A journal of academic theology

September 2003 editorial

By the time this September issue of Theological Studies reaches your mailbox, many of the North American colleges and universities will already be in the throes of another academic year. The time frame between the close of one school year and the opening of another seems to get shorter each year. Among my pleasant memories of the summer will be the annual convention of the College Theology Society held this year on the campus of Marquette University. Shortly thereafter the convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America took place in Cincinnati. The plenary sessions, numerous workshops, seminars, and election of new officers always provide a stimulus to rededicate ourselves to the theological agenda of research, writing, and teaching. The convention liturgy, held in a parish in the heart of an inner city that has experienced much pain and violence in the last years, was especially moving. At the annual banquet, I was honored to receive the John Courtney Murray Award for service to theology. In accepting the distinction, I felt a strong bond of solidarity with the numerous collaborators of Theological Studies: consultants, writers, and book reviewers who make possible our contribution to the ministry of theology.

Mary Ann Donovan, one of our dedicated editorial consultants, after years of yeoman service to the journal as adviser and referee, has completed her term of office. Our sincere thanks and appreciation accompany her as she moves on. We are pleased to welcome two new editorial consultants, Elizabeth Groppe of Xavier University, Cincinnati, and Thomas M. Buckley, church historian at the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley.

In mid-June I had the good fortune to participate in a ten-day travel seminar to Finland to visit some of the best examples of that countrys remarkable architecture, including a number of Finnish Lutheran churches. The trip highlighted the buildings of Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) whose work has strongly influenced generations of architects on both sides of the Atlantic. His breathtakingly beautiful houses of worship such as the Seinjoki Church and the Church of the Three Crosses in Vuoksenniska, Imatra, constructed in the 1950s, as well as other churches inspired by his style, are models of sacred space. For Catholics, even post-Vatican II Catholics, these church interiors may seem bare and lacking in statues or iconography. But the central importance that these churches reflect about the celebration of the Lords Supper speaks as eloquently as any Lutheran/Catholic consensus statement on the Eucharist. It is unfortunate that our ecumenical dialogues take place in conference halls or classrooms rather than in places of worship.

In the Catholic Churchs present time of introspection, shame, and disheartenment regarding sexual misconduct by clergy, in a time of economic downturn and rising unemployment, to say nothing of declining vocations to the priesthood, it is highly unlikely that plans for construction of new churches will give us opportunities to conceive of beautiful and liturgically apt structures. Last years unveiling of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles designed by Jos Rafael Moneo is a rare exception. Instead bishops will be contemplating twinning or merging parishes, and exploring alternate uses for empty church buildings. Where the expertise of architects and artists may still be called upon in the near future, is for the renovation of church interiors. This undertaking is fraught with considerable perils, as Archbishop Rembert Weakland learned with the renovation of Milwaukees cathedral. Disgruntled faithful (not always parishioners) objected to changes that appear to have dark doctrinal implications (e.g., relocation of the tabernacle, arrangements that make kneeling difficult) and even lead to appeals to the Vaticans Congregation for Divine Worship. The archbishop hinted at these troubles in the dedicatory plaque commemorating the redesign by saying that the renovations were achieved not without great difficulty but still totally according to the norms of Vatican II.

Two summer issues of the New York Review of Books (July 3 and July 17, 2003) contained a comprehensive review article of some ten recent books on church architecture reviewed by Professor Alison Lurie. Among them she included volumes by unhappy troopers such as Michael S. Rose, Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spacesand How We Can Change Them Back Again and Michael E. DeSanctis, Building from Belief: Advance, Retreat, and Compromise in the Remaking of Catholic Church Architecture. Although the griefs of these authors and those they represent may apparently be remote from the world of theological discourse, they do, in my judgment, shed considerable light on the reasons for tensions and antagonisms between so-called progressive and conservative wings in the present-day Church. Change in matters liturgical and catechetical often raise levels of anxiety. The new U.S. Bishops directives for correct bodily postures at the Eucharistic Liturgy (scheduled for implementation in Advent), especially when they differ from practices of other national episcopal conferences, have already raised tempers.

One change regarding our current use of church buildings that is highly unlikely ever to be altered without an uproar and outcry would be the drastic reduction of the number of Sunday Masses celebrated in many churches nowadays. Despite the scarcity of priests and the sparse attendance at some parish liturgies, Catholics continue to retain a schedule of Masses that weakens liturgical togetherness. But as the article by Joseph Chinnici in this issue illustrates, change in church life occurs slowly.

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