Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections
A domesticated liturgy?

by Father Jan Larson

(From the June 8, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson We are all descendants of a Biblical tradition that is thousands of years old, and from early in that ancient tradition we see a clear design: The word of God is intended to liberate and unify the human family, and does so by relating us to a power that is higher than our human institutions and structures – even higher than the military-industrial complex that rules both our government and our lives. Yet is this transformation working? Are unjust social institutions changing, at least in part to the Word of God and the liturgy that preserves and proclaims that Word?

I recently saw some comments made by a bishop from Sri Lanka back in 1977, as he wrote the introduction to a little book called The Eucharist and Human Liberation. The bishop, in exceedingly strong language, says that the author of the book will argue that the Mass, “this most liberative act has been so domesticated by a socioeconomic system that it now enslaves and domesticates its participants.” Indeed, the author uses equally strong words: “An agonizing question presents itself to our minds. Why is it that in spite of hundreds of thousands of Eucharistic celebrations, Christians continue as selfish as before? Why have the ‘Christian’ peoples been the most cruel colonizers of human history? Why is the gap of income, wealth, knowledge and power growing in the world today – and that in favor of the ‘Christian’ peoples?”

“Why is it that persons and people who proclaim Eucharistic love and sharing deprive the poor people of the world of food, capital, employment and even land? Why do they prefer cigarettes and liquor to food and drink for the one-third of humanity that goes hungry to bed each night? Why are cars, cosmetics, pet dogs, horses and bombs preferred to human children? Why mass sterilization in poor countries and affluence unto disease and pollution of nature among the rich?”

One might very well ask how much has changed since 1977, and how much has changed for the better. One reality that has not changed is that the liturgy still calls us to help complete the building of the reign of God. In the first part of the last century, the great founders of the liturgical movement said the same thing: the liturgy and social justice and social transformation are interlinked, and if we forget that principle, as we do periodically throughout history, then we become complacent. The liturgy becomes a place we go to be quiet and pray, a kind of spiritual air lock that separates us from the social concerns of the world outside.

But liturgy is a place of engagement with the world outside, not a place of escape. For the hour or so we are at the liturgy we are, in a way, pretending that the kingdom or reign of god is complete. For that hour we get at least a glimpse of what the Advent Scriptures so powerfully describe: a state of being where justice is finally realized, where the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the lion and the lamb lie down together. When we ignore this Biblical vision, or give it anything but first priority, we risk domesticating the liturgy.

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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