“The milestone marked by the first photo of Earth taken from space occurred within the lifetimes of many of our present-day church members. As a human community, we are still in the midst of the same radical shifts in our knowledge and perspective as those associated with Galileo’s telescope.”*
I encountered these lines while doing research on the topic of children, liturgy, and ecology. I chuckled to myself when I read them because while I am among those about whom the author writes (the photo was taken during my lifetime), I am also among those whose grade-school science textbooks confidently predicted some six years after the event that “man [sic] will one day reach the moon.” Fifth-grade me read those lines and reacted with a “Well, duh. We’ve been to the moon. Everybody knows that.”
Fifth-grade me may have made all kinds of assumptions about literacy and about access to audio and visual news media around the world, but in my classroom, at least, it was universally known that astronauts had walked on the moon. Many of those in subsequent generations could also take this fact for granted, even as they also take for granted the existence of laptop computers, smartphones, and any number of other technical marvels of recent decades. (One might also add having to live in the shadow of 9/11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . )
Among other things that happen at Mass each week, believers recite or sing “We proclaim your death, O Lord / and profess your Resurrection / until you come again” or one of the other variants of the Memorial Acclamation. The fifth-grader who still lives somewhere in me is tempted to react as he did to the science textbook: “Well, duh. Everybody knows that.” This reaction misses at least two points.
- It did not have to be this way. That Christ came and died and rose is a function of God’s gratuitous and unmerited love. To take the acclamation for granted is to lose sight of God’s gift.
- The celebration of the Paschal Mystery, which is the context for the acclamation, involves making real and experiencing anew God’s saving power. The acclamation is not a matter merely of repeating data. The recollection of the data, especially in and through the Eucharistic Prayer and the reception of Communion makes of the data an *event* or *happening* of God’s grace in the present even as this gracious power was at work in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
Point (1) can apply to the photo of the Earth. We could have lived in a world where travel to outer space never happened. We can be grateful. (1) also applies to wars and catastrophes. We can be sober-minded and ponder how to pick ourselves up and try again.
With respect to (2), however, when sacramental celebration becomes mere repetition or recall of a past event, then in important respects its sacramental quality is undercut. If God’s kindness is new every morning (see Lam 3:22-23), so too can our praise and gratitude be ever renewed.
*Benjamin Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2011), 13-14.