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Posted May 22, 2006

Book: Called to Participate: Theological, Ritual, and Social Perspectives
Author: Mark Searle, Editors: Barbara Searle and Anne Y. Koester
Liturgical Press. Collegeville, MN. 2006. Pp. 90

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Called to Participate is the late Mark Searle's last testament on liturgical reform. It draws on the teachings, writings, and international lectures of this noted liturgist and professor. "Where do we go from here?" Searle asks in response to the liturgical reform o the Second Vatican Council.

Searle offers a historical perspective of the roots of liturgical reform during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. He describes the nature of liturgy as a ritual activity by which the people of God are invited to share in the life of God. Selected aspects of the liturgy are considered, such as the proclamation of the Word. He also comments on the social character of the liturgy, which is to move beyond the assembly to participate in God's work in an outward or public ministry.

An Excerpt from the Book:

In April 1964, just a few months after the solemn promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and just as the first changes in the eucharistic liturgy were beginning to appear, the aging and by then ailing liturgist-theologian Romano Guardini wrote an open letter to the Liturgical Congress being held at Mainz in Germany. At a time when everyone else was apparently riding a wave of enthusiasm over the prospect of changes to come, Guardini sounded a note of caution. To manyh of his contemporaries it sounded sour and out of tune with the times; forty years later it sounds prophetic:

Liturgical work, as we know, has reached an important juncture. The Council has laid the foundations for the future. . . But now the question arises how we are to set about our task, so that truth may become reality.

A mass of ritual and textual problems will, of course, present themselves - and long experience has shown how much scope there is for a right and wrong approach. But the central problem seems to me to be something else: the problem of the cult act or, to be more precise, the liturgical act.

Guardini then went on to hint at what he meant by "the liturgical act":

As I see it, typical nineteenth-century man was no longer able to perform this act; in fact he was unaware of its existence. Religious conduct was to him an individual inward matter which in the "liturgy" took on the character of an official, public ceremonial. But the sense of the liturgical action was thereby lost. The faithful did not perform a proper liturgical act at all, it was simply a private and inward act, surrounded by ceremonial and not infrequently accompanied by a feeling that the ceremonial was really a disturbing factor.

Guardini's letter is full of important insights and hard questions, but he did not actually define what he meant by "the liturgical act." Apparently it is a human act, i.e., something that had once been done with certain self-conscious intentionality, but which had gradually atrophied and been converted into something else over the course of centuries. As a result of cultural changes and the consequent changes in religious mentalities, religious behavior had taken on different meanings. The end result was an understanding of religion that sees it primarily in terms of the individual (what the individual does with his solitude, as William James defined religion) and makes interiority the sole criterion of authenticity. Such a starting point would inevitably tend to regard public and collective demonstrations of religiousity with suspicion and, even in the Catholic tradition, to dismiss "ceremonies" as a potential distraction from real prayer or at best as a kind of adjunct to and support for personal piety.

Table of Contents:

1. Two Liturgical Movements

2. Three levels of participation

3. The inward/contemplative dimension of liturgy

4. The outward/public dimension of liturgy