On 28-30 September, the Society for Catholic Liturgy held its annual conference in Philadelphia, PA. The theme of the conference was “The Liturgy and Post Modernity.” I attended the conference since the venue was less than 10 miles from Villanova University where I work, but teaching commitments limited my involvement to sessions on Saturday the 30th. Therefore, I had to miss the plenary presentations given by Alcuin Reid and Cassian Folsom, respectively. What follows are some observations about the conference.
- Approximately 80 people were in attendance. Apparently, this number is 20-30 people higher than at any prior meeting. The clear majority were men. 16 out of 39 presenters were priests or nuns. (I had this number wrong earlier.)
- During lunch on Saturday, one of the attendees asked me about my institutional affiliation. When I replied that I taught at Villanova University, she asked me, “Villanova . . . is that still Catholic?” The meaning of the question was not “Is Villanova now a secular school no longer affiliated with the Augustinian order and the Catholic Church?” No, the meaning of the question was “Is Villanova now a secular school masquerading as a Catholic institution?” I replied that the vision of theology at Villanova is “faith engaging culture.” I told her that at Villanova we treasure the wisdom of the past and place that wisdom in dialogue with questions and insights from contemporary culture. I am not sure that my answer satisfied her. Since she is enrolled in a theology program at Christendom College, I had the sense that she already “knew” the answer and that nothing I could say would change her mind.
- One presenter, whose paper on active participation was quite good in my judgment, made no effort at all to use inclusive language. Everything was “man,” “men,” “he,” and “his.” I found this sexist language disappointing, especially in an academic setting.
- More than one person at the conference associated postmodernism with narcissism in what struck me as a fairly uncritical manner. My thinking is that postmodern suspicion of meta-narratives leaves many people believing that they are left to their own resources for constructing meaning and purpose in their lives. This situation is conducive to the development of narcissism or to the worsening of narcissism in those who already have such tendencies but narcissism, however morally blameworthy or convenient as a target of criticism, is to my way of thinking merely a symptom of a much deeper problem. I tried to make that point more than once but I am not sure I made any headway.
- After a presentation which featured in part St. Augustine’s critique of pagan worship a discussion ensued during which an attendee was sharply critical of the emptiness of pagan worship. I replied that it seemed to me that at least some of the time in at least some cases, pagans who engaged in worship and sacrifice in their own cults derived some insight and benefit from them. 350 years before Christ, for example, the Greek philosopher Isocrates had written: “In the worship of the gods, follow the example of your ancestors, but consider that the noblest sacrifice and greatest service is to show yourself the best and most righteous person, for such persons have greater hope of enjoying a blessing from the gods than those who slaughter many victims.” My interlocutor responded with a comment about the dual need to respect pagans who acted in good faith and the need to distinguish the “culture of life” from the “culture of death.” The distinction between the culture of life and the culture of death did not strike me as helpful in this case. It put me in mind of Evangelii Nuntiandi 54, where Pope Paul VI wrote “our religion effectively establishes with God an authentic and living relationship which the other religions do not succeed in doing, even though they have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven.” I had the sense that I was emphasizing the phrase about their arms and my interlocutor was emphasizing the part about not succeeding. (One might also note the contrast in tone between documents such as the Declaration on Religious Freedom and the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions on the one hand and “Dominus Iesus” on the other.)
- This year’s meeting featured a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, that is, the unreformed Mass of 1962. I do not know if this practice is typical at SCL meetings. My own views on the Extraordinary Form are available in “Summorum Pontificum and Fragmentation in the Roman Catholic Church” Worship 89 / 2 (2015): 146-165, so I will not belabor that point here. However, I would add that the theme of a future SCL meeting (2019, I think) is “Liturgical Reconciliation.” This phrase does not refer to the sacrament of reconciliation but rather to ways in which the two current Forms might mutually enrich each other. Again, my thinking on this issue can be found in the journal article referenced above.
I invite your thoughts and comments.