An Autobiographical Review of J.B. Metz’s Influence on Liturgical Theology

This week’s installment of the “Take and Read” blog series over at the National Catholic Reporter is an essay I produced in response to the editors’ kind invitation to give an account of one book that “changed my life.”

For me, J. B. Metz’s Faith in History and Society provided the key conceptualization for why the Christian religion struggles in late-modern North Atlantic societies, as well as how in this context to think afresh the relationship between liturgy and ethics, “mysticism and politics.” My account of how I came to study that book, followed by a summary of Metz’s arguments, reaches the following conclusion:

The pattern of Jesus’ life and death, one of service to the oppressed, constitutes the pattern of life that can be salvific for Christians now, a pattern that promises an authentic subjectivity and freedom. Metz thereby recovers the tradition of the imitatio Christi — an imitation dangerous both in the conversion it requires of its practitioners, away from a privatized view of salvation, and in the threat it poses to the conventional (evolutionary) wisdom of society.

This praxis of mysticism and politics, liturgy and ethics, likewise becomes the means for believers to know, in an experiential or practical way, deep joy and hopeful consolation, freedom lived in the presence of God, the God of Israel and Jesus, the God of the living and the dead.

Such is a brief rehearsal of Metz’s fundamental theological project. In his comprehensive book, as well as subsequent essays, he cites the Eucharist as the mystical source of the “remembrance-structure” for a social ethics true to biblical faith and tradition. With the details of the history, theology, and practice of liturgical tradition having remained beyond his purview, Metz has placed me in his debt, orienting the work of my doctoral dissertation and now two decades of sacramental-liturgical scholarship as an ongoing dialogue between political and liturgical theology.

For the full article, see Take and Read: Faith in History and Society.

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2 comments

  1. Thank you, Fr. Morrill. Don’t want to sidetrack from your review of Metz but……Given the topics of the last few posts on PTB, find your liturgical theology approach to provide some insights and questions:
    – mysticism and politics…….your (Metz)description appears to change the focus away from what I would call the usual liturgical suspects – ad orientem; latin vs. vernacular; Romanesque vs. everything else; sacrifice vs. meal, etc. In fact, when I experienced liturgy in small campesinos, villages in central America, none of these usual suspects came into play at all. But, concern for the poor, disadvantaged, persecuted took the lead
    – in one of your books you simply described what VII did for liturgy – it transitioned the Trentan focus using the *table of the Word* and the *table of the Eucharist* – a community on a journey gathered around tables to share the faith, break bread and word open, and be nourished for the mission. Your citing of *table* struck me as significant rather than a disposition that focuses on the tabernacle, the host as object, facing some imagined East, etc.
    – You also have talked about VII and ecumenism – how our current liturgies e.g. one spouse catholic and one spouse Protestant now have expectations when it comes to sharing eucharist which is a significant shift from pre-VII condemnations. And in those descriptions you cite your findings that most appear to fit into the above while a *small group* of traditionalists react by withdrawing even further into cultic or liturgical differences e.g. ad orientem, latin, etc.
    Can you comment on this?

    1. @Bill deHaas:
      Bill, I’m afraid I don’t have much to add to what you have so clearly written here. But, yes, the “politics” Metz primarily has in mind–and I with him–is engagement in the polis, the life of the city or community or society. Metz did not completely ignore the political dimension of ecclesial life, especially to point out ways the institutional or clerical sectors need reform so as to free the people and the liturgy for practice that will empower bringing (Christ’s) life to the world. As you’ve rehearsed in your comments, I clearly am of a similar mind. Thank you for reading my post, as well as my other writings (I am sincerely, genuinely humbled).

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