Beauty and Secularism – the Society for Catholic Liturgy meets

James Conley is the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo: Lincoln Journal Star)
James Conley is the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo: Lincoln Journal Star)

The Society for Catholic Liturgy (SCL) gathered for its 2014 conference in Colorado Springs last weekend. Those in attendance were joined by Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska who delivered the keynote address. “The work you’re doing is essential to the formation of Christian culture. The Church needs you … the work of evangelization is too important,” he said to the pastors and scholars in attendance Oct. 2 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Conley focused his remarks on the tension caused by what he considers increased secularism in society and the opportunity for liturgy to counteract that trend, especially at the parish level.

Beautiful liturgy glorifies God, and awakens a natural human desire for beauty. Music and art and architecture draw men to the transcendent, and to the mystery of the beautiful Trinity. Most people will know the Mass through their experiences at their local parish. These are places where transformation of the sacred liturgy can bear tremendous fruit.

The Catholic News Agency has a full report from the SCL conference and Conley’s address, available here.


  1. Other than his use of exclusive language, my main problem here is a perceived tension between the world and Church life. If we viewed cultural shifts as just the march of history instead of “big bad modernity creeping in on us” then the case could be made that Liturgy which is “daily life plus,” as some say #awr, has an exciting opportunity to re-envision itself rather than has a burden to carry as it counteracts society. Secularism happens when the church looses relevance and stops presenting the gospel in fresh ways. It is a problem of our own making. We cannot counteract it with intentional greater irrelevance in the name of sacred otherness.

  2. Leaving aside the problems with the statement that liturgy should be used to fight secularism…

    If beauty is the way to draw [people] to the transcendent, then there are more fundamental questions that need to be answered before that can be done practically.

    What exactly is beauty?
    What is a beautiful liturgy?
    What happens when there are conflicting ideas of what is beautiful?
    At what point does majority’s ideas of beauty determine decisions regarding beauty?
    If 1 person is turned away from the transcendent because she doesn’t find the same things beautiful as the other 999 people, what does that imply? Should we then remove everything except that which is held common by all people? What would be left if anything?

    etc. etc..

    The Bishop’s statement raises more questions that it purports to answer, but they are questions that I don’t see being discussed and which need to be answered before there can be any resolution to the “liturgy wars.”

    1. @Jonathan Ziegler – comment #2:
      Beauty,art, and architecture in the period of the Catholic Counter Reformation were suppose to have been antidotes to the vile forces of secularism and the enemies of the Church, especially the spread of Protestant heresy and the beginnings of the Enlightenment.

      How did that work out for them?

  3. Hasn’t the SCL run off the rails somewhat, especially with its journal Antiphon? I’m fine with reform2 and traditionalists meeting to explore the deeper aspects of theology and art. But the level of … prudent scholarship has decreased dramatically over the years. Do liturgical theologians and artists even take them seriously anymore?

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