A “Season of Creation” and the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer

One noted liturgical expert cautions against a new liturgical season to celebrate creation.

A proposal to insert a “Season of Creation” into the liturgical year has many backers that are friends of mine and colleagues. It has a few detractors, too. I’d have to include myself in the latter group, even if I understand the good intentions of the former.

The proposal by Columban Father Charles Rue seeks to add the Season of Creation during an existing period of Ordinary Time not long before the Feast of Christ the King. This new season would rank alongside Advent, Lent, and Easter. (Note that the suggestion for a liturgical season focused on creation differs from the important ecumenical celebration known as the Season of Creation, which begins next Thursday.)

The liturgical proposal makes a few good points. Here’s one:

Some promoters of a Season of Creation argue that Christian communities need to better acknowledge the first article of the creed, God as Creator, and integrate this belief within the History of Salvation.

Amen. It is true that many Catholic don’t quite see the connection between the opening of the Creed(s) and their often eco-damaging lifestyles. But then the proposal says this:

The current liturgy has many prayers that begin by recalling creation and God as Creator, however, no special season is set aside to contemplate God’s ongoing deeds in creation.

Here’s where I and others grow deeply concerned. Year round the liturgical and sacramental nature of the Church is already centered on and drenched with contemplating God’s ongoing deeds in and for all creation.

In all, the proposal is not so much a means for progress as it is a sign of how much the faithful have lost in their understanding of their faith and its implications for the cosmos.

“To call one season a season for creation risks making creation a theme for a part of the year rather than an underlying motif in all liturgy.” Monsignor Kevin Irwin

“Each and every time we celebrate any of the liturgy’s rites we name and praise God for creation … and redemption.”

That observation comes from Monsignor Kevin Irwin, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York who serves at The Catholic University of America. Monsignor Irwin held the Walter J. Schmitz, Chair of Liturgical Studies from 2000-2015, served as the Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies from 2005-2011, and currently holds the position of Ordinary Research Professor. He has authored seventeen books on liturgy and sacraments.

I had asked Monsignor Irwin his thoughts on such a liturgical season and his first response was, “why?”

“Think of the underlying motifs in morning and evening prayer: light and darkness,” he continued. “The hymns at Evening Prayer in the soon to be revised Liturgy of the Hours are about the days of creation.”

He noted that one can find the rich eco-liturgical foundation of Catholic worship by reading and praying the prayer to bless water at baptism "for all its cosmic references and the use of water itself."

“Read and pray over the eucharistic prayers with their copious references to the bread and wine,” he said, “to dining, to the work of human hands, which resume the cycle of planting, harvesting, making flour, baking.”

Ultimately he said that “to call one season a season for creation risks making creation a theme for a part of the year rather than an underlying motif in all liturgy.”

For more on liturgy and creation, check out my 2014 interview with Monsignor Irwin.

My conversation with Monsignor Irwin came about when I was looking for his thoughts on the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, which is in the canon of the Mass and can be used already in Ordinary Time.

The prayer is based on the writings of Saint Basil and it is thick with eco-creation-awesomeness. (Okay, that’s not a technical term, but it sums up my feelings toward the prayer, which I use to conclude this post.)

“Every eucharistic prayer contains generous references to the ways in which God has blessed us in creation and redemption,” Monsignor Irwin said. “The technical phrase is the 'magnalia Dei,' [which means] 'the great deeds God has done.'"

Monsignor Irwin said that one of the chief characteristics of the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is its extensive expression off thanks and praise for creation and for the history of salvation leading to and culminating in Christ.

None of this is meant to detract from the Season of Creation (or "Creation Time," as it is sometimes known) that spans September 1st to October 4th, the Feast of Saint Francis. This ecumenical celebration is indeed an important addition to the life of all churches to draw attention to the eco-crises of our age and the opportunities for people of good will to engage them.

My point rather is to underscore that the Mass, all of our liturgies, and those seven sacraments given to us by Christ already offer rich depths to enkindle within the faithful a love of "the great deeds God has done” and the great gifts he’s entrusted to us.

We don't need a new, standalone liturgical season. We just need to return to basics and champion what we already have.

Otherwise in championing such a liturgical season, we Catholic ecologists would be providing yet another opportunity for division in the Church rather than building up our relationships with each other by diving headfirst into the cosmic depths of our existing liturgies.

We’ll be hearing more about this proposal, and I’ll be checking with other voices to get their ideas and share them with you. But in that regard, what are your thoughts of this proposal?

It would be great to hear them in the comments below.

For now, stay tuned for much more. And take a moment to read through the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer (and ask your pastor to use it some Sunday in Ordinary Time).

We give you praise, Father most holy, for you are great, and you have fashioned all your works in wisdom and in love. You formed man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care, so that in serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all creatures. And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship, you did not abandon him to the domain of death. For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you. Time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.

And you so loved the world, Father most holy, that in the fullness of time you sent your Only Begotten Son to be our Savior. Made incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, he shared our human nature in all things but sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy. To accomplish your plan, he gave himself up to death, and, rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life. And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe, so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world, he might sanctify creation to the full.

Photo: Mass in the Catholic Church in Baidyapur, West Bengal, India on December 02, 2012.

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.