Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

heads they win, tails we lose

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 04, 2004

An Aussie Jesuit finds the church thing bo-o-or-ing:

Where we worship, how we tell our stories and the search for meaning are questions that have long caught the imagination of Father Richard Leonard. Maybe we once found the answers at church, muses the Jesuit priest. But in secular society, he believes, the church has been replaced by the cinema.

The "desire for meaning hasn't gone away but it has been transferred", says Leonard. As congregation numbers dwindle, people are going to the movies to "encounter otherness", "encounter big stories", seek "ethical formation" and seriously examine metaphysics. ...

His experiences have helped confirm his view that "if we are waiting for people to come back to church, we could be waiting a long time. Maybe we should go where they are and speak in a language that they now understand, which is the language of the cinema."

Love these guys. Like a fisherman gutting a bluegill with a Bowie knife, they deliberately set out in the early 1970s to eviscerate the liturgy of its mystery. Easily done. After 35 years of non-stop self-congratulation -- during which they assured those who attended Mass under pain of mortal sin that, unbeknownst to us, we were in fact enjoying the treatment -- the good fathers have finally noticed the empty pews. Might it be the case that they were mistaken in their projects for renewal? Impossible. "The desire for meaning hasn't gone away but it has been transferred."

Are the liturgy-as-theatre types simply clueless? On the contrary, they have an over-abundance of clues; they simply refuse to recognize them for what they are. It's not in doubt which religious congregations are dying and which are flourishing. It's not in doubt which parishes wither and shrink, and which Masses draw people -- especially young people -- from ten or twenty or thirty miles' distance.

People go to the movies, the Jesuit says, "to encounter otherness." Well, suppose a Catholic student lamented that the reason he went to Mass was to encounter "the Other" and that he found it difficult to do so in the casual chaplaincy atmosphere of carpets and and stackable chairs and unvested celebrants and amplified folk music. Whose Theology of Liturgy would be judged defective? You got it, mate.

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