The church should rethink its Sunday rituals
Sunday is a time not to be in productivity but to be in contemplation, says Father François Werner.
For Father François Wernert, a theologian at the University of Strasbourg, the church lacks a theology of leisure for rethinking proposals around Sunday.
Élodie Maurot interviews the priest.
Élodie Maurot: In a few decades, the Sunday break has faded away. How do you explain that?
Father François Wernert: First there’s the question of freedom. Sunday was a day unmarked by work, industrialization or trade, but the relationship between our society and freedom has changed. The second reason has to do with the church.
In the 1990s, the bishops of France missed an opportunity by stopping the Sunday meetings in the absence of priests, at the request of Rome. From that moment onward, we slowly lost that closeness with the faithful.
We switched to the “All Eucharist” or nothing. We thought the faithful would move, would leave their villages to go to Mass far from their homes. That was not the case. The bishops underestimated the resistance to the journey. That weakened the Sunday break.
At the same time, Sunday was used for all types of activities…
Contemporary man still greatly appreciates Sunday, but now views it as private.
Sunday is for rest, the body’s well-being, sport, the family … Since the church has not yet gone into that world, it remains external to what affects our contemporaries. We lack a theology of leisure.
If we were to reflect on this subject, we would have a more positive relationship with the Sunday lives of contemporary man.
Moreover, what the church had to offer on Sunday was certainly no longer nourishing enough, both the celebration and the preaching, to face up to the alternatives that modern leisure society developed.
How can we regain the meaning of the Sunday break?
The fundamental thing for Sunday is to build memory. The idea of the Sabbath, of the free day, is not only an obligation to stop, a prohibition. It is a way of creating memory by placing man in an alliance with God, others and Creation, where he is rooted and free.
Today, it seems to me that the ecological approach is an opportunity for us. The ecological dimension is also to stop and contemplate, give thanks for the life that will be there in front of us and after us. Sunday is a time not to be in productivity, but to be in contemplation.
The Sunday break would function as a ritual, with a repetitive and collective dimension. Is there a particular difficulty here for modern man, who loves novelty and lives in a more individualized manner?
Modern man has, in a way, kept rituals at a distance but, paradoxically, he remains a ritual animal.
On Sunday, it’s often the same people who wash their cars, at the same places, at the same time … Modern man needs rituals, but doubtless more flexible ones than in the past. It would be interesting for the church to reflect on new Sunday rituals.
For example, it can propose contemplation sessions, a very open prayer with a ritual gesture, where families would be welcomed just as they are today. The spiritual demand is enormous. The need for a break, too.
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