All posts tagged: liturgy

Now We Must Dismantle the Tree

Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes— Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic. So begins the somewhat bleak conclusion of W. H. Auden’s For the Time Being. Written in 1944, in the thick of what surely must have been difficult series Christmases for war-torn Europe and its American ally, Auden’s Christmas oratorio concludes the story of Christ’s birth with a final statement on the dissatisfaction of the Christmas season. Auden treats on our own failure to live into the vision of love witnessed at the feast, on our desire to distract ourselves from the present moment with tribulation or joy. But, here we are, after the Christmas season ends, with ordinary time, a upsetting juxtaposition with the rich liveliness of the season of the feast. Auden’s portrait of the harsh contrast between the Christmas season and “the time being,” conflicts sharply with most American Christians’ (author included) preferred pictures of the Christmas season, wrapped in the glow of comfort …

The Advent Apocalypse

Our parishes are too safe. They gather together like-minded citizens whose children go to the same schools, whose parents root for the same football team and work in similar fields. We form insular communities that sing music praising not the triune God who comes to interrupt history through the power of the cross, but music reminding the Creator of the universe how lucky God is to have a people like us as his own. The Church’s liturgy in these instances functions not as a counter-polis but as a replication of social structures that reduce the reign of God to a country club. We naively sing (accompanied by an upbeat tambourine), “Send down the fire of your justice,” unaware that this fire may be for us. And we do so in the name of an evangelization that is supposed to be palatable for a generation that longs not for prophetic discourse but therapeutic memoirs. Advent is the season in which our parishes should once again become dangerous spaces. The coming of Christ that we prepare for …

Where Do Theology and Cognitive Psychology Intersect?

Both college educators and students are rushing to connect psychological, educational, and neuroscientific findings to learning outcomes. Students study psychological research such as C. Dweck’s academic growth mindset in order to develop their learning trajectories. Professors are immersed in a burgeoning market of academic pedagogy models that stress retention of information in addition to conventional assessment. Three influential examples include: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, What the Best College Teachers Do, and Small Teaching.[1] These are indeed exciting developments. On the one hand, institutions of higher learning are challenging students as learners to cultivate integrative and appropriative methods for their own academic development and retention. On the other hand, faculty are ever lauded not only for the precise presentation of content, but also for fostering the critical and integrative skills that bridge collegiate learning into life and work. Concerning both, however, as any faculty or student will admit, these goals are much harder to actualize than to theorize. As researchers in the psychology and theology of memory, we wish to suggest how …

Whose Liturgy? What Sacrifice?

James K.A. Smith’s cultural liturgies project has concluded with his volume on political theology, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. In the three volumes, Smith makes an argument about the formative nature of Christian liturgical prayer. From the beginning of the project, Smith founds his liturgical theology of culture in an Augustinian anthropology: we are what we love. While secular culture has done an adept job at forming us in rites that shape our desires and imaginations (including shopping malls), Reformed Christianity has focused primarily on developing a worldview through an intellectual formation carried out in the Christian college or university. Smith argues that Christian education must turn away from an exclusive focus on the formation of the intellect to an approach grounded in liturgical practice. If we are what we love, then we need to cultivate those practices that shape the human imagination to love God and neighbor well. The first volume of the cultural liturgies project (Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation) established the anthropological basis of the argument, focusing on the manner …

Black Bodies, Kneeling, and the Liturgy

This essay should be understood as a preliminary[1] exegesis, reading the recent events surrounding the phenomenon of “taking a knee” at football games as texts, mining them for meaning. Why has the response of many Americans been so negative? And how might we, as liturgically formed Christians, apply a kind of hospitable imagination to our reading as we seek to live out a consistent and holistic ethic of life? They’re not only free to earn millions of dollars every year, but they’re also free from the worry of being shot in the head for taking the knee like they would be if they were in North Korea. —Commentator on Fox Cable News You think black Americans are free from the worry of being shot by agents of the state? That’s the whole thing that they’re protesting in the first place. —Trevor Noah, from the Daily Show Scapegoat Theory The renowned theorist René Girard posits an overarching theory of human culture that begins with what he calls mimetic desire. Human desires “are not innate or autonomous,” …

MacIntyre on What is Sinking Catholic Education

There is a university chapel in Washington State that always makes me think it could be easily converted into a low-key Starbucks café. It would not be the most architecturally interesting Starbucks, but it would do. It would make money. The university that houses the chapel is well-known for stressing its identity as formed by a brand name religious order, rather than being “Catholic.” I used to think this distinction was hyperbole, rather than actual practice. But then a friend told me that an acquaintance of his who is a recruiter for that very university tells its recruits that the university “is x, and not Catholic.”[1] I’ve withheld names because there is no reason to single out an institution when this pattern is all too familiar in Catholic universities.[2] I mention this because Tim O’Malley briefly proposed in “Letting the Imagination Out to Play” that the rejuvenation of the Catholic liturgical imagination will take place through Catholic institutions of higher education: Yes, of course, the Church needs to put aside money to this process. To …

Letting the Imagination Out to Play

Last weekend, I was in Philadelphia for the Society for Catholic Liturgy. This “multidisciplinary association of Catholic scholars” seeks to promote the “scholarly study and practical renewal of the Church’s liturgy.” The theologians, architects, philosophers, pastoral liturgists, and musicians of the Society range from advocates of the “reform of the reform” to those more sympathetic to Msgr. Francis Mannion’s “recatholicizing approach, one that “seeks a recovery of the sacred and numinous in liturgical expression which will act as a corrective to the sterility and rationalism of much modern liturgical experience.”[1] The Society brings together both those who prefer to celebrate the usus antiquor, the Latin Mass, as well as Novus Ordo Mass-goers who suspect that the low-Mass mentality of the pre-conciliar period has been canonized in the current ars celebrandi and aesthetics of the reformed liturgy. While attending this event, I often found myself returning to a passage from Artur Rosman’s last column on the retrieval of a Catholic imagination: Church life must once again become the heart of the Catholic imagination, but the onus of …

Liturgical Catechesis

Liturgical catechesis—the act of reorienting our lives in and by the liturgical act—is quite a hot topic in ministerial circles currently. Liturgical catechesis should allow the grace of God to work through the words, actions, and meaning of the liturgy in order to form our lives. It would thus transform us into little Christs to serve the Church and the world. What does this look like and how can it be achieved? This is not a new question. There are certainly many answers such as Timothy O’Malley’s books, Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples, and Fr. Randy Stice’s trilogy on a rites-based approach to the sacraments are just a few that come to mind. But as I was perusing the latest issue of Antiphon—the journal of the Society for Catholic Liturgy—Dr. James Pauley of Franciscan University made a simple yet weighty statement: “the testimony of real people . . . can give voice to what it looks like in their own life experience to live fr­­­om the grace of the sacrament.”[1] Christ’s disciples in the world …

The Single Most Important Thing I Noticed at the Fordham Catholic Imagination Conference

As I mentioned previously in the piece Things I Received at the Fordham Catholic Imagination Conference, at the end of April I was given the opportunity to attend the 2nd Catholic Imagination Conference at Fordham University. The notebook I carried with me from Indiana to New York City was my constant travel companion and confidante. Its pages are scrawled upon generously with every single little tidbit I could scavenge from the weekend. These notes are written in a very particular strain of my handwriting: not in my signature and presentable cursive reserved for thank-you notes, shopping lists, and even most of my lecture notes, but in my slanted, sideways, all-over-the-page chicken scratch that only comes out when I am absolutely desperate to cram ever little morsel of truth onto the page. For those of you who are curious about this conference: I would like nothing more than to sit down with you and show you each page of my notebook, tracing through each and every fascinating thing that I heard and saw. But, in the …

Editorial Musings: Restoring Sacramental Magic

This summer, I attended the biennial congress in Leuven, Belgium of Societas Liturgica, an ecumenical gathering of liturgical historians, theologians, and musicians from throughout the world. The congress’ theme was that of sacramentality. Rather than understand the sacramental through traditional categories (matter and form, substance and accidents), the various lectures of the congress sought to grasp the sacramentality of life itself, the manner in which God’s presence permeates history. This “sacramentality” of existence then should allow us to re-consider the nature of liturgical practice in post-modern, secular society. While sacramentality (the permeation of divine presence in human history) was held up as a virtue, magic remained a vice. The dismissal of sacramental magic is ubiquitous in modern (and even post-modern) works of sacramental theology. Louis-Marie Chauvet’s account of the sacramentality of existence—required reading for all those involved in liturgical theology—makes a habit of warning against a “magical” interpretation of the sacraments. A magical account of the sacraments would be one that does not concern itself with the intrinsic link between ethics and the sacraments. It …