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Social Justice Sunday - 20th September 2015
Social Justice Sunday
Last week I wrote about how special causes and intentions are incorporated into the Sunday liturgy. Next Sunday, the fourth Sunday of September, is Social Justice Sunday. The social justice aspect of Christian teaching and action will be emphasised at Masses that day, but it is important to keep in mind that worship and justice are always intimately together.
This is clearly evident in the Old Testament. “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Take away from me the noise of your songs. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5: 22 -24)
St Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred around 110AD challenged those Christian who “concern themselves with neither works of charity, nor widows, nor orphans, nor the distressed, nor those in prison or out of it, nor the hungry and the thirsty.” (Letter to the Smyrnans 6:2).
The Didascalia, a Syrian document from the first half of the third century, instructs bishops in no uncertain manner to give highest honour to the poor person who is the tangible presence of Christ in the midst of the assembly:
“If a poor man or woman arrives at Eucharist and all the spaces in the assembly are taken, then you, the bishop, with all your heart provide a place for them, even if you have to sit on the ground” (#12).
Perhaps the most eloquent and passionate writer on the subject of liturgy and justice was John Chrysostom who was born into a wealthy family in Antioch in 349 AD. In one sermon, he rails against those who feed their dogs while they leave Christ in the poor to go hungry.
Chrysostom also criticises those who adorn the altar with gold chalices and beautiful silks while paying no attention to the poor. He advises them to feed the poor first and only then worry about adornments and vessels for the eucharistic sacrifice.
In another sermon, Chrysostom stresses that we participate in the Eucharist not only by words but by our actions: “If the sacrifice was instituted for the sake of peace with your brother or sister, but you do not establish peace, you partake of the sacrifice in vain, the work has become of no profit to you.”
The community that gathers to celebrate Mass cannot hear the word of God and share Eucharist without reflecting on what it means to live as a Christian in a world where millions go hungry and endure persecution every day. Breaking bread together must lead us to question a social order in which the gap between rich and poor, between the privileged and the oppressed, is growing wider every day. Eucharist compels those who share in its fruits to seek justice for all God’s creation and work for the transformation of society.
The “other worldly” nature of the Eucharist might be seen by some as an excuse to opt out from such earthly realities. In his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II emphasises that the expectation of a new heaven and a new earth increases rather than diminishes the Christian sense of responsibility for the world today and the obligation to build “a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God’s plan”. (#20)