Laudato Si'

by Frances Novillo
Posted at 03:08am on 12th November 2015

Laudato Si’ is addressed to all humanity (Laudato Si’ (LS) 3).  It’s about human relationships, as much as plants, creatures, and climate.  Individuals will read and react to it, but the encyclical is clear that each individual action impacts on other people, other creatures, and the environment.  What is described is an integral ecology (LS137), in which all living things are connected, influenced by and influencing our shared environment.  Pope Francis speaks not only of the natural environment, but the social environment, the damage which has been done to it by unhealthy human relationships, and the healing which may arise from ‘self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons’ (LS47), in which each of us recognises authentic connections to others maintained through listening to and engaging with ‘the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences’ (LS47). The encyclical counsels openness among all people, avoiding exclusive social groups which may appear attractive and safe, but which are artificial and divisive (LS45).  Pope Francis wants us to realise that we are connected to poor people in our own society and globally, and to act accordingly; ‘genuine care for our own selves and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others’ (LS70). 

Cardinal Vincent Nichols wanted to illustrate the encyclical’s focus on social injustice and inequality in his announcement of its publication in this country (watch the press conference at  So he chose for his location Our Lady and St Joseph school in Poplar which juxtaposes dramatically some of the richest and poorest people in the capital.  I was asked to prepare a liturgy for students, teachers and journalists to pray together.  Planning was hampered by a lack of access to the text, embargoed as it was until after the liturgy.  I was initially told it was about poverty.  However, I understood from press predictions that the wider context would be creation, implied by the title, so I based the liturgy on the creation story in Genesis 1, with accompanying images which the Cardinal’s press office requested be urban (including sheep in Mudchute City Farm, which like the school, stands in stark contrast to neighbouring Canary Wharf).  By choosing a school setting for the presentation of the encyclical Cardinal’s Vincent drew the journalists’ attention to the Pope’s question: what kind of world are we handing on to future generations? (LS160)  The younger generation was much in evidence participating fully and enthusiastically in the liturgy.  The songs (O the earth is the Lord’s; The peace of the earth; Christ be our light) reflected aspects of creation from both human and natural worlds, with a challenge to act to address injustices, and a sung Kyrie to express our sorrow for the damage already done. 

During the liturgy Cardinal Vincent asked the children to undertake one activity proposed by the encyclical which would promote better relationships with God, with each other and with the earth: saying mealtime grace (LS227).  Other practical proposals in the encyclical include: changing habits to reduce consumerism (LS50 & LS204), recycling (LS211), taking public transport (LS153), and switching to renewable energy (LS165).  It’s possible to implement these in parish life.  Laudato Si’ doesn’t address only the world external to the church, but values what takes place inside – liturgies where human and divine relationships thrive.  Our parishes may foster positive healthy human relationships (LS150), although none are perfect, and sadly, many people have been hurt by other parishioners’ behaviour and some parishes can be cliquey and unwelcoming.  The encyclical doesn’t value prayer over action (LS217), nor action without prayer (LS237).  It prioritises the Sunday Eucharist as essential to a balanced life (LS237).  Human beings flourish and ‘find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer’ (LS223) and much of this may be achieved through liturgy.  Our churches can form nurturing environments when they are well-designed, situated in attractive grounds, open to all (including disabled access), temperate, fragrant, well-ventilated.  Nature features in liturgy most commonly in flower arrangements; if the flowers are British or fairly traded, this demonstrates a concern for the climate (transporting goods less far creates less pollution) and human relationships (fair trade promotes good working conditions for growers).  Pot plants create less waste than temporary flower arrangements.  Yet the value of such practical considerations is diminished where people in the church are not kind, friendly, and respectful to others.  When the words of particular readings and prayers may not seem immediately and personally relevant, perhaps these might not be ignored, but used to draw our attention to the needs of other worshippers living in different circumstances.   Liturgy is public and communal, not private and solitary.  We connect physically not only when sharing the Sign of Peace, but by sharing the space in which we worship.  Singing together builds participants into one body, breathing and listening to each other as well as making sound simultaneously.  Its social and health benefits have been well documented.  Liturgical silence can promote awareness of others around us – a moment to recognise the presence of God and of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  When moving in procession, we need to be aware of other people around us, or we would bump into and obstruct others – again this is a good opportunity to reflect that human relationships in parishes are not always perfect and sometimes people do bump into and obstruct others at Mass.  Laudato Si’ insists on commitment to developing and restoring human relationships nonetheless, not simply abandoning encounters and meeting places which feel unfulfilling or frustrating.  It is not a document only for animal-lovers and St Francis devotees; it contains valuable insights for liturgical ministers and participants concerning our worshipping environment, too. 

Reproduced from Issue 355, Volume 41, Number 2 of Music and Liturgy, October 2015, by kind permission of the Society of Saint Gregory

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