Lessons for Catholic higher education from the Sacra Liturgia 2013 gathering in Rome
Here are my initial thoughts on Sacra Liturgia 2013 in Rome, which was for me an inspiring conference on the importance of liturgy in Catholic life. Here I give some general reactions on what I heard and its impact particularly on Catholic education. I will follow up with a number of shorter articles. Some will illustrate more what I say here, and others will just offer little lessons learnt aside from this broad theme. I should say that I offer my thoughts here as one who in this scenario is a student who hopes he has learnt well from the greater authorities who spoke (and not as authority giving a critique on the speakers).
In his book The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (which I have written about in more detail here), Jean Leclerq describes a tension that existed in medieval education. In very simple terms it was between those who rely strongly on the literary culture and the beauty of literary forms to communicate the truths of the Faith on the one hand; and those who rely more on a precise technical language of logic to do so on the other. The first would be from the monastic schools and St Bernard would be the figurehead; the second is the ‘scholastic’ approach of the ‘schoolsmen’ exemplified by St Thomas. From experience of Catholic education at the college level in the US, this tension still exists today and it is played out especially in the Catholic colleges that offer Great Books programs. Usually the debate is one over the content of the curriculum and the value of literature in the communication of the truths of the Faith relative to, for example, Thomistic philosophy and theology.
In contemplating all of what I heard at Sacra Liturgia 2013 what struck me is that sense of Sacred Liturgy that they were describing offered the means by which these two approaches can be reconciled. While educational institutions, in their discussion of curricula tend to talk about the right formation of the person, the emphasis here was on transformation. Speaker after speaker made the point that man is made to worship God and through right worship in the Sacred Liturgy he is transformed, partaking of the divine nature. This is a real transformation. It will be realised fully at the end of our lives, we hope, when our current pilgrimage is over. But by degrees it is happening now to the degree that we participate actively (properly ordered in spirit) in the Sacred Liturgy. United to the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, we are shining with the divine light of His Transifiguration, and are part of his sanctifying presence on earth. To the degree that we conform, the grace with which we do anything, mundane or sacred, radiates the beauty of God and calls people to it, and then beyond to the source of that Beauty.
Sacred liturgy is the worship of the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit and this is how we love God most profoundly. It is the purpose of life – the summit to which our lives point – and the most powerful source of grace that will help us to get there.
The variety of value of the fruit of the lifturgical life for ‘homo liturgicus‘ – liturgical man – was astounding. We were told that sacred liturgy both evangelises and makes evangelists of us; it is a school of love that perfects our social relations and our family life and by this society as whole. Accordingly, where there is concern for sacred liturgy there is also concern for the poor. This school of love deepens our faith that is reflected in ‘intelligence of the heart’ that is a knowing of things in the fullest way, in love. It gives us wisdom, it stimulates the undercreative and forms the creative; and cleanses us so that we have ‘mental hygiene’ and an inner peace. This peace is so profound that it that allows us to enjoy solitude without loneliness. It catechises the ignorant and evangelises the faithless and provides an answer to our deep need to know the meaning of life.