Liturgy and Maturity

I reproduce this text with some reservation as it comes from the Australian Catholica forum, situated in the radical progressive perspective. Yes, they are for the ordination of women and LGBT people, yes, just like ECUSA. I’m not endorsing or approving this forum, so I don’t want criticisms from conservatives for having given links to it. As always, you are all adult readers and you have the responsibility for what you read and how you react to it. I refuse to assume the role of a nanny!

That being said, the man in charge of this blog, Brian Coyne, often has very interesting reflections, and not least about the liturgy. Is he into coffee-table eucharists, or is he moving beyond that stereotyped style of the 1970’s? I have no idea.

Here are Mr Coyne’s reflections about human maturing and the role of the liturgy. When you have read them, I suggest re-situating them in the context of the thread.

* * *

Three ideas come to my mind in response:

  • Liturgy as an emotional doorway into something more profound: A “Way” of approaching Life

    The maturation of the human person from the lizard brain we are born with to the self-individuated mature adult is a slow process. Our interaction with the world as new born babes is primarily emotional as opposed to intellectual. My sense is that spiritual maturity follows the same pathway that is seen in physical, emotional and intellectual maturation. It is a long and slow process. Spiritual maturity is possibly the most extended of all the maturation process in that it occurs over an entire lifetime. We are probably, if all has gone well, at our most spiritually mature shortly before we die. Physical maturation appears to occur most quickly with the child turning into a physically mature individual somewhere between the ages of 16 (possibly even 14) and 20.

    Researchers tell us today that the maturation of the brain takes about 25 years. I speculate that emotional maturation probably takes half a lifetime with, perhaps, the so-called mid-life crisis being some sort of marker to the end of the process of emotional maturation. Of course there are some individuals who break all the rules, or the normal indicators and either mature much earlier — and it would seem some never mature at all. That is to be expected from what we now understand of the Guassian distribution curves which tell us about most, if not all, behaviours and characteristics about life.

    It seems to me that spiritual maturation is not only the lengthiest process but it possibly even starts much later in the life journey. It is dependent in a sense on a certain level of emotional and intellectual maturity before it can really get underway. Hence we educate our children in the fairy tales both for their social development and also as a tool for their early spiritual development. The emotional commitment, later in the journey — through such things as liturgy — I would argue is an important precursor to the individual developing some more intellectual sense of what Jesus Christ, or their religion, might do for them in the betterment of their lives. Liturgy can be short-circuited though to provide an emotional fulfilment as the end objective in itself without having an eye to any further objective (such as pointing the individual to how the thinking or example of Jesus might improve their lives). The Liturgy becomes important for the “emotional high” that it gives the person participating in the liturgy and carries not much further into their lives other than they need to return to the “spiritual filling station” next Sunday to obtain another emotional high. In other words the liturgy has effectively no effect on their moral maturation except in a very kindergarten-level sense of “obeying the teacher” rather than being “guided by the Divine” and learning how to think and “follow one’s own conscience”.

  • Liturgy is not time bound to a particular cultural or emotional style

    There seems to be a belief in some, including in our present leader, Benedict, it seems, that liturgy is something of some “higher order” than the other “signage and symbolism” that we need and use in our lives. It has to be “solemn, serious and classical” to be “sacred” as though some it is the pomp, solemnity and high-brow nature of the ritual that makes it sacred or pleasing to God. God only likes the art produced by Mozart and that produced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Justin Bieber, or Missy Higgins, or the film makers who have put together (for example) “Redfern Now” is somehow profane and is incapable of leading a person to any divine insight.

    It’s a furphy of course. A total misunderstanding of the communication process and the role of liturgy in the entire endeavour of spiritual maturation and learning “to think, and behave, like God”. I doubt anyone on the entire planet is capable of communicating any of this to the likes of a Benedict-Ratzinger, a Raymond Burke, or the people who congregate at Latin Masses. They all know “what worked for them” as 12 year olds or 16 year olds … they all know what worked to make them enthusiastic enough to sign up for seminary … and they sincerely believe that if only they can implement “what worked for them” half a century or more ago in the whole church it will lead to the eventual re-evangelisation of the whole of humanity.

    Liturgy is not primarily an exercise in giving people “emotional highs”, whether they’re into the music of Mozart, Dylan or Missy Higgins. It is the entré point to spiritual maturation and growth.

  • The societal trend towards isolation and small groups but with a need to express ourselves as belonging to some universal family

    One of the interesting trends in society on the big canvas is the way we are becoming more and more socially isolated. Technology is partly driving the trend. We don’t go to dances anymore, or even the local picture shows that were once common in every little town across this nation. We can be fully entertained in our own homes, or our motor cars, without having to venture out — and in ways that were not able to be even dreamed about even a few decades ago in terms of audio-visual and creative quality. It is not just churches, but political parties and all manner of social organisations that are having a huge battle today drawing people away from their television screens, or even their mobile screen now, to engage in the endeavours that “build a sense of community”.

    Paradoxically, I pick up a sense that as this “social isolation” continues there is also a countervailing sense in the majority of individuals to express some sense of “belonging to something bigger”. There is this countervailing sense buried deep in the human spirit that is constantly “wanting to get out and express itself” that “I am part of the human family — I want to help build, or be part of, a better world”. This, I think, is what gives rise to the growth of what I call “secular liturgies” as the churches have retreated as the prime suppliers of liturgy in people’s lives. There is a desire in every person, it seems, to want to have membership of “something bigger”. There is still a desire to “congregate” and these various “secular liturgies” — from the entertainments put on in modern shopping places (what have been dubbed “the cathedrals of the 21st Century) to the global scale of the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Olympics — have become some sort of replacement for what the churches once provided.

    (…) This leads me to trying to answer your end question, Tony. I sense the trend is moving away from Sunday liturgies and a sense of geographical (parish) communities to much smaller groupings (and possibly widely spread geographically BUT, at the same time, there is still a hunger for much larger physical-space liturgies albeit held less often — perhaps only once a year or even only once ever few years. Whatever emerges as the social answer to the spiritual needs of humanity in the future will, more than probably, follow that trend which seems to be emerging.

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2 Responses to Liturgy and Maturity

  1. Stephen K says:

    Father, thank you for the link. I also read the various comments on the thread. Later, the author of the lead article, Brian Coyne says:

    “Sooner or later all people hit the calvary climbs of life and at that point all the sentimentality and sweet verses are no longer sufficient. Marriages break down or come under strain, children “run off the rails”, businesses get into difficulties and people find that all their prayers and songs don’t actually provide a solution. They have to begin to “think” their way through the difficulties rather than navigate them with emotional platitudes. Liturgy, in my view, can always, at best, only be the entré point to accessing the deeper wisdom offered by someone like Jesus Christ.”

    I think this is true. I think Brian Coyne also rightly identifies the fact that many traditionalist devotees of what is now called “the Extraordinary Form” (but which I call the ‘Old Mass’) think that liturgy is the key to reversing the large-scale disaffection and disaffiliation amongst Roman Catholics. The extract I have just set out explains why this may not be the case.

    However, it is not only traditionalists who think liturgy is crucial to religious identity, for the promotion of the old liturgy as a “sign” of faith is countered by progressives opposed to it. So, why whilst Brian Coyne may be right to doubt the scope and capacity of any form of liturgy to “right wrongs”, so to speak, or provide a complete spiritual diet in this age (if it ever did), I think it remains true that the form and content of the liturgy has some effect on what and how people think about God and what their religion is all about. So many DO think liturgy is significant and important. Liturgy is not thus an intellectual exercise but a psycho-spiritual and emotional occasion when individuals join in a common prayer.

    I myself see that modernistic, even post-modern forms of religious liturgy have a place but that so do more classical forms, and that each of us has a preference or would have a preference if we were forced to make a choice and that each may in theory speak to us. The phenomenon Brian Coyne describes – that the preference derives from earlier childhood and adult experience – is something I think is mostly true and not invalid for all that. And whilst I would tend to agree that spiritual maturity is something that comes with experience and reflection, if someone likes “sweet Mary” hymns then that is hardly proof of any spiritual defect.

    I believe the idea of the transcendence of God ought never to crowd out the idea of God’s immanence. However, speaking personally, I find in traditional religious music a very powerful and personal channel for being able to express or hear spiritual and religious mystery and my residual need or instinct for the transcendent. Our personalities are an elusive blend of nurture and nature of course, but I cannot help but think they are in some way God-given. Perhaps some people do not have a personal experience of that strange, wordless, soul-possessing touch that many people, old-fashioned or charismatic alike, have felt or encountered in a moment of transcendence.

    Nonetheless, I would agree that the “point” of spiritual life and destiny is not to be found in liturgy (or even in particular creedal conformity), but something relational nourished by love and openness.

  2. Jim of Olym says:

    Thanks, Fr. Anthony for posting this! I had not been aware of this blog, and will peruse it and perhaps respond directly to it later. I was stuck by the correspondance between his take on the ‘ages of man’ with some of the psychological understandings of this. When maturation on one level doesn’t link to another, there is conflict, thus the ‘mid-life crisis’ etc. Some correspondance with family systems therapy here (which I studied a number of years ago) and which seems to be borne out in a number of venues. Going from ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’ to ‘Lord Jesus Christ son of God, have mercy on me’ is not an easy step.

    Just sayin!

    Rdr. James Morgan
    Olympia, WA USA

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