“Corpus Christi past, present, future. Will liturgy survive?” ©
Thoughts on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, June 3, 2018
Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
This year’s Solemnity of Corpus Christi finds me wondering about the future of liturgy. Many of us have memories of processions, incense, and multiple altars on which monstrances were placed. Back in the day, the weekends of late Spring often included parades on Memorial Day and Masses in cemeteries followed one or two weekends later by Corpus Christi processions and Benedictions in an outdoor venue. The first time I went to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky was to participate in the annual Corpus Christi celebration with its processions on the infield grass. (I never saw a horse.)
While some folks would like to return to such rituals and liturgies the fact is they are long gone. What formerly stood as the standard for ritual expression and liturgical celebration stands no more. Some of this change applies to intentional and deliberate choice on the part of those in and of the Church who acknowledge that change is necessary if faith is to speak to the modern world – a particularly important focus of Vatican II.
Another part of this change is the abandonment by significant numbers of church members of their own practice of faith. How often do we read about and see reports of the decline in not only church participation but also in respect for church institutions as such. Such reports point to hypocrisy, pedophilia, male dominance, financial mismanagement, unaccountable bishops, and downright corruption. With such declines the number only increases of those who have minimal, if any, experience of liturgy.
Here’s how I wound up asking myself, and offering this question for our community reflection, “Will liturgy survive?” It started when I read about the recent vote by the people of Ireland to remove the ban on abortion from the constitution of the Irish Republic. This is the latest evidence of the Irish people moving to place distance between the Roman Catholic Church and their government. In the context of running a secular polity the vote for choice and decriminalization is a political and not a moral one. The vote reflects the fact that within one or two generations Ireland has seen a drop in regular church attendance from 90% of the total population down to 30%. People have grown in the development of conscience, seeing the individual, and not the institutional church as the proper realm of moral and social choice. To abandon the church is to abandon its moral teachings in favor of individual conscience. It also seems to me that it represents the abandonment of liturgical practice.
I further discovered that google searching on the topic quickly takes one on a journey from reduction in church membership identity to articles with titles such as, “What’s the future of Christianity?” “Where is theology going?” and “How will Christianity survive?” Here’s where I add, “Will liturgy survive?”
I’d like to propose a formula that helps me to investigate this question. It goes like this: “We gather for conversion to do mission.”
First, we gather. From week to week we gather as community. Even in our 7 years of existence our community has established custom, habit, familiar ways of being and doing. They are the kind of things that, as we gather, make it possible to gain comfort and depth in our praying together. This gathering may even reach back to words, prayers, and songs that are historical – even ancient. From what I read in my search, some would like to think that such reaching back is really the best strategy to address liturgical fitness. I ran across one article that, in the interest of securing the future of liturgy, the author described what he called “Destination Parishes.” These are locations that celebrate the so-called Reform of the Reform movement articulated and given credence by Benedict XVI. This is the view that holds that we will become truer and better Catholics when there are less of us. Destination Parishes celebrate the formalized, concretized liturgies of the past. Apparently we need to return to letting the male priests do it, the approved choir sing it and the laity observe it. Nowhere found in the destination is the Vatican II view, as well as our own, that liturgy is the work of the people, that we are to be fully participative in our community prayer.
So, we gather – alive, alert, and in tune. Secondly, my little formula focuses on conversion. We mutually and supportively pray and hope for a change of heart in liturgy. And how are we to convert ourselves or be converted except by opening up to ourselves. Reflective sharing as liturgical act is that fully participative way in which divine presence reveals itself. Lovingly done, we reveal God, who is love, to each other. We gather for conversion.
The third bit of formula is about Mission. Remember, I’m sure you do, “By their fruits you will know them.” Talk about ancient! This test put to Christians has been around from the beginning. So also is the awareness that liturgy’s fruit is action. We pray about it. We do it. And when we do it we make clear that liturgy flows over, under, around, and through all our lives. Our living liturgy happens Sunday morning and every day until the next Sunday rolls around.
Liturgy survives in this way. We gather for conversion to do mission. I say, let’s celebrate!
A Prayer (JR)
By your action, Brother Jesus, you connected
bread and wine to divine presence;
You were transformed
from Creating Word to Savior Christ;
You gave what you give today —
By our actions, Savior Christ, we connect
life to peace and nonviolence;
We are transformed
into a sacramental people;
We give ourselves asking only
for the security of your Love.
Let the gift of your Body & Blood
be nourishment for our journey
Freely given, freely shared,
now and forever. Amen.
Leader: You gather us with all who believe in you.
Jesus, lead us on your way of love.
All: Jesus, lead us on your way of love.
Leader: You are the Beloved One. Brother Jesus,
calling us to turn always toward you.
All: Brother Jesus, we commit to follow.
Leader: Your light shines on the weak and the strong,
on those who despair and those who are hopeful.
All: Christ, our mission is to carry on your command to love.
Presider: Your majesty is to serve. Your presence is to give life.
Your guidance is the source of our confidence.
All: Jesus, Beloved One, be with us here and now.