From Liturgy to Action in the World

Sacrosanctum Concilium‘s call for revisions in liturgical rites and texts made it easier for the Church to recognize and engage the public nature of liturgy. It also empowered the worshipping faithful to take part in efforts to reform social, economic, cultural, and political systems of society. The latter emphasis is what Gaudium et spes brought to our understanding of what being a community and being involved in public worship implies for our life and actions in the world.

Bernard Evans, “Gaudium et spes Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”, in A Liturgical Companion to the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, Danielle A. Noe, ed. (Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 2016), p. 27. ISBN:978-1-61671-314-0.

The Liturgy in the Life of the Church

Whether the Council Fathers could foresee the impact of the reform of the liturgy on the life of the Church is impossible to know for certain. The liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). The Church’s effectiveness in teaching, evangelization, and charitable work finds its origin in the liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium goes on to explain that it is the liturgy that inspires, nourishes, and configures the faithful to go forth as witnesses in the world. The faithful depend on the liturgy for sustenance for their work in the world.. This is an important dimension of the Church’s relationship with the world explained more deeply in Gaudium et Spes. The Church brings to the world through her individual members an example and an instrument of healing and mercy, and those gifts are given to the faithful in part through the Sacred Liturgy.

The liturgy also expresses the nature of the Church with its structure, ministries, and parts. Through the encounter with Christ in the liturgy, the Church is built up to be what she is called to be. The nature of the Church is not only expressed – she also grows by her celebration of the sacraments. The liturgy, therefore, articulates and manifests what is expressed in Lumen Gentium.

Richard B. Hilgartner, “Sacrosanctum Concilium Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”, in A Liturgical Companion to the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, Danielle A. Noe, ed. (Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 2016), p. 6. ISBN: 978-1-61671-314-0.

The Reception of Vatican II

Fifty years after the event of Vatican II, we find ourselves in that crucial moment of passage between the short run and the long run: the “clash of narratives” about Vatican II encounters here the perennial law of the reception of the Councils of the Church. Giuseppe Alberigo, recalling the worrisome memorandum sent between 1600 and 1612 by Robert Bellarmine to Pope Clement VIII on the progress of the reforms decided by the Council of Trent (1545-63), had estimated that it took at least fifty years for the beginning of the reception of Trent.

It is part of the challenge of ministering in today’s Catholic Church, showing that the Church is in an ongoing path of conversion to the Gospel. It is a spiritual, theological, and institutional process. Vatican II is the most important moment in that process of conversion for a Church in the modern secular world. Making sense of the place and the role of the Church in today’s world requires an awareness of that particular moment in the history of the Catholic tradition.

Massimo Faggioli, “Introduction”, in A Liturgical Companion to the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, Danielle A. Noe, editor, (Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 2016), p. xx. ISBN: 978-1-61671-314-0.

A Library of Stories

I’m reading a book entitled In the Beginning There Were Stories by William Bausch. The subtitle of the book is “Thoughts about the Oral Tradition of the Bible”, and Bausch is making a case that to adequately understand the Scriptures they need to be seen as the written form of what were initially oral stories.

One of the early chapters, on the nature of the Bible as a book, carries the same title as this post and features the following wonderful quote about approaching the Bible:

It’s like going to the library. Yes, it’s one building, but it has a history section, a literature section, a science section, a poetry section, a mystery section, a fiction section, a biography section, and so on. When we go to a library, you and I adjust our minds and expectations to the shelf and section we choose. In other words, we don’t expect objective statements from poetry or history from science fiction. If I’m reading an Agatha Christie murder mystery with Hercule Poirot, I’m not reading it the same way or with the same assumptions as I would were I reading Grandpa’s last will and testament. So, why should all seventy-two books of the Bible say the same thing in the same way? Yet that’s what people expect.

William J. Bausch, In the Beginning There Were Stories: Thoughts about the Oral Tradition of the Bible (Mulgrave, Vic.: John Garratt Publishing, 2004), pp 26-27. ISBN: 1-920721-16-9.

Liturgy, Leadership, and Governance in the Church

…the church as sacrament is inseparable from its baptismal and Eucharistic practices, for the unity of the church is sacramentally realized in its communion with its Lord (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Therefore the principles of good worship are also the principles of life in the church more generally, since the nature of the church is manifested through the liturgy. Specifically this means that insofar as the nature of the liturgy requires the ‘full, conscious, and active participation’ of the faithful in liturgical celebrations, so also must the faithful participate in the church fully, consciously, and actively. This does not mean turning the church into a political democracy, however, although it does mean incorporating liturgical principles into the governance of the church.

…the sacramentality of the church requires that pastoral leadership and liturgical presidency be united in the normal practice of the church. The minister who presides over the unity of the community generally should preside over the sacrament of unity, the Eucharist. Presidency refers to the ecclesial life of the community before it refers to a liturgical function. The practice emphasizes the intrinsic connection between the nature of the church and its liturgical worship, as well as the relationship between a pastoral liturgical minister and the church.

Susan K. Wood, “Continuity and Development in Roman Catholic Ecclesiology”, Ecclesiology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May 2011), p. 160.

The Nature of Church

…the church is sacramental, mystical, Christological, and pneumatological before it is sociological or juridical. The unity of the church is not psychological, political, or a federation of the like-minded, but a sacramental and spiritual unity in Christ first established in baptism and then expressed, nourished, and brought to maturity in eucharistic communion.

Susan K. Wood, “Continuity and Development in Roman Catholic Ecclesiology”, Ecclesiology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May 2011), p. 152.

Unconditional Mercy

Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional. Mercy is always a gratuitous act of our heavenly Father, an unconditional and unmerited act of love. Consequently, we cannot risk opposing the full freedom of the love with which God enters into the life of every person.

Pope Francis, Misericordia et Misera, no. 3.

Ten Principles of Religious Freedom

I am currently reading a book entitled Chalice of Liberty: Protecting Religious Freedom in Australia, which is essentially two essays, the first written by Frank Brennan and Michael Casey.

Towards the end of that first essay, Brennan and Casey enumerate ten principles of religious freedom (pp. 49-53), which in the current public discourse are worthy of being presented in their unadulterated form:

1. Freedom of religion and belief is a universal human right

Religious freedom belongs to every person, because most people look for answers to questions of meaning and value in something greater than themselves. Many religious people look to God, but non-religious people also draw on ultimate sources of meaning which are not of their making, such as ideas about human dignity, justice, freedom, equality, and the environment. In one sense, questions of meaning and value are religious questions even when our answers are atheism or agnosticism.

2. Religious freedom is based on respect for individual freedom

“The act of faith is of its very nature a free act” (Dignitatis humanae §10). Religious freedom is the right to believe or not to believe, to adopt, reject or change beliefs as we decide for ourselves. It protects freedom by protecting people from having the beliefs of others – religious, secular or political – imposed on them. Catholic beliefs too are not to be imposed on anyone, but proposed for people to accept or reject as they decide freely for themselves.

3. Religious freedom protects human dignity

Religious freedom upholds the intrinsic dignity of people who think, believe, worship and live differently. It protects them against pressure to hide their beliefs, or from being forced to censor themselves or limit their participation in society to avoid bullying or intimidation. It defends them from discrimination, exclusion or punishment because of their beliefs. Religious freedom is especially important in protecting people whose beliefs or ideas others find strange, ridiculous or even “offensive”, and particularly communities which may be hated and feared because of their beliefs.

4. Religious freedom should be exercised in solidarity with other people

Like many rights, religious freedom is not an absolute. It is limited by respect for both the rights of others and the common good. Because our sense of autonomy is often stronger than our sense of the common good, agreeing on the limits of rights can be fraught. Tensions between rights should be resolved wherever possible in a spirit of mutual respect, not suspicion, and with generosity towards beliefs and ways of life we do not share or even oppose. Restrictions on religious freedom should be made only on the basis of principles which apply to everyone.

5. Religious freedom is more than freedom of worship or a right to tolerance

The persecution of people in different parts of the world because of their religious beliefs shows how important basic protections such as freedom to worship and the right to be tolerated are, but religious freedom does not end there. It is a much larger freedom which makes it possible for individuals and faith communities to witness to their beliefs with integrity and as full members of their society, not only in worship but in professional life, public life and service to the wider community.

6. Religious freedom allows individuals to practise their religion freely and publicly as citizens, and not just in private life

The claim that religious people should quarantine their beliefs from public debate and even from the way they carry out their profession or occupation is unfair and discriminatory, because it allows everyone except religious people to act on their beliefs. No human being lives in neatly divided public and private worlds. Beliefs about meaning and truth, right and wrong – religious and non-religious alike – are conclusions about what is real and important in life. For everyone, they serve as a basis for their action in the world.

7. Religious freedom means people are entitled to live out their beliefs in the way they serve the rest of the community

Coming together around a common purpose and shared beliefs to help those in need is one of the main ways in which religious communities encourage participation in society and work to build up a sense of solidarity. Religious freedom protects not only the right of people to live out their beliefs in co-operation with others who share their faith, but also the right to establish and operate services for the wider community that are faithful to the beliefs which inspired them, and which are reflected in their work.

8. Religious freedom is not a claim for special treatment

It is a basic fairness for people to be able to put their beliefs into practice and not to be forced to act against them. Religious freedom protects this basic fairness. It is not a claim for a special privilege or an exemption for religious communities from laws which apply to everyone else, and describing it in these terms is misleading. Religious freedom is a fundamental right which ensures there is a space for religious communities to live out their beliefs, while also respecting the dignity and freedom of other people.

9. Religious freedom reinforces other fundamental rights

Religious freedom is part of a larger whole. It does not sit in isolation but is an integrated and essential part of human rights. Because these rights protect the different things we need to make a full life possible, they have to go together and they should not be placed in opposition to each other. Freedom of religion both depends on respect for rights such as freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly, and supports and reinforces them in turn. Placing religious freedom in doubt places these other rights in doubt as well.

10. Religious freedom makes democratic societies stronger

Religious freedom protects not only the right of individuals and religious communities to fully participate in the life of a democratic society, but also the contribution they make to building it up. Because religious freedom and related protections such as conscientious objection protect people from being compelled to co-operate with activities which they hold, as a matter of conviction, to be wrong, they also help to encourage people to speak out against injustice and evil when no one else will. Good societies need these voices.


The book, Chalice of Liberty, is published by The Kapunda Press, an imprint of Connor Court Publishing in association with the PM Glynn Institute. ISBN: 978-1-925501-83-4.

The Worldview of New Ecclesial Movements

In recent weeks I’ve been reading Sorting Out Catholicism: A Brief History of the New Ecclesial Movements by Massimo Faggioli, the 2014 translation of his 2008 original Italian volume. It has been a fascinating read, and one particular part I read this afternoon is worthy of being shared in its entirety:

In terms of worldviews, it can be said that the new Catholic movements are a product of 1968 more than of Vatican II. That is to say that their worldviews reflect a variety of cultural and political elements that are not only theological.

A first element, quite new if compared with the culture of the Catholic movement in the early twentieth century, is the centrality of the found and/or leader of the movement. The worldview of the founder is the worldview of the members of the movement, and the attitude of the movement toward inclusion or exclusion is driven by the word of the found or his or her successor, usually elected in order to perpetuate the fidelity of the movement to the charism of the founder.

A second element, relevant for the issue of inclusion and exclusion, is the drive to rebuild Catholicism around the sociological idea of “community” more than on the theological concept of “communion.” This element is sustained, in many cases, by a negative worldview, in which the rejection of the Rahnerian term “world Church” matches an idea of the world as inherently negative and threatening the Christian identity. It is clear that the inclusiveness of the “political theologies” of the early postconciliar period are no longer part of the theological identities of the new Catholic movements, their self-definition no longer being attached to any political reading of the historical-political reality of the world.

A third element relevant to the issue of inclusion and exclusion, and part of the Weltanschauung of the most important new Catholic movements imported from Spain, is a “spirituality of the reconquista” that drives these movements’ indifference or hostility toward ecumenism, their marked clericalist identity, and their aggressive relationship with the local churches in which they operate.

A fourth element of their theological culture, which can be seen as a perversion of ressourcement, is the conspicuous nostalgia for a premodern world or for a modernity tamed by ecclesiastical ideology, a sort of regressus ad uterum that longs for a pure origin in the pre-Vatican II period, in the pre-French Revolution period, or in the Council of Trent – more rarely in the patristic era or in early Christianity, for theologically obvious reasons. The material (if not formal) rejection of the liturgical reform by some of the new Catholic movements is nothing but a visible way to reject the ecclesiology of Vatican II, especially its ressourcement and rapprochement.

These cultural-theological options reveal a basic “apologetics of enmity” that receives its theological justification from a fundamentally negative worldview. It is interesting that the negative prejudice against the modern world also affects the new Catholic movements’ perception of the universal dimension of contemporary Catholicism, which they see as theologically sustainable only if closely identified with Roman identity, and therefore they judge it as grave risk when associated with “inculturation.”

Massimo Faggioli, Sorting Out Catholicism: A Brief History of the New Ecclesial Movements, trans. Demetrio S. Yocum (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014), pp 183-185. ISBN 978-0-8146-8305-7.

The Responsibilities for Theology

…Ford (2000) posits three responsibilities for theology. In the first instance, theology has responsibilities to churches and religious communities, to help them better understand themselves and their place in the world. This aligns closely with the definition of theology we considered with Anselm earlier. Second, theology has responsibilities to the other academic disciplines: it must consider seriously their legitimate truth claims, and ask what implications these have for its own. For example, if the sciences discover something that radically challenges a theological vision of the intelligibility of the world, theology must seek out the implications of this. At the same time, theology has a responsibility to speak into the other disciplines where relevant, and to question what is sometimes a ‘creeping’ expertise, such as when a biologist utilises that discipline to make theological claims. Finally, theology has responsibilities to the wider society, both to answer its questions about religion and its place in the current context, to challenge churches and other religious communities to engage in a robust and helpful manner in this context, and also to provide mean by which to think through some of the problems associated with religion today.

Terence Lovat and Daniel Fleming, What is this thing called Theology?: Considering the Spiritual in the Public Square (Macksville, NSW: David Barlow Publishing, 2014), p 24, drawing on the work of David Ford, Theology: A very short introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).