The Liturgy of the Gun

In an article appearing on 30 April, the Washington Post reported that “across the country this month, at least four men have opened fire on someone who’d stumbled upon their space, resulting in one death, two injuries and a car pocked with bullet holes.”

  • In Elgin, TX, two cheerleaders misidentified their car in a store parking lot. The owner shot them.
  • In Hebron, NY, a young woman in a car made her way up what she thought was the driveway for her destination. She realized her mistake and turned the car around.  The home owner shot and killed her.
  • In Davie, FL, an Instacart delivery driver knocked at the wrong door. The home owner shot at the driver, hitting the driver’s car.
  • In Kansas City, MO, a boy knocked on a door thinking that he was at the house where his siblings were playing. It was the wrong house.  The home owner shot him.

There are other recent incidents, including the Texas man who shot and killed some his neighbors after they asked him to stop firing his gun in his yard but here I want to focus on the indented items above.  All of them involve simple honest mistakes on the part of those who were shot.  Guns in the United States so often leave a trail of misery and death in their wake that the litany of sorrow numbs me.  However, in my judgment these four incidents sound a variation in that litany.

Perhaps the experts cited in the 30 April story are correct when they attribute these shootings to “the easy availability of guns, misconceptions around stand-your-ground laws, the marketing of firearms for self-defense — and a growing sense among Americans, particularly Republicans, that safety in their backyard is deteriorating.”  However, my attention is drawn not so much to the cause of these four shooting incidents as it is to the effects.

As a theologian who researches the interplay between consumerism and sacramental worship, I have been fascinated by what James K.A. Smith has called “liturgies of mall and market . . . that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world.”*  The practice of shopping (or even just being present as other shop) can condition one to perceive the world in a certain way.  This “certain way” might be characterized by the idea that everything is or should be immediately available.  It might include comparing one’s bodily appearance and one’s clothing to the ads plastered everywhere.  It might even include judging one’s associates by the standards of those ads.  In this way, shopping can invite a kind of competitive individualism.  Christian worship, on the other hand, at least ideally involves curtailing individualism.  No. 95 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs that “[members of the assembly] are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other.”

I wonder now about the liturgy of the gun, which in the four highlighted cases amounts to “make a mistake – get shot.”  I am not inviting anyone to be the next shooting victim.  Yet what are we (and what am *I*) doing to be a vital part of a “Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 49)?  What are our liturgies doing to form us into believers who will reach out to others and risk the honest mistake?  What are *we* doing to form our liturgies so that these liturgies will help us to respond, in ways large and small, to the liturgy of the gun?

*James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009). 25.  His fuller treatment of these liturgies appears on pp. 96-101.  See also my November 2019 post on The Liturgy of the Mall.

Windows on the World

In his 2008 book Ritualizing Nature, H. Paul Santmire makes a remark about churches and windows.  He writes:

Many American church buildings, surely those designed in a neogothic style but others as well, have self-consciously or unconsciously been constructed to block out the world around them, much as the historic cathedrals’ towering walls and elegant stained-glass windows had been designed, in part, to create a world apart.  In American settings, however, the wonderful imagery of the created world that so enhanced the interiors of many medieval cathedrals is mostly missing.  Hence, the architectural break between the created world and the realm of the church’s worship is all the more pronounced.*

I came across this passage while doing research on a project investigating liturgy and the eco-spirituality of children.  The next time I went to Mass at my local parish, I paid closer attention to the church building.  Indeed, there is no view at all of the world outside.  There are a number of stained glass windows featuring saints, but by their very nature these windows prevent those gathered for worship from seeing their surroundings.  The same applies to Corr Chapel and the St. Thomas of Villanova Church on the campus of Villanova University, where I teach.  (A chapel in the Augustinian Friary on campus, however, has two walls of floor to ceiling clear windows.)  The archdiocesan cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul has no ground floor windows; the reason, rumor has it, was to protect the building (completed in 1864) from future rioters given the anti-Catholic violence in Philadelphia in the 1840s.

With many scholars, I recognize that there is an important sense in which worship requires a time and space set apart.  Yet Louis-Marie Chauvet also points out that such “set apartness” can cross a limit of what he calls “maximal heterotopy.”

There is a threshold of maximal hetero-topy beyond which rite cannot function.  In insufficient contact with the expressed or latent cultural values of the group, desymbolized, rite tends to regress to the point where all it can do is appeal to each person’s imagination.**

Chauvet is writing in particular on the question of liturgical inculturation but I think that his point applies to the concern raised by Santmire: How often is Christian worship celebrated and experience as apart from instead of a part of creation?  How does this experience shape worshipers’ understanding of the relationship between liturgical practice and care for the Earth or even the understanding of God as Creator and Redeemer?

No doubt parish leaders have many financial questions to address.  I do not want to come across as suggesting that churches across the land must engage in a wide ranging replacement of some / all stained-glass windows.  I want only to raise the question of how our worship spaces inform our sense of creation.

[The picture accompanying this reflection on the Pray Tell home page is an image of St. Gabriel’s Passionist Parish in North York, Ontario, Canada.  When the church building was renovated, parish leaders sought to make the world visible during worship.  More pictures of St. Gabriel are available at the architect’s website and at the parish site.]


*H. Paul Santmire, Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress,. 2008), 100.

** Louis-Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, trans. Patrick Madigan and Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995), 332.

Is the Eucharistic Revival a Liturgical Revival (Part 2)

In a recent post here at Pray Tell about priests who join Mass in medias res to administer Communion, Nathan Chase included these lines:

I bring this up as we embark upon the Eucharistic revival in the United States because I have become increasingly concerned that in many places this revival is attending only to the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species and not the manifold presence of Christ in the liturgy, especially in the Word of God and in the assembly.

Back in June 2022, I wondered basically the same thing in response to a podcast about the revival, which featured Bishop Andrew Cozzens, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] point person for the undertaking. On 9 February 2023, Bishop Cozzens gave a presentation as part of the annual study week of the Southwest Liturgical Conference.  My fundamental concern remains unchanged.

A few times, Cozzens noted the connection between participation in Mass and involvement in service to the world and in one instance he specifically mentioned service to the poor.  However, as I heard his remarks, he did not mention the word “justice” until he was prompted to do so by a question about whether the revival was about little more than fostering piety.  He asserted, for example, that “the source and summit of our life is the Eucharist and we need to really focus on that and be strengthened in it so we know who we are and so we are ready to serve in the world and we’re ready to be on mission in the world.”  Yet I could not but sense that the “Eucharist” here was the sacred species and not the Mass itself.  It is well worth noting, I think, that the famous passage from Sacrosanctum Concilium 10 about “source and summit” uses the word “liturgy” and not the word “Eucharist” even if the word “Eucharist” appears later in that paragraph.

Later in the same address, Cozzens turned to belief in the Real Presence:

We have many people who come to Mass on Sunday who don’t fully understand the gift of what this encounter can be for them . . . How many people come to Communion on Sunday but they don’t come with real faith, they don’t come really seeking an encounter with [Jesus].  We can even probably put ourselves in that category sometimes.

I find these lines disturbing.  I am a sacramental theologian.  Far be it from me to advocate ignorance of Catholic teaching about the Eucharist or any of the sacraments (or any aspect of liturgy).  That being said, I have to wonder who *does* fully understand the gift offered in the Eucharist—or any of the sacraments?  I certainly don’t, and not just sometimes.  When he established the “age of reason” as the threshold for admission to Communion, Pope Pius X wrote in Quam Singulari:

From all this it is clear that the age of discretion for receiving Holy Communion is that at which the child knows the difference between the Eucharistic Bread and ordinary, material bread, and can therefore approach the altar with proper devotion.  Perfect knowledge of the things of faith, therefore, is not required, for an elementary knowledge suffices—some knowledge (aliqua cognitio); similarly full use of reason is not required, for a certain beginning of the use of reason, that is, some use of reason (aliqualis usus rationis) suffices.

The text later clarifies:

A full and perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine is not necessary either for First Confession or for First Communion.  Afterwards, however, the child will be obliged to learn gradually the entire Catechism according to his ability.

Entirely in line with Pius, I am not suggesting that a child’s grasp of Christian doctrine should suffice even as the child matures into an adult.  Yet each of us learns according to ability.  In its thirteenth session Trent defended in unhesitating fashion the Catholic belief in Real Presence but one must attend to the words I have underlined:

In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things.  For neither are these things mutually repugnant,-that our Saviour Himself always sitteth at the right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode of existing, and that, nevertheless, He be, in many other places, sacramentally present to us in his own substance, by a manner of existing, which, though we can scarcely express it in words, yet can we, by the understanding illuminated by faith, conceive, and we ought most firmly to believe, to be possible unto God.

Trent mentions “understanding illuminated by faith.”  In Sing to the Lord, issued by the USCCB in 2007, one finds these words in paragraph 5: “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration.  Good celebrations can foster and nourish faith.  Poor celebrations may weaken it.”  I am all for appropriate catechesis about Real Presence, but there is cause to wonder if the lack of faith that worries Bishop Cozzens is a function of poor celebrations as well.  Of great interest in this connection is the source text for paragraph 5.  The lines are derived ultimately from paragraph 6 of the 1972 edition of Music in Catholic Worship, issued by what was then the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy.  The language of 1972 was starker: “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration.  Good celebrations foster and nourish faith.  Poor celebrations weaken and destroy faith.”


This post is paired with an image on the Pray Tell home page.  To find this image I conducted a Google search using the words: eucharistic revival.  Here is some data about the first twenty images supplied by this search:

Thirteen (65%) of the images featured at least one member of the clergy.

Ten (50%) featured a monstrance.

Two (10%) featured a liturgical assembly.

Man Will One Day Reach the Moon

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

When Christmas Hurts

A colleague of mine knows two couples who have sustained miscarriages this autumn.  Neither couple requested celebration of the Order for the Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage (found, inter alia, in the Book of Blessings).  I cast no aspersions here.  People have any number of valid reasons for dealing with grief in the ways that they do.  My point, rather, is to wonder how many Catholics (especially married Catholics in child-bearing years) are even aware of this blessing.  For example, there are parishes which during Advent invite expectant couples to receive blessings in view of the upcoming celebration of the birth of Christ.  How often do our parishes acknowledge pregnancies that fail?

As near as I can discern, at Pray Tell there have been two posts mentioning miscarriages.  They were in 2014 and 2020.  The 2014 post contains a helpful link to the Miscarriage Awareness Committee of the Diocese of Saskatoon, SK.  I invite readers to post here information about similar organizations in their communities.

The Sacred Triduum at the high point of our liturgical year reminds us that God is no less present on Good Friday than on Easter Sunday.  As we turn to celebration of the incarnation and the joy of the new era inaugurated in the life and ministry of Jesus, let us bear in mind those among us for whom the recollection of this birth touches raw and hurting places.