Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Over the last several years, the Center for Liturgy has hosted an annual summer gathering attending to the rites reformed by the Second Vatican Council. These summer symposia enabled us to perceive again the theological, ritual, and devotional genius of the reformed Rites of the Council.
Yet, in the course of our conversation, it became clear that the primary concern of our participants was not simply on the reformed Rites of the Second Vatican Council nor a re-reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium. That is, there was a sense that the major concern of our era is not the implementation of a post-conciliar liturgical vision but responding to those new signs of the times that the documents don’t fully address.
We heard from campus ministers, who acknowledged that they are working with a diminishing number of students, who are not coming to Mass at all. We heard from directors of catechesis that there is declining participation in both the sacraments of marriage and infant baptism. Nearly everyone we talked to addressed the difficulty of celebrating the liturgy in parishes where distraction and the busyness of the modern world are obstacles to the flourishing of a liturgical life.
We also heard from the wider Church that the liturgical conflicts that have been so central to those who work in liturgy don’t really matter to them. They’re concerned about the quality of preaching, how to form students (at whatever age) for the sacrament of confirmation, how to draw on a larger repertoire of liturgical music and sacred architecture. And we heard most of all that the translation of the Missal, however despised by those in liturgical scholarship and ministry, is not a major concern among those who offer the sacrifice of praise on a weekly basis. They’re worried about their families, their kids, integrating their jobs and religious practice. The translation neither helped them nor harmed them in this work.
Our conversations during these Symposia reminded me again and again of that famous letter of Romano Guardini, addressing the German bishops in the midst of the Second Vatican Council:
The question is whether the wonderful opportunities now open to the liturgy will achieve their full realization; whether we shall be satisfied with just removing anomalies, taking new situations into account, giving better instruction on the meaning of ceremonies and liturgical vessels or whether we shall relearn a forgotten way of doing things and recapture lost attitudes.
From our conversations, we developed a sense that the liturgical rites of the Church have actually been quite effective in promoting a deeper sense of involvement in Christ’s sacrifice of love among those present in the assembly. But the dire statistics of Pew Studies, the reality of seminarians that are under-formed, of marriages and families in which prayer is not central to identity, and of gradually emptying churches at least in the Northeast and Midwest (and on college campuses as a whole throughout the country) kept intervening. The work of the liturgical movement today is to build a civilization where liturgical prayer can flourish. Where we address the problems of the day not simply through quoting documents, which don’t have credibility for the listener. But return again to the sources of renewal, imagining what it means to live a liturgical life in the 21st century.
This year, we will be hosting our 2016 Symposium precisely on this topic: Liturgy and the New Evangelization. Indeed, we are focusing on this not simply because I wrote a book with this title. Rather, the Center for Liturgy at Notre Dame seeks to solve the problems of this day rather than those of the 1960s. We want to understand, through the research of Christian Smith, how families pass on faith so that liturgical leaders can empower the domestic church. We want to discern how digital media has formed (and at times malformed) the human being, who is to participate in worship. We want to acknowledge the diversity that exists in the American Church, which may open up new avenues for connecting liturgy and spirituality, of “devotional life” and “liturgical life.” We want to know how liturgy “evangelizes” in the first place through ritual activity, through preaching, through catechesis, and through music. And we want dioceses, high schools, and colleges alike to begin to develop a comprehensive strategy where they celebrate a diversity of liturgical rites as a way of contributing to the work of evangelization in the (post)-modern world. And we want these groups to develop new approaches to catechetical and spiritual formation, grounded in the liturgy, that leads to the fullness of human flourishing, of happiness, of self-gift.
The Center for Liturgy is thus hosting our final Symposia on Liturgy and the New Evangelization as a sign of what is to come.
- In future summers, we will be hosting a three-year cycle of summer conferences that will form partner dioceses, parishes, and schools in the theological and spiritual principles of the liturgy; in a Eucharistic vision of the world; and in making explicit the intrinsic connection between devotion, social justice, and the liturgy. This event will also eventually have an advanced track, which will consider special topics in liturgical-sacramental ministry.
- We will be hosting another week that seeks to discern how the principles of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd might influence how we carry out the RCIA, marriage formation, infant baptism, and spiritual formation on college campuses.
- We will continue to partner with Notre Dame Vision to develop an approach to liturgical music that is not simply grounded in the formation of musical capacities but whose foundation is in the liturgical and theological vision of the Church. It is not enough to form musicians. We need to form liturgical musicians, who know the liturgy, who pray the liturgy, who love the liturgy.
- And lastly, we will be hitting the road to do workshops, retreats, and other educational events on college campuses throughout the United States (we’re heading to Michigan State, Washington University, and the University of Michigan during this academic year alone).
In this way, the Center for Liturgy seeks to enrich the liturgical and sacramental imagination for the evangelization and transformation of the world. We see liturgical prayer, still, as a unique medium for healing the modern imagination from consumerism, from injustice, from domestic discontent, social isolation, and technological overload.
Join us this summer at Notre Dame as we start to work together on this renewal of the imagination. A renewal that will lead, we believe, to the renaissance of liturgical and sacramental ministry in the 21st century.