By Sean Smith
Attending church may be a religious or spiritual custom, says Asst. Prof. Bruce Morrill, SJ (Theology), but it is also an experience of the senses.
"We often find ourselves struck by the smell of incense, or the sound of a choir or an organ performing liturgical music," he explained, "as well as the various movements and postures of the celebrants and worshippers. The material structure and symbolic appointments of the worship space also influence our experience with the liturgy."
Exploring these bodily characteristics of human living can heighten our awareness and deepen our insight into how Christians celebrate the sacraments of living in Christ, Fr. Morrill says. The key word in that exploration is "body" and its various connotations - an individualís physical body, an assembled body of delegates, the body of a text, or a body of knowledge.
Fr. Morrill examines this interrelationship with the help of several contributors in the book Bodies of Worship: Explorations in Theory and Practice. The collection of essays, conceived and edited by Fr. Morrill, uses historical and theoretical scholarship to illuminate the practice and experience of the liturgy, and its role in the spirituality of the Church.
"As society and academia have paid greater attention toward human bodiliness in all aspects of life, so have Christian theology and pastoral practice," said Fr. Morrill, who wrote three chapters and co-authored two others. "But itís been a difficult subject to deal with, because of the ambiguity of ëthe bodyí in Christian history and tradition, and the criticism leveled by secular society at Church teaching and practices concerning the body."
A 1998 conference sponsored
by the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, of which
Fr. Morrill is a faculty member, provided a forum for discussing the subject
of the body, and became an impetus for the book, he said. Fr. Morrill enlisted
three IREPM colleagues as contributors: Adj. Asst. Prof. Colleen Griffith
(Theology), director of Formative Spirituality; Leo Keegan, coordinator
of liturgical life during the IREPM summer program; and Andrea Goodrich,
music coordinator for IREPM liturgies.
Bruce Morrill, SJ
Other Bodies of Worship contributors include: College of the Holy Cross Loyola Professor Emeritus Bernard Cooke; Paul Covino, associate chaplain and liturgy director at Holy Cross; and Sister Margaret Mary Kelleher, associate professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America.
Part one of the book examines the ecclesial, ritual, personal and cultural bodies engaged in the Churchís worship, while the second part describes some specific practices that reflect these aspects of the body. Fr. Morrill offers an overview of foundational research and writings on the Holy Spirit and its relationship with the body, while in another chapter Sister Kelleher discusses the biological roots of liturgy and the definition of ritual.
In another essay, Fr. Morrill and Keegan describe the recent reemergence of the labyrinth walk as a sacred tradition. A recreation of a medieval labyrinth, Fr. Morrill notes, has been painted on a lawn near IREPM.
The multiple connotations of "body" call as much for scientific as theological enquiry, says Fr. Morrill, "but for me it comes back to a basic question, which is heard quite often: If I have a good relationship with God, what need do I have for a liturgy at all?
"The answer is, Christian salvation is impossible without the body," he continued. "God doesnít save us through telepathy, but through bodily existence. So we are called together, as a body in real and metaphorical terms, to worship. And there is something about the music, the singing, the praying together, the being together, that makes a significant, noticeable difference to us.
"We cannot experience in individual
prayer, however important and significant it might be for each of us, the
cosmic and social dimensions of salvation that God reveals in our doing
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