Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Next week, the Center for Liturgy will be gathering over a 100 participants for our fourth annual Symposium on the reformed rites of the Second Vatican Council. The goal of this event has been from the beginning to consider the cultural, sociological, liturgical, and theological facets of these rites as they are practiced in the early 21st century. In 2012, we treated the celebration of the Eucharist. In 2013, the rites of initiation. In 2014, the rites of healing. And now in 2015, the rites of vocation including marriage and the priesthood.
From the beginning, the staff of the Center believed it was necessary to consider marriage and priesthood together in particular. That is, it has become common to speak about a vocations crisis today in the Church. One in which the dearth of priestly vocations (which do seem to be on the rise) has left the Church in the United States and Europe scrambling for those to preside over the rites of the Church. Rectories once populated with three or four priests are now lucky to have two. Priests are made pastors of large parishes before they have a chance to develop the necessary pastoral and administrative competencies, often leaving these young men burnt out early in their priestly vocation.
Yet, to the one attentive to pastoral realities, Christian marriage itself is experiencing its own crisis. The number of sacramental marriages have been on the decline over the last several years. Divorce among Catholics is high. Many young couples are afraid of marriage (even when in long-term relationships), fearful that committing oneself to another person too early will disable one’s ability to achieve success. Once married, the challenges faced by families are real. The Lineamenta in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family notes:
Cultural tendencies in today’s world seem to set no limits on a person’s affectivity in which every aspect needs to be explored, even those which are highly complex. Indeed, nowadays the question of affective fragility is a pressing one; a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity does not always allow a person to grow to maturity. Particularly worrisome is the spread of pornography and the commercialization of the body, fostered also by a misuse of the internet and reprehensible situations where people are forced into prostitution. In this context, couples are often uncertain, hesitant and struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. A crisis in a couple’s relationship destabilizes the family and may lead, through separation and divorce, to serious consequences for adults, children and society as a whole, weakening its individual and social bonds. The decline in population, due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future. The development of bio-technology has also had a major impact on the birthrate (9)
If there is a crisis, then, in both priesthood and marriage alike, it is necessary to ask ourselves whether it is possible to offer a theological and pastoral response to this crisis. And to discern whether the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church includes resources to respond to this pastoral problem. Of course, we think yes.
Thus, next week from June 8-11, 2015, we will be featuring live updates through Twitter (#NDSymposium2015) and our Facebook Page from our various speakers and seminars, as we begin to explore this common problem together. Some of the questions that will be integral to our gathering will include:
- What images from the Scriptures and theological tradition of the Church might we employ in the formation of those discerning a vocation to marriage or priesthood?
- What is a liturgical theology of vocation? And how might this liturgical theology inform practices of discernment relative to marriage and priesthood alike?
- What might those involved in marriage formation learn from those engaged in priestly formation? And vice versa?
- What are the political and social implications of these vocations today?
- How can one perform marriage preparation as an evangelizing activity in the Church today, reaching out to the very margins? What role does liturgical music itself have in this activity of evangelization?
- What resources are available for a liturgical and sacramental theology of the ministerial priesthood, one that can sustain a priest over the long haul?
- Who is the deacon? And how might he contribute to this renewal of family life and Church alike?
Even if you can’t make it to our Symposium, we invite you to join along in asking these questions with us through social media or through attending to the study guides that we will produce after the Symposium. We look forward to hosting yet another Symposium that seeks to carry out the liturgical movement’s deep concern to connect liturgy and life, enabling liturgical prayer to transform not simply the life of the believer but society as a whole. Join us in this liturgical approach to carrying out the New Evangelization.