September 1 heralded the arrival of Spring in the southern hemisphere and Australian gardens are resplendent with daffodils, bluebells and snowdrops, which have pushed forth from the earth to share their glory with us. Farmers have been experiencing the lambing season as new life revels in paddocks. Of course, all of this is relative to the amount of rain each area has received. In winter, it is easy for us to think that nothing is happening in our environment, but the coming of Spring announces that we need to wait in the dark and cold before new life can bloom.
Spring speaks of Creation and so too does Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si’. Through this immensely important letter, Laudato Si‘ (Praise Be to You!) addresses our relationship with our planet and all of creation; indeed the encyclical has the subtitle “on care for our common home”. Through Laudato Si’, Francis expands our view of what is sacramental, viewing the world as sacramental, that through creation we encounter God.
Kevin Irwin, Ordinary Research Professor at The Catholic University of America and prominent scholar in the fields of Liturgical Studies and Sacramental Theology, lays the foundations of Laudato Si’ in a “sacramental theology that is based on, immersed in, and a consequence of the celebration of the liturgy.” 
In our liturgy, we celebrate what we believe through ritual and in turn, the liturgy shapes how we live our lives. The Eucharist takes the fruit of the earth and work of human hands, bread and wine (derived from wheat and grapes) and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the priest offers the Eucharistic Prayer on our behalf, where these earthly elements become the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the words of the Sanctus, we pray …
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
How often have we heard and sung this acclamation and yet not been moved by its meaning? If heaven and earth are full of God’s glory then why is our earth crying out in pain, as our polar circles are melting and the temperatures of our oceans rising? There is a direct link here to the sacramental theology that Pope Francis shares in Laudato Si’ with our human actions. We need to lament our relationship with the earth, our common home, for we have not treated it with the dignity reflected in the belief that it is filled with God’s glory. Collectively, our actions are out of sync with the words of the Eucharistic Prayer.
In the words of the Eucharistic Prayer III, we hear,
You are indeed Holy, O Lord,
and all you have created
rightly gives you praise,
for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
by the power and working of the Holy Spirit,
You give life to all things and make them holy,
and you never cease to gather a people to yourself,
so that from the rising of the sun to its setting
a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.
“You give life to all things and make them holy”, invites us to broaden our view of sacramental theology as being larger than the seven sacraments. Pope Francis invites us to a greater view, that we encounter God in all of creation; this means that if I have a view that God is in all creation, Creation deserves a capital “C” and how we interact with it and experience it will be reverenced by us, rather than being “used” and in some cases abused. Indeed, we need to more fully realise our own identities as part of this Creation.
Eucharistic Prayer IV acknowledges God as the giver of all life.
It is truly right to give you thanks,
truly just to give you glory, Father most holy,
for you are the one God living and true,
existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity,
dwelling in unapproachable light;
yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is,
so that you might fill your creatures with blessings
and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.
With them we, too, confess your name in exultation,
Giving voice to every creature under heaven,
This reflects a misunderstanding of the Book of Genesis 1:28 – “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.’” We have not cared for our earth but exploited it for our own purposes. In Laudato Si’, Francis urges us to shift our understanding of how we experience God so that we can see God in Creation and repent for how collectively we have mistreated our planet.
From Justin Martyr’s First Apology (Ch 67), written between 155 – 157 CE, we know that Sunday was a holy day; the early Christians gathered to listen to the writings of the Prophets and the memoirs of the Apostles. Not only did God rest on the seventh day after creating the heavens and the earth, but Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. Of the Sunday Eucharist, Laudato Si’ no. 237 states:
“On Sunday, our participation in the Eucharist has special importance. Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world. Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, the ‘first day’ of the new creation, whose first fruits are the Lord’s risen humanity, the pledge of the final transfiguration of all created reality. It also proclaims ‘man’s eternal rest in God’. In this way, Christian spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity. We tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary, but this is to do away with the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning. We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity, which is quite different from mere inactivity. Rather, it is another way of working, which forms part of our very essence. It protects human action from becoming empty activism; it also prevents that unfettered greed and sense of isolation which make us seek personal gain to the detriment of all else. The law of weekly rest forbade work on the seventh day, ‘so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed’ (Ex 23:12). Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others. And so the day of rest, centred on the Eucharist, sheds it light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.”
This excerpt from Laudato Si’ holds so many challenges for our society. COVID-19 has forced much of how our society has functioned to come to a grinding halt and forced us to question how we have interacted with our planet, society and the global community. This enforced “pause” provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon our human limitations and upon a God who chose to save us through the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, who comes to us in the form of the fruit of the earth. This pause also provides us with an opportunity to hunger for the Eucharist like we never have before; to savour the prayers of the liturgy, which will nourish and (trans)form our beliefs and behaviour so that they are in accordance with glorifying all of God’s creation.
As we enter the season of spring in 2020, may we see all of God’s creation before us in new ways.
Sharon Boyd is a Professional Specialist – Liturgy Education from the Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) Centre for Liturgy.