[UPDATE: My thanks to Fr. Anthony for reposting this at Pray Tell.]
Nothing does an author’s heart good — okay, nothing strokes an author’s ego — quite like walking into an undergraduate classroom to see 20 students sitting with his book on their desks in front of them. I had the pleasure on Thursday of visiting the classroom of Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, on the St. John’s University campus in Collegeville, with the students of his Initiation and Eucharist course. (In addition to being an associate professor of theology at St. John’s, Fr. Anthony is the moderator of the popular and always interesting Pray Tell blog and the author of Sacred Music and Liturgical Reform: Treasures and Transformations.)
One of the texts for the course is my The Eucharistic Prayer: A User’s Guide, and Fr. Anthony graciously invited me by to talk about the book and how it came to be written. I enjoyed being able to talk about the contents of the book, including a central theme of the book which has long fascinated me: the Church’s ancient conviction of lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of prayer is the law of faith”). That is, what we say and do in our liturgy has an awful lot to say about what it is we believe. Indeed, it’s normative: if what we believe doesn’t reflect and conform to the content of our liturgical prayer, we probably need to rethink believing it.
One interesting direction the conversation went was to the connections between the Church’s liturgy and its social teaching. I lamented that too many of us in the Catholic Church have seemingly bought into American political culture and have become convinced that we must line up along one of two mutually exclusive “party lines.” We think we must choose between either being interested and engaged in the Church’s liturgical and sacramental life, its devotions and saints, and a strong attentiveness to (much of) its doctrinal teaching OR in its social concerns and social teachings, its engagement with the world, and the struggle to make society more just and humane, especially for those who have been battered by its injustices.
To my mind, nothing is farther from the truth, and as I mentioned to the students, some of the greatest figures the Church produced in the twentieth century bear witness to the fact. John Paul II, Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa came immediately to mind. They were each daily Mass-goers throughout their long adult lives and intense in their devotion to the celebration of the Eucharist. But they were also each equally committed to the essential place that a committment to the poor and to social justice must have in Christian living. Indeed, each of them would have insisted that a committment to one nourishes and sustains a committment to the other.
I might just as well have mentioned other greats from other eras, right from St. Paul at the Church’s origins (who chastised the Christians of Corinth for excluding the poor from their Eucharist, insisting that by that very fact, it was not even a real Eucharist they were celebrating) up through other important figures through century after century who recognized this same reality in their own ways and circumstances.
In a forehead-slapping moment later in the afternoon, it occurred to me how silly it was that I did not mention, as I sat there in a Collegeville classroom, Virgil Michel, OSB. A monk of St. John’s Abbey here in Collegeville (Fr. Anthony’s community now), Michel was a preeminent figure in the liturgical movement of the early twentieth century. It was Michel who brought that movement from Europe and planted it on American shores, where it grew and took on new elements unique to the American context. In fact, Michel played a huge part in imbuing the American liturgical movement with the aspect that was probably most distinctive about it: its intense awareness of the connections between liturgy and social justice. Michel insisted that it’s the liturgy that forms in us the qualities we need to recognize what a just society would look like and to live and work in a way that makes our society more just.
May Virgil Michel forgive me for my oversight. My thanks to Fr. Anthony and his students for their gracious welcome the other day.