The Transformation of the Church

Honesty in the Church

by Daniel Callahan
Scribners, 188 pp., $3.95

The Third Session

by Xavier Rynne
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 399 pp., $4.95

When the cake of primitive custom is broken the range of possibilities open to a people is immeasurably wider. As social anthropologists know very well, there is no guarantee that this wider range will be viewed as a positive opportunity, soliciting new experiences and new achievements. On the contrary, there may be symptoms of withdrawal, of psychic sickness; and people may even die of the experience. When a man is plunged into a landscape in which the very configuration of the hills seems bizarre, for they no longer have the friendly function of symbolizing the anatomy of the soul, in which the heavenly bodies are no longer familiar lamps, in which the wind and the thunder no longer speak to man, this change must be the most terrifying of all experiences. That space is infinite was not what Pascal found terrifying; what terrified was its silence. The ineffable music of the spheres no longer sounded.

The Catholic masses are being plunged into an experience not unlike that of a primitive people suddenly catapulted into a civilization founded upon natural science and the technology that goes with it. The concrete cultus of religion has hitherto been for them a single interacting pattern of culture which has existed side by side with the culture of modern secular society. Where there has been a real interaction between the two cultures the result has commonly though not invariably been that the Catholic culture has simply dissolved. This is the situation of the proletariat in the great industrial cities of Catholic Europe. The situation of the Catholic masses in Britain and the United States is quite different. Here, for a variety of historical reasons, Catholics immersed in industrial society have contrived to preserve their unity as a worshipping community and have, simply as such a community, resisted the normally secularizing impact of modern civilization. The price paid for this has been high: a separation of religious from secular culture that has impoverished both.

It is clear that Catholics are now engaged in the daring and risky experiment of breaking up the concrete unity of Catholic culture. The first part of the experiment is the change in the mode of public worship now established in the United States and elsewhere. The priest within the sacred enclosure, engaged in an intricate symbolic dance and speaking or singing in a hieratic and, to the mass of the faithful, unknown tongue—this is an immense part of the human past and speaks to men at levels below the fully conscious. The new liturgical reforms are designed to purge public worship of the mysterious, that the Christian mystery, the encounter of God and man in sacramental worship, may be more clearly perceived and grasped. To be effective, such reforms demand a simultaneous process of education in which the intellectual and emotional life of believers is given a new style, one in which the roles of habit and tribal loyalty are diminished and the reflective awareness of what it is to be…

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