The Liturgy as Source and Summit

Discussion in the context of the 2016 election

1. Universal statements vs. empirical generalizations

When the bishops at Vatican II wrote, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life,” they thought they were stating a universal truth. If one was a devout Catholic at the time (as I was), the statement was quite plausible. For those who went to mass every Sunday after going to confession in order to receive Holy Communion the next day, Sunday worship was the high point of our religious life, and the experience of meditatively communing with Christ after receiving his body and blood gave us energy to be good Catholics during the coming week. For those who went to mass more frequently, the Eucharist could be even more important.

The liturgical changes introduced after the Council unwittingly removed the reception of communion and the experience of real presence from the centrality they had in the Latin liturgy. The new theology of the mass as a Eucharistic banquet eliminated the requirement of weekly confession, and it also filled communion time with singing that made it impossible to meditatively commune with the Lord. Weekly communion thus lost its place as the source of Catholics’ spiritual life.

Moreover, the poor implementation of the new liturgy, unexplained from the pulpit and underfunded in terms of music and other liturgical enhancements, led to the Eucharist’s decline as the summit of parish life. I have argued elsewhere that the meaning of a ritual performance is derived not from the ritual text but from the communal experience of those in attendance. As parish life devolved through the closing of schools and the scattering of Catholics into the general population, we no longer experienced the bondedness that earlier generations of Catholics had felt.

Therefore, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life” was once true as an empirical generalization, but it is no longer the case. And it was never a universal truth.

Joseph Martos, Louisville, KY

2. Absolutizing the liturgy

It seems more clear and obvious that participation in the Trinity through the Spirit’s gift of faith, hope, and charity is the source and summit of the Christian life. Would it be better to qualify the statement to read something like, "Among the sacraments the Eucharist is the visible source and summit of the Christian life"?

There is an issue of incommensurability with liturgy as a realm of signs: incommensurability between sign and signified at the same time there is the presence of the signified in and through the liturgical, sacramental sign/cause. This is due to the fact that Christ’s humanity does not and cannot mediate the totality of his divinity. So neither can liturgy arising out of Christ’s redemptive life, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit. Nor can the presence and active influence of the Spirit be confined to liturgical signs.

Liturgy indeed is crucial but has liturgical renewal exaggerated or absolutized its importance by, among other things, not heeding Virgil Michel on its inherent link with Catholic social teaching?

Tom Hughson, Marquette University,

3. Reply to Joe and Tom

With Joe I agree that few Catholics see the Eucharist/Sunday worship as the source and summit of their lived Christian life.  However, I am not sure the revised liturgy is to blame.  The Tridentine rite did allow for "private communion" with Jesus - primarily because there was nothing else for the congregation to do other than personal/private prayers.  Also, then as now, we speak of Sunday Eucharist as an obligation - that is as something to be "gotten out of the way."  We ought use the term "privilege."

With Tom, I share the value of the commitment to social justice - a necessary dimension of an authentic participation in the Eucharist.  I am often reminded of Monica Hellwig’s text "The Eucharist and the Hungers of the Human Family."  For me a commitment to justice/service is strengthened and sustained by Word and Sacrament.

Finally, Eucharist as celebration can be "source and summit" only when there is "full, conscious, and active participation."

Frank Berna, La Salle University,

4. The Lutheran tradition

In my tradition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we have mixed views regarding the centrality of the Eucharist. Luther taught Real Presence (but not consubstantiation, as many people mistakenly think), but I’m surmising that many Lutherans in the pews do not know that understanding. The average Lutheran probably regards the Eucharist as symbolic only. This lapse in understanding is, at least in part, the fault of us pastors who have not taught our parishioners well and in part a sad result of a denomination that has tended to emphasize preaching at the expense of sacramentology. As I have often said, we Lutherans could learn much from Catholics about how to honor the Eucharist.

The ELCA has determined that, ideally, one should have the Eucharist weekly. Many ELCA congregations follow that practice, but quite a few do not. One of the most common arguments is that having Eucharist weekly makes it "less special." That’s generally a lay argument, not an argument we clergy make. It is a faulty argument, of course, because the Eucharist’s specialness is not contingent upon our attitude. Again, proper catechesis  can help to correct that attitude.

So is the Eucharist the source and summit of the Lutheran life? It sure is important to me. I need all the body and blood I can get to help me be a decent Christian. But the attitudes among many Lutherans are various. My impression is that many Lutherans see the Eucharist as something they do to show God their devotion and not as something God does for them.  Most Lutherans would likely see the sermon as the center of the service, whether they pay attention to it or not.

David VonSchlichten, Seton Hill University,

4. Thirty years of reflection

The Vatican II document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, did not call the Eucharist the source and summit of the Christian life. It was a year later in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church that we see this terminology. However, by the time we get to the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1993, it is a different story.  There is a whole section on the Eucharist, with the statement “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. (n. 1134)”
Thirty years of reflection has brought this statement to the forefront on the Eucharist.  It is neither empirical nor a universal dogmatic statement.  Rather this statement is aspirational, pastoral, poetic, and symbolic.  It is the wish of the community church in poetic terms about the beginning and end of the Christian life.  It is symbolic in the sense that sacraments are effective symbols in the lives of Christians.  We simply wish that this was true for all ChristiansLet’s see if we can make it happen!
The other problem, is Eucharist meant here as Communion or as the whole experience of the Eucharistic worship service?  The context seems to lean towards Communion rather than the whole experience of the Eucharist.  While many find comfort in a communion with God, the total experience of the Eucharistic services sometimes leaves a little to be desired.

Eugene Finnegan, Calumet College of St. Joseph,

5. The Liturgy: a Place for self-discovery

How has, can, and should the liturgy be a place where we begin the deconstruction of systemic injustices? Is the liturgy simply the reception of the body and blood of Christ and then we return to the idols of hatred that have held us captive as a people?

The gnostic dualism that held early christianity captive continues to hold us captive. Subconsciously and ritualistically, we have created two worlds, one sacred, where we celebrate the liturgy, and the other, profane, where we celebrate hatred of the other. Here lies the derailment of the liturgical purpose. I argue that there need to be more catechetical moments during the celebration of the liturgy that help us to focus on the prophetic dimension of the liturgy and the content of this prophetic vision. I see this approach in the ritual moments of African Traditional religions. In these religions, worship is a time of entering the unified world of the deities and humans. Any dichotomy in vision leads to a disordered reality and loss of identity.

The purpose for the liturgy lies in what we do after the liturgy. Christ calls us not to abandon this world from which we are called to celebrate the liturgy. Christ calls us to celebrate the liturgy so that we can be energized to go out to the world and transform it.  The liturgy has evangelical and liberationalist components that are not simply focused on an eschatological hope; rather, it is an incarnational hope that enjoins us to make real what God has promised to creation in and through Christ.  

Simon Aihiokhai, University of Portland,

6. Then and now

            My childhood and early youth occurred in the nineteen thirties. The "sources and summit" of my spirituality were qualified by people around me, family, friends, parish. Catholicism then was absolutist, and top-down in male authority. The parish priest was a direct emissary of God, and had to be believed with an unquestioning faith. The unquestioned imprint of this belief carried through to my years in the Seminary.

            My sense today, what couldn’t be known to me at the time, is of existential connectedness to all other in the order of nature; that existential consciousness now over-rides the theological imprint of my childhood and early youth.  Church liturgy is meaningful to me through the lens of conscious “earth-belonging” and authentic doing of  “people-work.” Church work supposes “people work;” one is inseparable from the other.  

Sylvester L. Steffen,

7. From active participation to source and summit

I had the pleasure recently of seeing active participation in the liturgy in a small parish of the Mauritius Island. There the parishioners have dug deeply into their past of slavery and the marginalization of their creole culture. All of this found its place in their liturgy. There,  sacramental individualism has given way to a communitarian spirit in ministry and liturgy. Watch a small section of their creole singing at:   By the way, Pope Francis has made the local bishop a cardinal of the universal just one week before the broadcasting of this Mass.
As Frank Berna wrote, “Eucharist as celebration can be ‘source and summit’ only when there is ‘full, conscious, and active participation.’”

8. “You have no chance, but you can have hope!”

A New York Jew moves to Jerusalem, and immediately calls the phone company from his office and asks for a private line to be installed in his flat. The phone company official takes his information and promises to install the phone “as soon as possible.” Two weeks go by: no phone. He calls the company to check. “How long will it be, do you think?” The official replies, “Well, I’d say about six months.” The American explodes: “Six months! You mean I have no hope!” There is silence for a moment on the other end of the line. “Sir,” says the phone company official with great dignity, “this is Israel. True, you have no chance. But you can always have hope.”

The story has two morals. First, we Americans tend to equate our "greatness" as a people with the amenities and efficiencies of our economy. No wonder we could elect a narcissistic carnival barker as our president. Second, endurance in a time of catastrophe depends on having something more substantial in our souls than mere optimism.

Richard B. Steele, Seattle Pacific University,

9. The atrophy of communal participation

Guardini’s question about whether or not we are capable of the liturgical act is also a profound sociological question because I think it addresses the question of community.  In my estimation, part of the reason we are incapable of seeing and understanding the Eucharist as source and summit is because we lack the ritual practice of communal living (of course, there are other reasons).  I simply quote William Dinges here because he states it more clearly than I ever could:

DINGES: "I assert that handing on the faith today is not a purely cognitive task.  It is not solely the passing on of a formulaic content.  Nor is it a nostalgic exercise for a lost world, or a matter of configuring the tradition so that it might appeal as another life-style enclave. . . .  The task is a profoundly sociological one.  It means addressing the atrophy of communal participation and the need for a socially embedded Catholicism.  It includes the creative reconstruction and intensification of Catholicism as a communal reality of habit, prayer, reflection, dialogue and debate [I would add social ritual practices]. . . .  The problem today is not only that younger Catholics have not had passed on to them a good synthesis of the old and new Catholicism so that they might do a discerning engagement of the culture.  It is that they see less connection between faith and church or community.”  (In Handbook on the Faith: The Church’s Mission and Challenge. Ed. Robert Imbelli.)
 I would just add that our Sunday liturgies need to engage our bodies more (e.g. more processions where everyone gets up and walks) through ritual practices and perhaps less talk and explanation (perhaps both are needed however, that is, ritual and catechesis during the liturgy).

Michael McCallion, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit,

 10. I plan to lead a protest march

I don’t ever recall being this despondent in my entire life at the outcome of an election.  Probably because I am a political activist, but also because I worry for the fate not only of our nation, but the whole world.  I am at the University of Oregon with my 3 Gonzaga Mock Trial teams this weekend.  When not competing, I plan to lead a protest march.  My students will be squarely behind me.  They will learn the most of all there.

Georgie Weatherby,Gonzaga University,

11. “Trump is not my President" protest

Last evening I joined about 2000 other, mostly younger folks in a protest demonstration on the downtown streets of Milwaukee. Many chants and signs were ribald but amusing. The spirit was peaceful, no loosing of destructive impulses. Traffic was disrupted but the police dealt well with it, no riot manuevers.  A frequent refrain was, "Trump is not my President." The most conspicuous groupings were African-American, Hispanic, radical trade unionist, LGBT, with many flags for groups I didn’t recognize. In theological terms the election result is not being "received" as legitimate or as legitimate procedurally but not in regard to cultural and social substance. Interesting was that most of the leadership seemed to come from college-age women. To prevent easy identification they, perhaps for symbolic reasons too, wore keffiyas (Arabic head-dress/scarves) that covered their faces up to the eyes.

The spontaneous moment may pass quickly. But the resistance to racism, sexism, anti-gay, Islamophobic attitudes and policies with which Trump identified himself will not evanesce.

Thomas Hughson, Marquette University,

12. Notes from a " Conscientious Objector"

I am not afraid. I am angry. I am angry and disappointed with my fellow Disciples of Christ, fellow Catholics, for actively voting Donald Trump into office. I am angry with myself, and disappointed for not doing enough to stop Trump from being elected President of The United States of America.

Because... I  surely was equipped to have campaigned against him by using what I would call Political Apologetics, an attempt to offer reasoned arguments or writing in justification of a theory that would convince Trump supporters to open their hearts to conversion.

The antidote to the Trump epidemic may be found in Jesus’ teachings; so, why was I not motivated to find it?  I tell myself: Yes, curse the darkness. But curse yourself more for not lighting a candle! If Christians who voted for Donald Trump were unable to see how Trump’s rhetoric opposes Christ’s teachings, then they should not call themselves faithful Catholic or Christian. It’s maddening.

Think of it this way: At least if Americans who felt compelled to vote for Trump had stayed home because they could not have voted in good conscience for Hillary Clinton, there would be no blood on their hands. Whose blood, you might ask? The blood of Lady Liberty, who represents freedom from tyranny and oppression.

 If Christians who voted for Donald Trump were unable to see how Trump’s rhetoric opposes Christ’s teachings, then they should not call themselves faithful Catholic or Christian. It’s maddening. And,  if all of us, had Evangelized as Christ called his disciples to do we would have heard His voice clearly in this dark night: "Be not afraid... I am with you always..

Evelyn Augusto <>

13. The near-poor helping the poor

It strikes me that in the coming decade or more, it will be true for us as it is in oligarchies everywhere, that it is the task of the near-poor to care for the poor. The rich won’t do it, and they will see to it that the government won’t, either. Only a few can survive by sucking up to rich patrons – these, as Sheila McGinn has so persuasively written, are the true ataktoi in 2 Thessalonians: those who sponge on the rich and climb the ladder of success that way, rather than getting in the trenches and the fields with those working for the Kindom of God. Our world is not as different from that of Jesus as we have lulled ourselves into believing.

Linda Maloney,

14. The plight of those who voted for Trump

I am writing this anonymously. As an unemployed PhD, I can say why Trump won. For the last three years, work of any kind has been off and on. I have five colleagues in my nonprofit field who are out of work, and for an extended period of time. There are over 50 million of us who fit the long-term unemployment description that are not counted in the statistics you hear on the news. Other recent PhD candidates I know have similar stories. There are few jobs in academia and the professors work long past retirement age, effectively leaving a generation of scholars out of the conversation.

When I had a job, I had a $7,000 deductible and could not go to the doctor because I did not make enough money to do so. I used to go to the dentist every 4 months. Now I have 9 cavities. Even with a good paying short-term contract last year, my home of ten years went to auction because the bank would not renegotiate a high interest rate loan and wanted a balloon payment for missed back payments with high penalties. My home still sits vacant 12 months later.

My health conditions worsened to the point of a heart attack last month. Fortunately, I had relocated (with many thousands of other professionals) to Texas where my first-rate treatment has been comped. When I had a similar episode on the East Coast two years ago on Medicaid, I was placed in a back room and left for 12 hours before treatment. Within three weeks of arriving in Texas, I had 5 job interviews - 4 more than I had in 6 months on the East Coast.

 The meta narrative is not that racists, homophobes, etc. elected Trump. Our country is and has been in dire straights. Most of us have lost jobs, homes, and health. The press and academia have failed the country because nobody is asking questions, studying the problems, but everybody has an opinion.

15. Reply to the above:

Wow!  A very different narrative from the one we have been hearing.  It does explain why so many voted for Trump, if this is not an outlying experience but more "usual."  Certainly graduate programs will have to be more forthcoming on the reality of the job market for those who enroll in them.  Certainly there needs to be some way to navigate a health care system that is fair, and available!  Nevertheless, leaving it to the states/private sector can lead to greater disparity. There is already great disparity– at least by the author’s account– among states on the efficacy of health care.

Over the years I have avoided teaching social ethics courses because I see how complex a subject it is. One of the reasons I am so sad about the election is that I see little hope that the impending administration has either the will or the knowledge to change things in the way they have assured voters that they will.  No, I should correct that: “he alone” can fix it.

The sadness and shock will heal. I hope only that it will not be replaced with more sadness and discouragement in those who want so much to see a better day.

Dee Christie, University Heights, OH 44118,

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