Tuesday, March 07, 2017

“Can Liturgy Heal a Secular Age?” : An Interesting Article by Prof. Timothy O’Malley

The Church Life Journal, a publication of the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, yesterday posted an article by their founding editor, Timothy O’Malley, entitled “Can Liturgy Heal a Secular Age?”, which brings some interesting ideas to the fore.

Prof. O’Malley first describes the belief of the founders of the original Liturgical Movement that a revived liturgical life and culture would steer modern man back to God, citing as an example Jungmann’s hopes for “a new relationship to the material world itself, to the world of trades and professions ... (in which) the every-day world ... is drawn into the sacred action, joined with the sacrifice which Christ presents with His Church assembled ...” He then notes that some of the evident signs that this much-looked for and augured “(p)articipation in the sacramental life of the Church has not flourished since the Second Vatican Council.”

Secondly, I was particularly struck by this description of what religion actually is, in terms of ritual and practice:

“Religion provides a privileged culture whereby we can connect our narrative to those in the past. We see ourselves in a broader story, one that is ultimately connected to God. With the loss of religious memory, the human person is no longer able to see one’s identity as linked to the communion of saints, to the Scriptures, to the Tradition: all those markers we employ in assessing Catholic identity. Thus, all that is left is the naked individual who can assess the ‘efficacy’ of a religious tradition by the way that said tradition moves him. If it doesn’t move the person, then it has no value, because it is an isolated fact rather than part of a coherent narrative.

In other words, I’m spiritual but not religious or as Grace Davie better says, I believe but I don’t belong.”

The third section, entitled “Ritual and the Subjunctive Mood,” contrasts two different ideas of what ritual is. (Subjunctive here is understood as the tense that expresses the potential, rather than the non-real.) The first is as summed up by a quote from Nathan Mitchell’s Liturgy and the Social Sciences, “ritual is essentially a way to regulate social life; to shape personal and corporate identity; to review and renew values; to express and transmit meaning in symbolic word and act; to preserve tradition; and to insure cultural cohesion and continuity.” In other words, ritual is understood as an essentially didactic collective enterprise.

O’Malley compares this to another view of ritual as the creation of a world “ ‘as if,’ one that Catholics understand as a sacramental world not yet visible to the naked eye.” Furthermore, participation is such a ritual is not essentially didactic: “Authentic participation in the rite can thus take place even when someone does not entirely understand what is unfolding in the Eucharistic assembly. One can understand, through ritual bracketing that this action is about the restoration of communion between heaven and earth, between God and humanity, between neighbor and neighbor. ... explanation is not the function of liturgy. Ritual does something before it communicates something. (my emphasis).” And thus, in regard to secularization, “The more that our liturgical practice seems drawn from the present world, from that which emphasizes comprehension and sincerity of belief, the less the contemporary human person will see ritual as necessary.”

The complete article can be read at the link give above in the first paragraph.

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