Father Driscoll Lecture on The Eucharist and Social Justice

by Dan Carpenter

The closing words of the Mass, with their admonition to go and serve the Lord, should be taken not just as a personal blessing but as marching orders to build a better world. Eucharist without action on behalf of the deprived and oppressed is empty ritual.

Such was the resounding message from Father Michael S. Driscoll, internationally noted speaker, liturgical scholar and professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, who delivered the Hesburgh Lecture Dec. 14 to an enthusiastic gathering at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.

“We become what we celebrate,” he said of the call to sacrifice implicit in the Eucharistic rite. “We are the broken bread, the wine poured out.”

That means public, not just internal and close-to-home religious practice, he added, quoting as authorities the three latest popes and other prominent Catholic thinkers, including Notre Dame professor Gustavo Gutierrez, a founding father of the Latin American movement known as Liberation Theology.

Father Driscoll’s presentation, entitled “The Eucharist and Social Justice,” was accompanied by a documentary film of a Mass for migrants concelebrated on both sides of the border security fence between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Bishops and archbishops from both nations led the service, whose attendees included families still separated by the barriers and whose honorees, identified on crosses, were those who had died trying to make their way into the United States.

Relaying the film’s call for fair and compassionate immigration policy, Father Driscoll evoked the seminal Judeo-Christian experience of liberation and warned “As freed people, we must take care that we don’t become oppressors ourselves.”

Co-founder of the Sacred Music Program at Notre Dame and possessor of a resonant voice himself, Father Driscoll warmed up his audience by leading a sing-along about linkages in  Catholic worship, with liturgy and doctrine leading to the necessity of ethical living.

Mass, he pointed out, owes its name to the Latin “missa,” referring to being sent. To cite another derivative, attending Mass authentically is taking on a mission, with all its risks and hardships: “The Eucharist implicates us.”

In that regard, he offered and solicited ideas for modifying the current closing rites of the Mass “to make them more of a mission prompt.” Dispensing with parish announcements at that point of the service was one of his suggestions.

A priest 40 years and the holder of doctoral degrees in theology and philosophy, Father Driscoll ministered many years in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and now consults with clergy in the Diocese of Helena, Mont. Among many distinctions, he has been president of the Catholic Academy of Liturgy and an advisor to the standing committee on liturgy U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.