Thursday, August 17, 2006

Taking the Initiative In the Liturgy

Initiatives, In Support of Christians in the World
September 2006, #158

Liturgical expert Mark Searle (1941-1992) tried to write a book in his last days. His effort now appears as Called To Participate edited by Anne Koestner and Barbara Searle (Liturgical Press [2006], PO Box 7500, Collegeville, MN 56321; $9.95).

Searle is not entirely pleased with what’s happened since Vatican II. However, he hardly wants a return to the Latin Mass. The problem is that today’s liturgy-even in the most sophisticated parishes-imbibes too much modern individualism. Even though worshippers “sing with one voice” and partake of a common loaf, the liturgy, like religion in general, is an exercise in privatization.

Many weddings, as every priest can attest, exemplify Searle’s distress. The wedding reflects the groom and bride as individuals, but soars past “marriage as an institution and a tradition.”

Searle isn’t faulting priests who accommodate stressed out brides and grooms. He is not criticizing dedicated liturgy coordinators and lay ministers. Nor, unlike the so-called liturgical restorationists, Searle is not at war with modernity.

The missing dimension, says Searle, is a vision of the liturgy as a public activity (the work of the people in the public square) – one that shapes the world. This vision, Searle details, was part of the liturgical movement from the late 1800s until Vatican II (1962-1965). It included people like Fr. Dom Virgil Michel, OSB (1890-1938) and National Center for the Laity founders Msgr. Dan Cantwell (1915-1996) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004). This era is described briefly in The People’s Work by Rev. Frank Senn (Augsburg Fortress [2006], PO Box 59304, Minneapolis, MN 55459; $35) and extensively in The Unread Vision: the Liturgical Movement in the U.S. by Fr. Keith Pecklers, SJ (Liturgical Press [1998]; $24.95).

Called To Participate is not bullet point liturgical techniques. In fact, says Searle, trying to “generate an awareness of the social dimension of Christianity” by superimposing techniques will likely only yield more individualism. Instead, Searle suggest some alternative ways of thinking about a parish and its liturgy.

Echoing a National Center for the Laity theme, Searle says that most pastors and parish leaders currently regard “people at the core [of the parish] as normative and their mutual involvement [in intra-parish ministry] as a model for everyone else, which is neo-clericalism.” The liturgy and the world might change, he continues, if parish leaders “accepted that it is the people on the fringe who are normative; that is the stranger, not the friend, who is the typical [Christian] companion.”

To overcome “religious individualism,” Searle concludes, we “need forms of worship that actually cultivate…the liturgy of the world.”

National Center for the Laity
P.O. Box 291102
Chicago, IL 60629