I am very pleased to introduce Timothy Brunk as a new contributor on Pray Tell. Timothy Brunk is associate professor of theology at Villanova University. He teaches courses in sacramental theology and in pastoral care of the sick. His major research focus at present is the interplay of consumer culture and sacramental worship and he has four articles in print on that subject.
Liturgy is always celebrated in a particular cultural matrix; there is no liturgy in the abstract. In Western culture in general (and in the United States in particular) popular culture is saturated with consumerism. Ads bombard us with the idea that we must use this product or that service in order to be the right person (or to meet the right people). We are told to assess others and ourselves according to their and our consumer purchases. Among others, Vincent Miller has written about how a consumer culture forms people in the habit of choosing now this commodity and now that commodity in a manner that provides no contact between the consumer and the social and economic contexts under which the commodity was produced.
How does this rooting of identity in consumer purchases affect the Christian sense that identity as a child of God is rooted in baptism? How does the practice of choosing, and choosing, and choosing again in the world of consumer goods affect the stability of one’s sense of self? How does the fact that very few of us know the full story of the clothes or cellphones that we buy affect our willingness and our ability to keep celebration of the sacraments always in the context of the paschal mystery of Christ? How does the existence of an economy that places a dollar value on just about everything—in conjunction with the idea that just about anything can be bought—affect our capacity to understand God’s grace as pure and simple gift and our ability to resist the Pelagian sense that we have “earned” the sacraments just like we earned the money to buy a book, a toy, or a meal?
For example, do we find ourselves (or members of our assemblies) thinking about the Mass in terms of what we put in and what we deserve to get out of it? I wonder sometimes if we think in terms taking an hour or so out of our busy lives, listening to what the presider has to day, putting our money in the collection basket, listening to a prayer, shaking hands, and then getting what’s coming to us: the Body of Christ.
I wonder if we sometimes view this event as a discrete transaction, entire and whole unto itself like procuring a pair of socks from this department store this morning and an iPhone from another store in the afternoon, events that have no intrinsic connection to each other. Is the Eucharist in danger of being flattened out and evacuated of its meaning as the source and summit of Christian life?
Vatican II itself warned (Gaudium et spes, no. 43) about the split between the faith people profess and the quality of the lives they actually live, calling it one of the more serious problems of our times. I think consumer culture works to accelerate that split. What are your thoughts out there in the Pray Tell blogosphere?