In This Issue: Studia Liturgica, May 2015

by Lizette Larson

What’s going on in the world of international ecumenical liturgical conversations? One way to answer the question is take a look at the most recent writings of Societas Liturgica. Volume 44 of Studia Liturgica has just come out, a double volume which includes presentations from the 2013 Congress held in Würzburg, Germany. The meetings of societas are thematic, and the focus in 2013 was “Liturgical Reforms in the Churches,” timed to align with the 50th anniversary year of the promulgation of Sacrosanctum concilium. Here are a few of the topics in the first part of the volume – just enough to entice you to read more!


Liturgical Renewal through History by Martin Klöchener

Martin Klöchener teaches liturgy at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and reviewed liturgical renewal through history via four case studies. His conclusions are several, including the reality that every reform of the liturgy brings a disruption to and a critique of existing liturgical practices and customs. These conclusions are themselves a critique of the “organic growth” stance in which liturgy is believed to follow its own time and development and needs no intervention, by ecclesial authorities or other. “To renew the liturgy means to find the best possible way…to place oneself under God’s Word.” Vatican II brought the disruption of a life-giving tension; “the challenge to live a unity in the liturgy while recognizing legitimate multiplicity…” Klöchener gives insight into the reality of ongoing reform and the tensions between academic and episcopal authority that is present in German Roman Catholicism in a particularly inculturated and historically informed way.


Liturgical Reform and Life in Christ by Frédérique Poulet

Frédérique Poulet teaches liturgy at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest, in Angers, France and draws from the French Roman Catholic perspective to get at what are the essential links between liturgy and ethics. She moves to 20th century ethicist, Xavier Thévenot, to view liturgy not just as the catalyst for ethical behavior, a common perspective, but rather to think of “the possible precedence of the ethical gesture over liturgical celebration.” In the end, her proposal is that because both liturgy and ethics are theology, emerging as clear disciplines in the 20th century, both are “in charge of signifying the mystery of Christ, the Paschal Mystery, in history.” They are not sequential as much as a balanced exchange, in which liturgy as “praxis of life in Christ” should be considered as an ethical act. Both are, in the words of Bernard Capelle, opportunities to “confuse one’s own life with [Christ’s].”


Liturgical “reform” in Sub-Saharan Africa: Some Observations on Worship, Language and Culture by Cas Wepener

Cas Wepener teaches at the University of Praetoria in South Africa, and serves as an ordained minister in the Dutch Reformed Church there. He is passionate about the need to hear the voices of African Christians, especially with regard to preaching and worship in relation to scripture. For North Americans, Europeans and others, the moral and cultural world of the Bible is increasingly foreign, and liturgical preaching is often about bridging these very different worlds. But for many Africans the world of ancient scripture is not that far from contemporary daily reality; “miracles, demons, exorcisms, dreams and prophecies” are the stuff of everyday life. In an interesting challenge, Wepener asks why we come to worship – what are we looking for? For Africans, the answer is pretty straightforward – “to be healed” and to gain assistance with the practical challenges of everyday life, including financial issues. How do these very different worlds of Christian expectation and experience talk to each other with mutual respect? What is the bridge and what are the ties that bind us together?


Liturgical “Reform” in the Syro-Malabar Church: Observations on Context, Culture, and Text by Sebastian Madathummuriyil

Finally, Sebastian Madathummuriyil is a Syro-Malabar priest now teaching at Duquesne University. Because of this, he stands in a good place to present the Syro-Malabar diaspora as an example of the tensions that exist in any Christian community trying to bridge the gap between generations and liturgical expectations. In his communities, the bumper-sticker summary of “Indian in culture, Christian in religion, and Oriental in worship” points to the particularly complex issue of a church in union with Rome but not Latin Rite. For contemporary Syro-Malabar Christians, in India and spread throughout the world, the post-Vatican II move to inculturation is tricky. The liturgy has been ‘restored” not “renewed” to follow its Syrian (Chaldean) form, but that represents neither the diaspora generations living between Indian and North American cultures, nor those who have stayed in India. Madathummuriyil’s presentation points to the much deeper issues of inculturation than the often-debated translation wars. What is the base culture from which the liturgy takes expression? How does cultural liturgical expression emerge from patterns of life more than from the external trappings often associated with multicultural liturgy?


These four brief examples are reflective of the wealth of insights to be gained from international conversations. And, all of them point to the reality that the academic field of liturgy is increasingly interdisciplinary. If liturgy ever did stay ‘inside,’ talking to itself, it does not and cannot anymore. To ‘do’ liturgy is to converse with cultural studies, issues of migration and diaspora, language and generational differences, with scripture and received interpretations, with ethics and systematic theology, with history and ongoing tensions between the authority of scholarship and the authority of bishops. If you are new to the field, do not worry that it has all been done – there is lots still to do!

One comment

  1. I vividly remember the lectures which became the scholarly articles that have now been recently published in this issue. Societas Liturgica’s congress in Würzburg was a major event around the important theological topic of ‘liturgical reform’. In my view, it remains very important that the acamedic and ecumenical conversations about this issue continue. Therefore, I’m very much looking forward to the next congress, which will take place in August in Québec. The topic will now be ‘liturgical formation’ but it is not difficult to imagine that a lot of lines can be drawn between ‘reform’ and ‘formation’ in matters liturgical. If only because of the concept common to them, form…

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