I want to present here a sketch of how lex orandi, lex credendi addresses a consumer mentality. Giving thanks to God is an essential aspect of Christian liturgy, especially Eucharistic liturgy. Giving thanks is mentioned explicitly three times in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (in nos. 6, 48, and 105) and six times in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (in nos. 2, 5, 48, 54, 55, and 62). Acknowledging gratitude and thankfulness occurs throughout the Mass, including, notably, as the final words spoken by the assembly. This is not a matter merely of rendering thanks to God for discrete blessings (e.g., acknowledging God’s revelatory initiative in readings from Scripture). In no. 331 of their pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, the American bishops noted that it is a matter of learning a disposition of gratitude:
The liturgy teaches us to have grateful hearts: to thank God for the gift of life, the gift of this earth, and the gift of all people. It turns our hearts from self-seeking to a spirituality that sees the signs of true discipleship in our sharing of goods and working for justice. By uniting us in prayer with all the people of God, with the rich and the poor, with those near and dear, and with those in distant lands, liturgy challenges our way of living and refines our values. Together in the community of worship, we are encouraged to use the goods of this earth for the benefit of all. In worship and in deeds for justice, the Church becomes a “sacrament,” a visible sign of that unity in justice and peace that God wills for the whole of humanity.
Every Eucharistic prayer begins with an opening dialogue, the conclusion of which has the priest saying, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the assembly responding, “It is right and just.” Eucharistic Prayers III and IV proceed right away to make express mention of the gift of life. If life is a gift then our appropriation of ourselves as living beings is not patient of every possible use. The Christian objection to suicide, for example, is grounded in part on the notion that one is not authorized to destroy the life that one was given. More than this, however, is that if we accept that life is a gift from God and if we accept that God is good then it follows that life is good. Corporeal life is good. Embodied life is good. Compare this perspective on embodied life with John Kavanaugh’s observation on the message that a consumerist society sends out:
And this is [the] relentless message which assaults the self-worth and perceptions of millions: your hair is too long, your hair is too short, your skin is too light or too dark, your smells are noxious, you are too fat, too thin, too blemished, you must have a training bra in fifth grade or you will have no friends, your breasts are too large or frightfully small, you can stop traffic in a Maidenform bra, you will be frigid or impotent if you do not use Hai Karate or Musk. Our narcissistic buying is motivated by an anomalous self-loathing. (John Kavanaugh, Still Following Christ in a Consumer Society [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991], 36. Italics added.)
I am not attempting to mount an argument in favor of poor hygiene and poor grooming. Indeed, the quality of the body as gift requires that one care for one’s body. However, I am saying that the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi implies that our bodies are good. I am also saying that the perfection that can come to our bodies – of which we have a proleptic glimpse in the body of the Resurrected Lord – is again something that comes to us as gift. The body, a condition of the possibility of human life, does require appropriate care. Ostentation, however, can imply that the body – vessel of the gift of life – simply is not good enough. Lex orandi, lex credendi: how we are to come to liturgy reminds us that the body is good enough. The ‘anomalous self-loathing’ to which Kavanaugh refers is a creature of consumerism and it has no place in liturgy and no place in Christian life generally.
I would argue as well that Prosper’s dictum implies having gratitude for the presence of others in one’s life. Particularly telling is a line from Eucharistic Prayer II: “We thank you for counting us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” This text might be recast, broadly speaking, as “We thank you for giving us faith and letting us fulfill the obligations of that faith.” A condition of the possibility for any member of the liturgical assembly to pray these words and mean them is the baptism that seals that person’s faith and that each person has received from another. The assembly participates in the Eucharistic prayer by virtue of the universal priesthood of believers conferred in and through baptism which is something no one administers to him- or herself. Gratitude for being able to stand in God’s presence and render service to God implies gratitude for those people who, as agents of God in one’s life, have nurtured and sustained the faith one brings to the Eucharistic liturgy.
However important the institution narrative of the Eucharistic Prayer may be, excessive emphasis on that narrative can obscure the wider context of thanksgiving to the Father that is the raison d’être of the prayer. It follows, then, that excessive emphasis on the institution narrative can weaken the sense in which Eucharistic Prayer counters a consumerist mentality.