Teaching liturgy today is both a wonderful opportunity and a challenge. We asked a number of excellent educators to give us a snapshot of where they begin, and why. Here are some more of their responses:
I teach undergraduates who primarily self-identify as Roman Catholic, though this identity masks a very wide range of practices, from being a daily Mass goer (rare) to having been baptized and received first Eucharist, but that’s about it (alas, all too common). Most of them take my classes because they fulfill requirements in my university’s core curriculum – so they are a somewhat “captive” audience. I generally don’t teach courses on liturgy per se, but rather on the sacraments.
I find that most of them have a fairly impoverished experience and understanding of ritual in general, and I find it helpful to introduce them to ritual activity by means of something unfamiliar to them. So I often begin by having them read Mary Douglas’s Natural Symbols, which gives them a number of helpful conceptual distinctions (e.g. “grid” and “group”) that are not overtly theological but which, presuming the principle that grace perfects and does not destroy nature, I can use throughout the course to help them see how the sacraments “work.” Thus they can see how Baptism fits within rituals of liminality and the Eucharist serves to construct both the boundaries and the internal hierarchy of the Church.
I should add that they all find Douglas ferociously difficult, and many hate reading the book, but by the end of the course most will admit that she is useful.
Frederick Bauerschmidt teaches at Loyola University Maryland.
I completed my B.A. while also working part-time in parish liturgy. The school from which I graduated offered a number of courses in liturgy taught by various professors, one of which was entitled “Liturgical Celebration.” As it happened, I finished my coursework in December, about the time when the “Liturgical Celebration” professor was diagnosed with serious (but operable) cancer. They needed a teacher, and my parish experience along with my familiarity to the faculty in the theology department stood in my favor. It was short notice, and somewhat by the seat of my pants…
Where I began — where I would still begin (with both undergraduates and graduate students) — was with Josef Pieper’s In Tune With the World. Pieper’s philosophical examination of fest and festivity gave a framework from within which to consider the various principles and dynamics of liturgical celebration. With the undergrads, I simply lectured and developed Pieper’s points without having them read the text, then we looked for those points in the movie Babette’s Feast.
From there, I laid out the principles of symbol, myth and ritual, and then turned to the notion of doxology. From there we looked at such things as notions of offering, sacrifice and timekeeping: very much a crash-course in liturgical anthropology. Only in the last week of the first section did I turn to tying all of this in with liturgy: sacraments and signification, eucharist as meal and sacrifice, liturgical year.
Time and experience would alter my approach; different texts suggest themselves for an introductory-level course today. . . but I’d still begin with Pieper and Babette’s Feast.
Cody Unterseher is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Notre Dame.
Among other things, I teach liturgy to upper class students at Saint Louis University. I begin gently, as you might imagine: present the syllabus, ask why they are taking the course, and so on. Sooner or later I might stir things up by making this statement: “God’s greatest mistake was to become both divine and human at the same time.” Of course I explain that I am just kidding, and they are relieved, but then I go on to show the difference between the Eucharist as mainly worship of the transcendent God, on the one hand, and the Eucharist as a gathered community of people under God on the other. [This echoes Harold Turner’s distinction between church as a house of God or as a house of the people of God (in From Temple to Meeting House), but I don’t necessarily tell them that.] We tend to make it one or the other, but it has to be both, just as Jesus was both.
I and my associate at the Center for Liturgy, Paul Hasser, then send the students out to various parish Masses that illustrate different paradigms. In class we discuss the differences and use these as a further entry into Kevin Irwin’s Models of the Eucharist and John Baldovin’s Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation. I always bring in the Trinity. The result is a good experience and much interest. It is a university course, not a parish instruction, so there comes the inevitable research paper and final exam. I have had good overall results thus far. Three students have gone on to graduate studies in liturgy.
John Foley teaches at Saint Louis University and is director of the Stroble Center for Liturgy there.