Rita Ferrone on “Liturgy and Social Justice: Fresh Challenges for Today in Virgil Michel’s Legacy”

Here is Rita Ferrone giving the “Sunday at the Abbey” talk on April 7, “Liturgy and Social Justice: Fresh Challenges for Today in Virgil Michel’s Legacy.” The text of the talk is available here.

 

16 comments

  1. Thanks to Rita for her Diekmann lecture on the following Monday. Grappling with what the fundamental unity of the Roman rite might consist of. Quite thought provoking.

  2. A woman? Speaking in a church? With her head uncovered? What is the world coming to? Quick, gag her before she says something that challenges us to become better.

  3. I enjoyed much of this. One insightful line that could possibly bring all of us to the same page: “Virgil Michel, like so many of the early leaders of the liturgical movement, was not so concerned about ―doing things to the liturgy. He was concerned about the liturgy ―doing things to us.”

    So right. After all – we’re all equal at the altar rail.

    In seeking simplicity in the liturgy I cannot help but wonder as to the way resources are used unnecessarily in purchasing throw away missals and the annual updates from publishers and the like.

  4. Rita,

    About 50 years ago during the Council when I was a pre-divinity student at Saint John’s several of us students put together a Virgil Michel Symposium. The idea came from the students from the Benedictine Abbey in New Jersey whom I usually accompanied to Vespers.

    Since none of us were Vigil Michel scholars, it was mainly things that we thought Vigil Michel would endorse. I remember they talked about their proposed new abbey church. I can’t remember exactly what I talked about, but in my undergraduate folder for near that date there is a paper entitled “Authority in the Community: a study of Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris and Saint Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries” I suspect it was somewhat along those lines.

    I was amused by the Midwest vs. Eastern introduction. Since I was from Pennsylvania and my friends were from New Jersey we were definitely Eastern chauvinists. Once when we got tired of rural Minnesota we took the bus down to Saint Cloud and walked more than halfway across the bridge across the Mississippi to shout that we were “back East.”

    My conviction of the deep connection between Liturgy and Social Justice came during high school long before I knew about Vigil Michel. The first chapter of Isaiah which begins the Office of Readings (Matins) for the Liturgical Year became a kind of prologue to the liturgy, and has slowly deeply influenced my understanding of liturgy, human life, and my own life.

    The quality of human life from God’s viewpoint is not measured by the quality of life of the richest person, nor the average person but by the quality of life of the least among us.

    Thanks for helping us engage this important topic.

  5. Rita, I find your speaking style utterly engaging and I learned a lot from your talk.

    I was struck by this passage:

    Mark Searle, in an essay he wrote in 1980 … clarified that the “justice” we are talking about when we speak of the liturgy as a font of justice is not justice in the limited sense of legal redress. Such justice, Searle said, can do no more than place restraints on evil. But the justice we talk about in liturgy is human flourishing. It is justice that arises from finding and living from who we are together: the Body of Christ in the world. The liturgy is about God’s justice, which brings forth life in abundance.

    This is why “it is right and just” is such a dreadful translation of dignum et justum est. “Meet and right”, from the old Anglican translation, is better but archaic. “It is right to give him thanks and praise” (1973) and “It is right to give thanks and praise” (1998) are both better. “It is right and just” evokes the police court, “justice in the limited sense of legal redress”.

    Dignum et justum est: the liturgy evokes a world where things are rightly ordered, where we are in right relationship to one another, a world that is healed, in exactly the sense that Rita and Virgil Michel describe.

    And there is so much work to be done!

    Thanks for a splendid lecture, Rita.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #8:
      Hi Jonathan,

      Thank you for these appreciative comments and for lifting out a prominent phrase of the new translation for us to consider anew in this light.

      For myself, I am not willing to cede the word justice to its secular contexts and meanings today, when it can be a “strong word” for us theologically with implications for the political realm as well. I wish we could cry out “It is right and just!” together as an affirmation of the reign of God publicly claimed and acclaimed, instead of murmuring these words as if they are someone else’s.

      In liberation theology, justice is a strong word, often translating the biblical concept of righteousness. My problem with “It is right and just” is with the wimpy way it’s spoken, which carries no weight.

  6. Sheer wisdom!
    As an educator, I was struck by what was said regarding Virgil Michel’s experience of religious education. The intent of the religious education movement in 1903 was to establish the intersection of social justice, religion, and education. In many ways we are still in an abysmal state. There needs to be a more authentic educational renewal – one that will connect liturgy and social justice.

  7. Thank you for this enlightening presentation and for reinvigorating the legacy of Virgil Michel’s life. I appreciated the point of being transformed by liturgy and the idea of liturgy as a re-affirmation of our common commitment within the Body of Christ. The Searle quote moved me to tears — that justice in liturgy is about “human flourishing,” that God’s justice brings forth life in abundance. Such perfect sentiments within the Easter season. I also appreciated your comment that we need not give up the lovely words found in our liturgy just because we don’t (indeed can’t) always live up to the lofty ideals embodied in those words.

  8. This was all terrific with its rich exploration of past and present. But, for me, the great line to take away is: “Between two Masses you can bear everything.” It brings to mind piers supporting the bridge on which we journey.

  9. Rita, this was enlightening and challenging. An outpouring from the fount of wisdom. Thank you, and thanks to Pray Tell for making this available.

    Do you think, though, that you are being a bit overly judgmental in your breaking up the Body of Christ into three groups: “Movement” Christians, “Human Concerns” Christians and “Mainstream” – and giving them “Yes”, “Maybe” and “No” ratings?

    If liturgy forms us to build God’s kingdom, if it feeds us with the grace to go out into the world and transform it – why would that happen more so to “Movement” Catholics than to anyone else?

    My own view is that there is a multiplicity of gifts and charisms. Not everyone has a vocation to Pax Christi style movements. Not all of us are called to be Dorothy Day. And while I am glad that Day may be on the path to canonization, I am convinced that our parishes are bursting with saints who haven’t founded movements but who practice kenosis in vacuuming the family room and changing diapers and getting a smaller bonus from their employer because they’re up all night one day each week volunteering at a homeless shelter and are sleep-deprived at work the next day.

    A single act of love changes the world – I believe that with all my heart. Giving up my seat on the bus to an elderly woman transforms the world. I grant that it’s difficult to say how such a simple act addresses the very real gaps in income between the super-wealthy and everyone else. But that may be more a comment on the limits of our eyesight than the quality of our love.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #12:
      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for your affirmation and for this thoughtful comment. Of course generalizations of the kind I made here won’t fit everybody. That’s true. I offer it as a general impression from talking with lots of people over time, admittedly not in a scientific way. I don’t feel it’s judgmental, it’s just an observation, and perhaps a bit of a provocation to my listeners to reflect on where they actually are. I’m open to other opinions.

      To clarify, however — the question I was speaking about was whether coming to the table is consciously viewed as an affirmation of belief in “a new world” of justice for the poor. The reason “movement people” would be more conscious of this link is because their movement has made it explicit. Thought goes into this connection. And these groups have a keen consciousness of the social dimensions of the practical charity they espouse, and the revolutionary aims of their service. For many other people, on the other hand, justice for the poor is not a priority. Doing a good deed is not, for them, about changing the social equation. Not at all. It’s about being a kind person, or taking care of their own. Bread is for those who have a job and can earn it, and the super rich are well within their rights to control a huge proportion of the wealth of our land and to disregard the needs of people on food stamps. Do you see the difference?

      Second, I would add that this discussion came up under the heading of whether social justice and liturgy are living “separate lives.” That believers do good things is not in question. These are the fruit of grace, but the connection to liturgy may be invisible.

  10. Rita, I see your point. The “justice” of the psalms rings true – is the Hebrew word tzedakah? I think of “let justice flow like water, and uprightness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5.24).

    As do Hopkins’s words:

    I say more: the just man justices;
    Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
    Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
    Christ — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
    Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

    But “it is right and just”? Not so much.

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