Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Liturgical Thought Experiment

Suppose for a minute (I know this will be hard) that The Church is RIGHT about the liturgy and the nature of the sacraments. Suppose that the Mass really is the memorial of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of God's Only Begotten Son. Suppose it is the source and summit of our lives as Christians. More to the point: suppose that something actually supernatural and really (not metaphorically) divine is going on during the Mass.

Now suppose instead (I'm sure this will be much easier) that (either in addition to, or else in contrast with, this) that The Catholic Progressives are RIGHT about the liturgy. Suppose that the purpose is to teach and inform us about God and Christ, and to make us into a Worldwide community of love and unity, a revolutionary force to stand up against the greed and corruption of the world, and to care for the poor and downtrodden of the earth.

Now suppose instead that The Mainline Protestant Liberal Academics are RIGHT about liturgy. Suppose that the purpose is primarily instructive and cultural. Suppose there is no "magic" or actual supernatural efficacy, but that it's important to preserve cultural and artistic practices that have been meaningful to previous generations. Religion is, of course, just a human-constructed metaphor- but (well, you know) it's an important metaphor.

Suppose now (if your head isn't spinning yet) that The Fundamentalists are RIGHT about liturgy church God, and that at any moment, the Second Coming is going to happen, and we are in SERIOUS danger of eternal damnation, and we need to understand just how small and sinful we are, how worthy we are of hell, and that only by God's completely incomprehensible grace do we have any hope (no matter how small) of escaping the fiery furnace.

Suppose that Atheist Scholars of Myth and Psychology (Joseph Campbell, etc.) are RIGHT, and that the liturgy of The Church is simply one more among the world's naturally-occurring religions. Suppose that the purpose of religion and ritual is to conform our psyches to the collective mythos so that we can function as healthy and productive members of society. Suppose that the shared metaphors of religion reveal the human person's relationship with an inhospitable world, and that liturgy and belief serve to make that mysterious inhospitality understandable, allowing us to accept our eventual biological death without living every moment of our lives in terror and ignorance.

Okay... suppositioning over.

Questions for discussion:

1. In which of these understandings of the role of public worship in the life of the Church and society is "silly songs and folk dancing" an appropriate choice?

2. In which of these paradigms of liturgical worship would "making things up as we go along" be an edifying or helpful phenomenon?

3. In which of these modes or theories of liturgy (or any other one that is even vaguely coherent) would the ancient and traditional (and beautiful and terrifying) repertoire of chanted prayer be abandoned?

4. What am I getting at here?