Ecclesiological Assessment of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon (2013-2021)

A Contemplative Church

When Father Alexander Sample was ordained to the episcopacy in 2006, he chose as his motto the words Vultum Christi contemplari, “to contemplate the face of Christ.” These words are taken directly from St. John Paul II’s final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which expresses the heart of the Holy Father’s conception of the Church’s life and mission: “To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the ‘programme’ which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization.”[1]

In 2013, when he was called to the Archdiocese of Portland, the newly installed Archbishop Sample made these same words the center of his first message to “God’s flock in western Oregon.”[2] Having first reminded us that “we must keep our eyes always fixed on Jesus,”[3] he explained that his episcopal motto “speaks clearly and directly of my vision for our work together here … In Novo millennio ineunte, [St.] John Paul II writes:

‘We wish to see Jesus’ (Jn. 12:21). This request, addressed to the Apostle Phillip by some Greeks who had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, echoes spiritually in our ears too … Like those pilgrims of two thousand years ago, the men and women of our own day—often perhaps unconsciously—ask believers not only to ‘speak’ of Christ, but in a certain sense to ‘show’ him to them. And is it not the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium?[4]

“Here are the key words,” Sample added. “‘Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face.’”[5]

In these quotes, Archbishop Sample makes clear that he is a proponent of St. John Paul II’s ecclesiology of revelation and encounter, which is both the necessary condition for bold evangelization and leads inexorably to it. In this ecclesiology, these two ecclesial movements, contemplation (ad intra) and evangelization (ad extra), are distinct but inseparable. Before she can go forth to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, the Church must first encounter her Lord, for which “a grace of ‘revelation’ is needed.”[6] Like the Samaritan woman drawing water from the well, the Church must return to the founts of revelation. Foremost among these founts are the Scriptures[7] and the sacred liturgy,[8] into which we must enter with a spirit of faith,[9] nourished by deep prayer in silence.[10] Implicit in this call to contemplation is the universal call to holiness: “Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.”[11] Only once Christ’s faithful have “beheld his glory” (John 1:14 RSV2CE)[12] will the Church “reflect the light of Christ”[13] in the splendor of holiness and proclaim His saving Gospel with conviction to the world.

A Eucharistic Church

In November 2017, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council recommended a set of pastoral priorities “to help the people of western Oregon live in a manner worthy of their call in Jesus Christ … leading Catholics to a deeper faith and relationship with Christ and the Church so that we may become missionary disciples and compelling witnesses of the Gospel.”[14] The second of these six pastoral priorities, following catechesis and faith formation, was divine worship. In particular, the Pastoral Council called for the elevation of sacred music, better liturgical formation of ministers and laity, as well as a more consistent “Mass experience” across parishes to “ensure that it is in accord with the Church’s faithful celebration of the sacred liturgy.”[15]  

Concretely, this pastoral focus has borne fruit in the publication of the 2018 Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook[16] and the Archbishop’s 2019 pastoral letter, “Sing to the Lord a New Song,”[17] both of which collected and presented Church teaching on the sacred liturgy and music in one resource and established particular norms for the Archdiocese. The Office of Divine Worship has been proactive in providing trainings across the archdiocese to explain and implement these resources, as well as producing new media, such as the monthly Source & Summit newsletter and videos like “How to Receive the Eucharist.”[18] The purpose of this ongoing process of liturgical reform and instruction is to allow the face of Christ to shine forth ever more clearly in the sacred liturgy and the sacraments, most of all in the Holy Eucharist, the premier locus of contemplative encounter with the Lord.

In teaching about and regulating the celebrations of the sacred liturgy, Archbishop Sample is exercising the threefold role of the bishop as “Teacher, Shepherd and High Priest.”[19]  As high priest, “every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop”;[20] as teacher and shepherd, bishops are to lead their flock “by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power.”[21] Therefore, Archbishop Sample reminded the Archdiocese in a recent pastoral letter that “we discover the full manifestation of Christ’s boundless love within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”[22] It is first and foremost at the Eucharist that “the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord,”[23] and it is from that “divine encounter with the living God”[24] that can she evangelize the world.

An Evangelizing Church

The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council’s 2017 recommendations made clear that all these “concrete pastoral initiatives should be seen in the context of the Church’s overall mission of evangelization.”[25] Indeed, at a recent Mass celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Sample asked, “Why does the Archdiocese of Portland exist? I would maintain that we exist to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”[26] His words echo those of Pope St. Paul VI, who wrote that the Church as a whole “exists in order to evangelize.”[27] The model of the Church as herald is applicable, with the caveat that the one whom we must proclaim is the very one we have first contemplated: “His word engages us not only as hearers of divine revelation, but also as its heralds. The one whom the Father has sent to do his will draws us to himself and makes us part of his life and mission … to proclaim the word everywhere by the witness of our lives.”[28]

Concretely, in the Archdiocese of Portland, this means “we need to focus on our people first.”[29] This includes proclaiming the Gospel to the faithful and clergy and inviting all to join in the mission. The first stage of the new evangelization in western Oregon will begin, as the Archbishop has said, by “working with all of you, collaborating with all of you, leading you into a life-giving and transformative encounter with the person of Jesus Christ … so that you will see everything differently, and therefore be able to be those missionary disciples to others.”[30]


[1] John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia [On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church] (April 17, 2003), §6.

[2] Catholic Sentinel, “Archbishop Sample Installation,” YouTube video, 00:17. April 2, 2013,

[3] Catholic Sentinel, “Archbishop Sample Installation,” 04:03.

[4] John Paul II, Novo millennio ineuente [At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000] (January 6 2001)§16.

[5] Catholic Sentinel, “Archbishop Sample Installation,” 07:33–10:30.

[6] John Paul II, Novo millennio ineunte, §20.

[7] Ibid, §17, 39.

[8] Ibid, §35.

[9] Ibid, §19.

[10] Ibid, §20.

[11] Paul VI, Lumen gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church] (November 21, 1964)§11.

[12] The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010).

[13] John Paul II, Novo millennio ineuente, §16.

[14] Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, “2017-2019 Pastoral Initiatives” (November 2017), 1, at

[15] Ibid.

[16] Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook (Portland, OR: Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, 2018).

[17] Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, “Sing to the Lord a New Song,” January 25, 2019.

[18] Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, “How to Receive the Eucharist,” Vimeo video. May 25, 2018,

[19] Paul VI, Lumen gentium, §21.

[20] Ibid, §26.

[21] Ibid, §27.

[22] Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, “The Church Draws Her Life from the Eucharist: Rescinding the General Dispensation,” June 30, 2021,

[23] John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, §1.

[24] Archbishop Alexander Sample, “Homily on the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon,” Vimeo video, 08:34. October 24, 2021,

[25] Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, “2017-2019 Pastoral Initiatives,” 1.

[26] Sample, “Homily on the 175th Anniversary,” 12:40–12:55.

[27] Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi (December 8, 1975), §14.

[28] Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini [On the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church] (September 30, 2010) §91.

[29] Sample, “Homily on the 175th Anniversary,” 13:44–13:49.

[30] Sample, “Homily on the 175th Anniversary,” 14:32 – 15:12.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s