Liturgy and the οἰκουμένη

In her latest post to this blog, Teresa Berger offered a lament over the wide-ranging damage caused by bushfires in Australia in recent months.

To think that the Australian wildfires not only cause the very visible devastation that we witness on our various screens (I am writing far away from the fires!), but that they diminish a “sublime communion” [Laudato Si’ 89] of beings giving glory to God (LS 33), a planetary symphony of praise so to say, is heart-breaking.

In a post last week, Adam DeVille provided an account of criticism on the part of some Roman Catholics over a plan to allow a Catholic church in the diocese of Richmond, VA, to be a venue for the ordination of an Episcopal bishop.  Given this criticism, Bishop-elect Susan Haynes of the Episcopal Church notified Roman Catholic Bishop Barry Knestout that the rite would not take place at St. Bede Catholic Church.  The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia issued a statement that includes this passage:

The decision to change the location from St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg arose out of concern and respect for the ministries and leadership of both the Catholic parish and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

I place these two items in the context of a line from the Letter to the Ephesians and a sentence I read in a book a few months ago.  In Ephesians 1: 9-10 (NRSV) we find these words: “He [God] has made known to us the mystery [μυστήριον] of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up [ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι] all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”  The sentence at issue is: “The task of any liturgical theology, and ultimately of liturgics as a whole, is also to orient itself to the ecumenical context.” [Albert Gerhards and Benedikt Kranemann, Introduction to the Study of Liturgy, trans.  Linda Maloney (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2017), 68 ]

The Paschal mystery (the incarnation, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, and parousia of the Lord) is that by which God accomplishes this recapitulation, this gathering of all things in Christ.  Paragraph 1085 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church holds that “in the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present.” 

The paragraph continues:

During his earthly life Jesus announced his Paschal mystery by his teaching and anticipated it by his actions.  When his Hour comes, he lives out the unique event of history which does not pass away: Jesus dies, is buried, rises from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father “once for all.”  His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past.  The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is – all that he did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all.  The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life.

If the Paschal mystery is present in the celebration of the church’s liturgy and if that mystery is a matter of God’s drawing everything toward life and communion with God, then reflection on liturgy must be concerned with the οἰκουμένη, the whole world.  It must be concerned with the flourishing of humans and of non-human creation.  It must be concerned by the destruction of humans and of non-human creation.  It must be concerned with the unity of the human family, particularly the unity among believers in Christ.  It must be concerned by disunity in the human family and particularly disunity among believers in Christ.

In no. 26 of his 1984 post-apostolic exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, John Paul II wrote that there was a need for

catechesis on the concrete circumstances in which reconciliation has to be achieved (in the family, in the civil community, in social structures) and particularly catechesis on the four reconciliations which repair the four fundamental rifts; reconciliation of man with God, with self, with the brethren and with the whole of creation.

How does what we say and do in our liturgies foster or undermine this fourfold reconciliation?  How does what we say and do about our liturgies foster or undermine this fourfold reconciliation?  Are we promoting the recapitulation of all things in Christ?


  1. A few things. As I reflect on the Rite of Penance, it strikes me as nearly exclusively focused on the first reconciliation. Perhaps a bit of the second, as the Church has grown more accepting of psychology and its tools. Confessors who assign an act of satisfaction that invites interaction with other people are still outnumbered by those content to assign a moment of prayer with God. That’s a subjective finding, but it’s all I have to go on.

    When I was in conflict with a colleague, it was an African priest who invited us to a reconciliation ritual he devised. Not only did it address past hurts, but we were able to uncover a new vector of collaboration. It struck me that a poverty of the Penance reform is the lack of sacramental form for interpersonal reconciliation. Especially perhaps for spouses, given our supposed concern about cracked or broken marriages. Maybe some confessors assign acts of satisfaction involving people we have sinned against. This seems rare. Maybe it’s not. But in any case, there is no liturgy attached to it. Perhaps there could be.

    Mark 16:15 has always been a point of curiosity to me compared to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. What point is there to preaching the Gospel to all creation? Are planets and stars, animals and plants, oceans and mountains in need of conversion? Perhaps preaching the Gospel is truly about Good News. Perhaps the divine intent here is not only to sing a canticle of creation, but then go out and repair what we have damaged.

    This is a thoughtful essay from Professor Brunk. Perhaps we are closer today to thoughtful and serious liturgical reform that will address these matters noted by Pope John Paul II.

  2. Since Todd mentions the Sacrament of Penance, I want to mention something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. A middle age woman came to me recently to relate a disappointing experience she had in confession. She was trying to share the struggles she has, even now, resulting from a pattern of physical and emotional abuse as a child. She wasn’t necessarily looking for “forgiveness” but for “understanding,” which she found sadly lacking in the confessor. I’m just wondering if anyone else has pondered the possibility that what Catholics find lacking in reconciliation is not “forgiveness” but “understanding,” and whether that strengthens or weakens the sacrament.

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