Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.
Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Sorry about the lack of links posted this week (thus far). I’m north of Nashville, TN, preparing to speak to a colloquium at Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, TN. The talk will be on the salvific nature of beauty, delivered primarily to high school students and featured the theological stylings of Simone Weil, Augustine, Romano Guardini, and Marilynne Robinson. Should be an easy feat, right?
1) A really beautiful piece from Jason Welle, SJ at The Jesuit Post reflecting on his brother’s diagnosis with cancer and his subsequent death:
But his dying was never without dignity. I asked Tony to let us love him through his sufferings, and we were able to love him all the way through to the end. And in letting us do that, he showed us courage and heroism, and embodied real dignity. Tony’s journey through his own illness, suffering and death was nothing short of courageous; but that he did all this and cared for my dad in his illness and death is simply heroic. Courage and heroism aren’t born in complacency or contentment, nor are they the hallmarks of fearlessness and ordinary strength. They are created in response to trials and suffering, and they’re evidence of the triumph of hope over despair. Dignity too is made possible through courage and heroism, but love makes all of these possible; love in time of affliction is the condition that makes dignity a reality.
The recessional hymn concluded, and following a brief prayer of thanksgiving, I genuflected and exited my pew with a glance at my watch – just enough time to get back for the start of the next conference presentation. There was a light rain outside, and I made sure to slow down and hold onto the handrail as I descended the slippery stone staircase from the west transept door.
Right behind me was an elderly couple, and the woman was attempting the navigate the stairs with a cane. She was doing alright with her husband’s help, but I stuck around just in case – and I wasn’t the only one. An usher and another man stood at the top of the stairs watching the couple take each step. Once the woman made it to the sidewalk, the two men nodded to me as if we three had all been part of a covert stair-descent safety team, and then they re-entered the church.
Nothing particularly virtuous about our watching out for that woman – pretty much any decent soul would’ve done the same. And that’s the point – we’re all in this together, insiders and outsiders alike.
Clearly liturgy cannot simply reflect culture, but must also create culture. Is the liturgy at Nativity doing this? White and Corcoran speak (to my ear) somewhat dismissively of “churchpeople” who live in “churchland.” These are those who feel comfortable with terms like “homily” rather than “message”, “RCIA” rather than “Vantage Point,” “Sunday obligation” rather than “weekend experience.” They like things like the Easter Vigil and the Stations of the Cross; words like “novena” and “sodality” trip off their tongues; they enjoy architecture and music that reminds them that they are part of a two-thousand year-old tradition. Perhaps, as Rebuilt at times implies, these are simply people for who Catholicism has become a tribal identity, who care nothing about the lost that Christ would have us seek. But perhaps at least some of these “churchpeople” are those who have been inculturated into the rich tradition of Catholicism and want to pass that along to others. Undoubtedly they are still, in some complex way, postmodern suburbanites. But they are also something else, something that creates friction with their postmodern suburban identity.
I believe that the leadership at Nativity welcomes that friction; indeed, they wish to foster it. They want to resist the consumer culture that not only surrounds but also pervades the Church. They want to, as they put it, “make Church matter,” while rejecting a hermetically sealed “churchland.” I wonder, however, if their dismissal of “churchpeople” and “churchland” is too cavalier. Perhaps, rather than rejecting a pathology in Christ’s body—those who think they somehow “own” the Church and who want to keep trespassers off their property—they are instead rejecting a set of valuable resources for forming Christian identity over and against the culture of consumerism.
All of this is, of course, simply a manifestation of an enduring tension within the process of liturgical inculturation. How do you make Church matter to Timonium Tim without pandering to him, so as to turn him into a consumer? To what extent is it desirable, or even possible, to make Christian liturgical celebration look like, sound like, feel like, a culture’s other forms of celebration? Or does the liturgy inevitable mark out its own space—churchland—populated by its own strange citizens—churchpeople?