Is the Liturgy Full of Lies?

Can the Liturgy say anything to national tragedy?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps there is no hope, no unity, no body to gather together.  Perhaps this nation of the United States is simply broken beyond repair—the Word of God has been usurped for condemnation and hatred.  Even church leaders are found praying to God for division, rejecting the common good, and stoking hearts full of violence.

And we thought 2020 was bad.

What can our meager prayers do in a country embroiled with hatred and death?  What service does the liturgy give?  Is the liturgy—our beloved, comfortable liturgy—full of lies about the living God?  We are clearly not experiencing the reality projected by liturgical prayer.

So what is real?  The Word of God calls us to change, and the Liturgy calls us to listen.  If the United States has any dream of being a city on a hill, then let us have ears to hear.  Let us have courage to break down the walls within our hearts.

This weekend is the Baptism of the Lord.  This is what Isaiah has to say about the living God:

[H]e shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching. (Isaiah 42: 1-4)

Let’s all of us rise up…and go forth in peace.


  1. The scriptures that form the text of our liturgy speak overwhelmingly of national tragedy, above all the destruction of the temple and the Babylonian exile, and the lament over God’s apparent absence. We don’t read and sing these passages as much as we could. I have never had the assignment of reading at a national- or diocesan-level liturgy, but in my parish I address the sin and brokenness of our assembly (and also our better angels) with the truth revealed in the text before me. God said it, and God will achieve it in God’s own time. And I believe it, or else I would stop doing it! This especially applies to the promises of restoration such as in the wonderful passage you have quoted.

  2. Paul’s comments are very much on the mark here.

    I’d like to add one more thing. Because of the multivalent nature of symbols, it is always possible (indeed likely) that different liturgical participants will be experiencing different things at the same liturgy. For some, the peaceful rhythms of liturgy are a counter-cultural witness to the transcendent realities in which we believe, and thus a necessary antidote to despair during a time of intense conflict and upheaval; a plank to grasp when we are drowning. “Christ, yesterday, today, and forever” is not a flight from hard times. It’s the cry of martyrs, it’s the truth on which we have staked our lives.

    For others a liturgy that seems oblivious to public events of great moment is evidence of complacency and denial, a compartmentalization of religion in order to sidestep its social consequences, even an act of cowardice. A failure to engage in liturgy, and engage rightly, with the specifics of what is actually roiling the body politic will thus also certainly be felt to be an abdication of moral responsibility, a refusal to make room for what is most real and pressing in human lives, and ultimately a lie before God.

    What makes the difference is how our community has up-to-now shown itself to live. The context of liturgy gives its contents their depth. Are we a cowardly and complacent people? Have we actually been contributing to the conditions that provoked the crisis that now disturbs our public peace? Are we discerning and committed in the struggle for justice, or are we tepid and foolish, pastorally indifferent when confronted with real human challenges?

    Gaudium et spes put a thumb on the scale. We must care. We cannot sidestep the great events shaping our history. It’s our Christian duty and our calling to bring the message of Christ to bear on all matters that trouble our world. Fratelli tutti makes the case again for combatting the sin of indifference. As stewards of the liturgy, we dare not forget these lessons.

  3. To start, “Lord” a name for a dominating male; continue with Father and Son, a Divine male dynasty. Continue with images and words of war (and a warring/militant Church) and an OT male God of wrath, power and might. All supporting the patriarchal model of power over established by the Rabbis who named the Divine Mystery Adonai, to be a person, not the verb YHWH of BE-ingness or the Divine Christ of power with.

    As a wise Dominican systematic thrologian has said, “if your image of God is wrong, everything else will be”; and as another says “every word and image we have of the Divine pales against Who They are”.

    And finally “imago Dei”. Show me one passage in the liturgy where all of humanity, each of whom is made in God’s image is named or claimed as anything other than cisgendered male (49% of the golbal population; and the 51% never sees themselves in images or words).

    Truth in liturgy? Not even the Divine is aptly named Truth.

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