Friday, February 25, 2011

The Digital Age Will Kill "Community" Obsessed Worship

In an article this morning on InsideCatholic, I riff a bit on a thesis by Richard Beck. He argues that digital social networking is taking over the social function of church attendance. I argue that he might be right and this makes the case for reclaiming those aspects of faith that the digital world cannot duplicate, namely theological and liturgical tradition:

The digital age offers a profound challenge to religious believers who continue to desire that the faithful gather to praise God. The Church has served other purposes as well, and this is all to the good. But to the extent that these are not theological and liturgical purposes, they are in danger of being displaced.

Many Catholic thinkers and writers have for decades chosen to emphasize the communal and social aspects of the liturgy over its theological dimension. This comes through in their recommendation of music that "people like" and "can sing" with gusto. The presider should be friendly and accessible, like your best friend. Homilies should be upbeat and funny. We must greet our neighbors and extend a hand of friendship, dragging out the "sign of peace" as long as possible.

This perspective now faces a serious problem. What is it that the Church offers uniquely? Here we must embrace a deeper understanding of why we gather: not only the traditional teaching concerning the Real Presence, but also the traditional liturgical structure that makes that awareness an integral part of the experience at Mass. This goes for music, vestments, architecture, and every other aspect of liturgical life.

The world is crying out for sacred space, and there is little that the digital world can do to create that. There is nothing that the digital world can do to create the Real Presence of Christ. This is the "app" that the Catholic Church offers, and it is a very serious matter because it deals with eternal, immortal things.

The Church does have something unique to offer, even and especially in the digital age. But if we do not embrace the liturgical forms that underscore that unique offering, we are as much in danger as Professor Beck suggests. Facebook may indeed kill the touchy-feely form of Catholicism that many have urged on us for decades. Community feeling will not fill the pews in the future. However, re-embracing ritual, solemnity, and truth will.

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