Evangelization & Scripture: The Pastoral Prerequisites for Mass

Detail, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Ghent altarpiece, Jan van Eyck (1430-32).

Detail, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Ghent altarpiece, Jan van Eyck (1430-32).

The Sacred Liturgy is “an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ” by which the sanctification of mankind is “signified by signs” “and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs … it is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.”1 The liturgy is the source and summit of Christian life.2 In teaching and in practice, the Sacred Liturgy, particularly the Mass, is core to the life of a Catholic. Much has been written since the classical Liturgical Movement of the key concepts for unlocking the actual participation of the faithful in the liturgy. I would like to revisit the pastoral prerequisites for a fruitful participation in the liturgy by making a return to one of Catholic America’s most beloved conversion stories, Scott and Kimberly Hahn. From there, a parallel will be made to the mystagogical tradition during the fourth century.

The conversion story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn has influenced thousands of people as an inspiring story told through live presentations, recorded audio, and the famous written account, Rome Sweet Home. In Rome Sweet Home and The Lamb’s Supper, Scott Hahn recalls his formation process and his first visit to Mass.

Scott Hahn, professor at Franciscan University, entered the basement chapel, and sat in the back, with the Scriptures opened next to him. What surprised him was that during Mass, the Scriptures came to life before him, and not simply resting next to him. His heart was on fire as he recognized the signs and symbols of the liturgy that pointed to the Heavenly Liturgy recorded in the Book of Revelation. The Mass was able to communicate to him what was taking place. In the life story of Scott Hahn, the years leading up to this Holy and Divine Encounter through the Mass were marked by what the Church outlines as pastoral prerequisites: evangelization and catechesis.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that authentic participation in the Sacred Liturgy “must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion” (CCC 1072). Evangelization is the bringing of the Gospel “into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence, transforming humanity from within, and making it new” which also includes the beginning of this renewal through Baptism.3 An authentic encounter with Christ will affect and upset “mankind’s criteria for judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thoughts, sources of inspiration, and models of life…”4 This takes place when the recipient of the Church’s evangelizing efforts listens, accepts, and adheres to Jesus, and the truth revealed by him. This adherence is to a new way of life in Christ, and is manifested by initiation into the Church.5

Through the process of evangelization, a choice must be made, and the outcome may be, by the help of grace, an act of faith.6 The grace of this faith is intended to move one to conversion.7 Conversion is the turning “toward God, and away from sin.”8 Conversion includes “toil and suffering,” and a “profound change of mind and heart.”9 Building on the work of evangelization and the initial conversion mentioned here, catechesis develops an “understanding of the Mystery of Christ.”10

The specific kind of catechesis that allows the Mass to speak volumes is a catechesis into a scriptural world view. Why is a scriptural worldview important for unlocking the power of the Eucharist in life? “A sacramental celebration is woven from signs and symbols.”11 (CCC 1145). These “signs and symbols” are rooted in the goodness of human life12 and those developed by, and centered on, the work of God recorded in Scripture.13

When the person encounters these “signs and symbols” that are meant to connect them to the mystery of Christ, they have the ability to have the Holy Mass speak to them, and guide them from “the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the ‘sacraments’ to the ‘mysteries’” (CCC 1075). A scriptural worldview hands on the language of these “signs and symbols.” A scriptural worldview is required for a person to be able to authentically encounter Christ through the liturgical “signs and symbols.” This means they need to be able to speak the language of the Christian faith as rooted in scripture. This will take place for each person on different levels and depths but is essential for the liturgy. As the fathers of Vatican II taught:

Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus … it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.14

With the fruit of evangelization and new evangelization, the Scriptural worldview begins to allow the liturgical rites to speak in a way that feels natural, or better yet, supernatural: when we see or hear of light, we think of Christ as the light of the world; when we see or smell incense, we reflect on the relationship between incense and prayer throughout the biblical narrative; when we see and approach the altar, we are reminded of the sacrifices offered to God by the scriptural figures; and when we see the Priest raise his hands in the orans position during the Lord’s Prayer or other prayers, we are reminded of the prayer of Moses during the battle with Amalek, and the outstretched hands of Christ upon the Cross.

An initial amount of liturgical depth can be experienced just by ongoing evangelization and catechesis into the Scriptural worldview. Building on this foundation, homilies and catechetical instruction throughout life continue this growth toward a deeper procession into the Mystery of Christ celebrated in the Sacred Liturgy. “To understand the word of God, then, we need to appreciate and experience the essential meaning and value of the liturgical action. A faith-filled understanding of sacred Scripture must always refer back to the liturgy…”15

The tradition of this deeper procession into the transformative mystery of Christ was developed by the Mystagogical Fathers, and those that followed in their footsteps. These initial Fathers of the fourth century were Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and others. There is a great deal of interest today in the mystagogical efforts of many of these figures, but too often the mystagogical character of the liturgy itself does not receive enough attention. Perhaps, that is the core of this article, that evangelization and catechesis can unlock this mystagogical potential of the Sacred Liturgy. Wiliam Harmless in Augustine and the Catechumenate explains that Saint Augustine did not explain the meaning of the rites in great depth beforehand to the catechumens who were participating in them for the first time, but only later:

This suggests that the first movement in liturgical catechesis is—or, at least, might be—a pedagogy of silence. In other words, the catechist recognizes that silence can teach; that the rite itself teaches; and that the rite, not the catechist, should perhaps have the first word. Such silence presumes what cannot, unfortunately, be presumed: namely, that we use liturgical symbols and gestures that are generous enough and lavish enough to speak for themselves…16

More than a sense of obligation or community is needed to unlock the power of the work of God in the liturgy. Evangelization, catechesis into a scriptural worldview, and mystagogical liturgies are essential components for every parish community that should beg the following questions: What are we doing to evangelize those inactive participants in our communities that are either non-Catholics, non-Christians, fallen away Catholics, or those hurt by members of the Church? What are we doing to perpetually evangelize the current members of the community? How can we continue to improve the faithful’s knowledge of Scripture, and its overarching narrative? What more can we do to celebrate the liturgy well without distorting its inner unity, and detaching it from the faith of the Church? This means that the work of evangelists and catechists are of great importance, as they always have been. And when the work of “evangelization, faith and conversion” is underway, the liturgy “can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity.”17

  1. Sacrosanctum Concilium 7.
  2. Sacrosanctum Concilium 10, Lumen Gentium 11, Redemptionis Sacramentum 35.
  3. Evangelii Nuntiandi 18.
  4. Evangelii Nuntiandi 19.
  5. Evangelii Nuntiandi 23.
  6. CCC 153-155, 176-180.
  7. CCC 1989, 2018.
  8. CCC 1989.
  9. Evangelii Nuntiandi 10.
  10. Catechesi Tradendae 18-20.
  11. CCC 1145.
  12. CCC 1146-1149.
  13. CCC 1150-1152.
  14. Sacrosanctum Concilium 24.
  15. Verbum Domini 52, see also Verbum Domini 53.
  16. p. 362.
  17. CCC 1072.
Brandon Harvey About Brandon Harvey

Brandon Harvey is a writer and speaker on the new evangelization, liturgy, and mystagogy. He received his BA in Theology from Briar Cliff University, and MA from Franciscan University. Brandon is married with kids and resides in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Blog: www.homecatechesis.com


  1. “This suggests the first movement of liturgical catechesis is….silence.” This reference can also be applied–and is one of the central tenants of–Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. From the beginning, the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the preschooler is reverenced by silence & only guided or witnessed by the catechist.

  2. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    The witness of silence in the church before Mass is a powerful witness to the mystery of Eucharist. Silence must be taught as we live in a society that practices little silence in daily life.

  3. Avatar David Discenza says:

    Two previous posts speak of silence in preparation for Mass. It grieves me to say that in the parish I attend, silence is a joke. They are chatting away, loudly, before and after the Mass and not once has a priest come out and asked them to be silent. “We’re supposed to be building Community” I’ve been told when I’ve asked about the lack of silence.

    Just what is being taught in the seminaries? Why is the noise of the world being allowed in? It seems to me that we need to evangelize and catechize our priests first as I’ve noticed that they can be the worst offenders.

  4. Thank you for your article, but most of all thank you for your work in the Church for evangelization and catechesis. I agree with your title, and your foundational premise. Adult faith formation and authentic discipleship are “prerequisites” for the liturgy. It is a tragedy that for so many Catholics, it seems their mere presence at Mass – mostly weekly – constitutes their religious and spiritual lives. The great and beautiful treasures of Truth – the truths of the Catholic Faith – lie hidden, buried, unknown and unappreciated, and inaccessible in times of actual need!

    Thus our people are weak and vulnerable to the attacks of the evil one, and even to the common temptations of our fallen state! We are weak in spiritual hunger, surrounded by abundance and plenty! How we need to be built up in the gifts He died to give us. Church, when will you wake up?