Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reenactment or Resurrection?

I have been haunted for a good while by the comment of a friend and colleague.  He said that sometimes we in the Church are like Civil War Reenacters, dressing up and acting like we are in a Church that no longer exists.  No congregation, large or small, urban, suburban, or rural is immune from this possibility.

At the same time, I am convinced that there is something good (bene esse), even essential (esse) about the fact that the Church, while appropriately expressed in many cultural forms, nonetheless has a culture of its own, which transcends time and place.  One example of this would be clergy vestments.  It is historically interesting that the priestly chasuble derives from an outer garment during the Roman Empire.

But it is more important that it has come to represent the priestly ministry, even to those who have no clue where it comes from.  Liturgical form and ritual actions rise above locality alone.  And so I knew what was going on at Mass in India, even though I didn't understand a word of the language.  This is part of being baptized into the dying and rising of Jesus.

All of this is good, and we need not be ashamed of it, or of expecting people to learn it as they take up and grow in Christian faith.  But it is good as well to be haunted by the prospect that we can get it quite wrong and indulge ourselves in a fantasy world.  The ruins of Christendom are challenging us to sort this out.

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