became competitive among churches.  The eminent church historian and missiologist Stephen Neill titled one of the closing chapters of his 1964 A History of Christian Missions (sic) “From Mission to Church.”  So missiologists like myself use the plural form not for the field of missiology, still less for what mission is really about, but only for multiple actual outreach organizations or efforts.  Even then, we’re more likely to reference “mission organizations” or “mission societies.”


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