I keep thinking about the implications of Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si for liturgical life. Today, I ponder some concrete elements of how we assemble for worship.
First, there is the uncomfortable truth that churches are big consumers of energy, and quite a bit of that consumption happens on Sunday morning. Let’s take the parish of St. Routine as an example. Many of the faithful drive to Mass, often one person or one couple per car. St. Routine’s sizeable parking lot, with conventional asphalt pavement, eases the driving worshippers’ access to the sanctuary. The sanctuary itself is air-conditioned, usually below 74-76 degrees (a recent article in the New York Times on America’s addiction to over-air-conditioning made the intriguing point that it serves as a sign of power and prestige to make people feel cold: WholeFoods is chillier than Krogers, and Krogers is colder than Piggly Wiggly. — The differing temperatures between “prestigious” and store-front churches will map onto this).
But of course all this is only the beginning of Sunday morning at St. Routine. We have barely entered the sanctuary. St. Routine, being a nice and welcoming church, has its doors wide open before Mass — never mind the air-conditioning that escapes from the interior. Once inside the cool sanctuary, worshippers celebrate what is by most counts a beautiful liturgy – un-troubled of course by the humanly-engineered threat of ecocide and the desperate need for creation-care (although resources for such liturgical creation care abound, e.g., by the British organization “Green Christian” (http://www.greenchristian.org.uk/) which offers online resources like a “prayer guide” and “worship materials”). St. Routine will also never go through a “Greening Congregations Program” (at Earth Ministry (http://earthministry.org/), take the “St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor” (from the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, at http://www.catholicsandclimatechange.org/), or work through a “worship check-list” about the sustainability of its worship practices (at http://www.letallcreationpraise.org/liturgy/worship-checklist). After all, what would motivate St. Routine to consider options like living flowers or plants in the sanctuary; beeswax candles rather than (oil-based) paraffin wax candles; local wine for communion; use of natural lighting, etc.?
Instead, the faithful file into a nicely air-conditioned hall after Mass, to enjoy coffee in styrofoam cups, before heading home in their cars.
The trouble with St. Routine of course is not that this community celebrates bad liturgies or that its faithful are bigger sinners than the rest of us. The trouble is that the parish’s liturgical life routinely participates in non-sustainable practices that are by now widely known to further the threat of a catastrophic end to our planet earth.
And as Pope Francis tweeted on July 2: “Stop ruining the garden which God has entrusted to us!” Rather than only the fossil-fuel industry, maybe Francis also had St. Routine in mind?