Deepening the Theological Dimensions of Liturgical Studies

Author: Jeremy Driscoll

Deepening the Theological Dimensions of Liturgical Studies

Jeremy Driscoll

Without the precision which theology can offer, the community risks celebrating simply itself or its story, and not the story of Jesus.


In a recent conference at my monastery and at the seminary where I teach, a renowned biblical scholar spoke of the history of Catholic biblical scholarship in this century. In the course of this conference he made an interesting and important observation about the situation of biblical scholarship as we near the end of the century. In the first half of the century those Catholic scholars who eventually devoted themselves to biblical studies were ordinarily priests, already trained in general in Catholic theology. In the revival of biblical studies launched in the last thirty years as a result of Vatican II, many Catholic scholars, both lay and clerical, have received higher degrees in various dimensions of the biblical sciences as practiced in the current academy; but it is now possible to do so without reference to, and professional training in, the whole sweep of Catholic theology. In short, a Catholic doctor in biblical studies can be highly respected in the field and yet practice its methods and apply its results while being largely innocent of the whole of Catholic theology.

Early in my own theological training I was grateful to encounter Bernard Lonergan's , and I learned from this work that the results of biblical studies, indeed of any specialization within theology, must be coordinated in a dynamic process with the other specializations, which only when taken together as a whole can properly construct theology.[1] Specializations and specialists are tempted to take the results of their own fields and use them alone for facing questions and making decisions that are appropriately faced and made only by all the specializations taken together in a dynamic process.[2]

What was observed about biblical scholars I have been able to observe first hand in the North American scene within my own field of specialization, patristics. Specialists across Christian denominations and of no denomination have rapidly multiplied in this field. The Catholic who wants to use the often very positive results of their studies must, it seems to me, take account at some point of the fact that these specialists also often face questions and suggest evaluations without sufficient reference to the whole dynamic sweep of Catholic theology. With my colleagues in this field I am often aware that, having specialized in patristics after my general training in Catholic theology, I work in patristics in a way that often differs from those whose professional training is only within patristics.

It seems to me that a situation not dissimilar to this exists in part today among people professionally trained in liturgical studies. It is possible today to be degreed in liturgy and to practice in the field and yet again face questions and make decisions without sufficient reference to, without sufficient knowledge of, other dimensions of Catholic theology. I want to be careful about my formulation of this observation. I make it wanting to be neither offensive nor inflammatory, and yet at the same time I wish to suggest it as a challenge, a challenge that may at least in part explain some of the very serious practical problems that we face in the North American Church today, a challenge which also, once identified, can be met if there is the will to do so.

It would not be difficult to point to any number of North American liturgists who are very well versed in theology. I gladly acknowledge the fact and profit from their scholarship. However, in my opinion it must likewise be admitted that much of what is advanced in liturgical circles today is being done in a way that is theologically naive when compared with the maturity of the Catholic doctrinal heritage. Let me try to describe the situation I am referring to by addressing some sample topics that can render my remarks more concrete. These are all areas where the theological dimensions of the matter, it seems to me, could be more deeply conceived.


We may ask what principles are guiding the current search for an appropriate vernacular language that translates the riches of the Latin liturgy? Have such principles, whatever they might be, been sufficiently debated on the level of their consequences for doctrine? Has there been sufficient reflection on, say, the mystery of language itself, on the relationship of this to the inner life of God, within whose life one of the three persons is named Word? What bonds exist and can be expressed between a vernacular spoken in the twentieth century and the mystery of one of the Trinity becoming flesh and living a human life in first century Palestine and, more, his being proclaimed crucified and now risen Lord of the universe? And this twentieth century vernacular-what bonds exist and can be expressed between it and the saints with whom we are in communion over time, who faced questions and gave answers in Creeds and Councils that are still considered normative for believing Catholics today? I am reaching toward profound questions, and how we answer them matters not a little. But questions of this nature cannot be adequately faced without the help of the best philosophically, historically, and theologically trained minds of the community. Has the question been faced on this level by ICEL or now by the various episcopal conferences of the English speaking world who must decide whether or not to ask the Holy See's approval of ICEL's work? A practical and blunt question can indicate the tendency of such bodies to foreshorten the theological task with which they are faced: has a sufficient answer to theological questions raised about translations in a Lectionary really been given when a biblical specialist pronounces a text correctly translated (or interpreted)? But that is the view of a specialist. How does it coordinate with the perspective on that same text by the historian of exegesis or by specialists who know how that text bears on the perception of some doctrine?[3]

Sacred music and art

The question of a language suitable to the liturgy places us very near the question of the meaning of sacred art. Virtually every liturgical concern and practice is expressive of a position- implicit or explicit-on sacred art. If we take just one example, music, we can perhaps develop some remarks to indicate directions in which a deeper and more carefully developed theological approach to the question of sacred art would be helpful. Individual composers of music for the liturgy in our time or in former times need not themselves be trained in depth theologically, though it is not likely that such training would be an impediment to the task of achieving good music. Nonetheless, a carefully developed theological understanding of liturgical music is necessary for the task of suitably judging it and for directing its future development.

Reliance on the three great transcendentals from classical philosophy enables us to frame the question in terms of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth. The relationship between art and the content of Christian faith can begin with the observation that a profound emotion accompanies the apperception of the form of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth becoming flesh. This emotion forms part of the very content of the Word uttered by God about himself in flesh, such that it could be said that the Word is not fully apprehended without the emotion proper to it. But not just any emotion; rather the emotion proper to it. It is the office of sacred art-in our case here, music-to discover and express in form (the art form) the insight into feeling appropriate to the mystery of eternal Goodness, Truth, and Beauty ("the form of God" to use an expression from Phil 2:5) having taken the form of a slave.

Admittedly, this is easier said than done, but we have at least been able to be clear on what must be done. Furthermore, theology can remind artists that they cannot possibly succeed in this office without the help of the Holy Spirit. This is more than pious exhortation. It lies in the very nature of the task, which theology alone is equipped to help us identify. No matter how great the genius of, say, the composer, now that the Word of the Father has come to dwell with us in very flesh, one could never discover the form of music appropriate to this action of God without the Holy Spirit whose work it is, from the moment of the Annunciation down to the present, to form from limited, finite materials a form of adequate expression for infinite Goodness, Beauty, and Truth in the world.

Obedience to the Holy Spirit in the creative act of shaping sacred art demands conversion of life (-a change of mind) and submission of the intellect and will to the in which God utters his Word, to the of Revelation. This is a prior given from which no Christian artist worthy of the name may be allowed to stray for the sake of what we might describe today as a more individually shaped form and content. The Christian artist exercises his task within this fundamental option, which history has shown is wide enough to allow for profound artistic achievement. This form and content of Christian faith is identifiable and clear. And again, though the artist need not be a theologian, theology is necessary to judge the suitability of a particular work of art for the liturgy.

Theology focuses for the artist the nature of the form which is to be created. Behind the form of a work of liturgical art lies a prior and indeed a divine form: the form of one who, though he was in the form of God, did not cling to but rather emptied himself and took the form of a slave (cf. Phil 2:5). Sacred music created by the breath of the Holy Spirit will be music that expresses by means of measured sound and silence the proportion (!) observed by God himself in bridging what should have been an unbridgeable gap, the gap between eternal, infinite, divine life, and the passing, finite life of the creature. God bridges this gap with a delicacy and proportion which preserve intact the finite vessel into which divine life enters, a delicacy and proportion which from our human perspective can only be called a new kind of power and a new kind of wisdom-power and wisdom which puts to shame all worldly power and wisdom. It is the form of divine power and wisdom. Sacred music must be in the form of this same divine delicacy and proportion, and it must express for us the emotion proper to the realization of what an awesome thing God has done in becoming flesh, emotions of adoration, gratitude, love, devotion, and a cry for mercy at finding oneself in the presence of so great a God.

Thus, it is not enough for liturgists to have a merely general anthropological sense of the importance of music in the cultic rituals which human tribes shape. It will not do to leave unexamined or unchallenged presuppositions about music and art in general which are ours from a culture whose project is different from the search for that form for which the Christian artist searches. Philosophical precision and theological precision of a Christian order are necessary to keep us on task. Boethius can be of some help in illustrating what I am speaking about. Boethius speaks of musica in a threefold sense: (a) (, made by human hands, using dead matter in the interest of "spirit," breath); (b) (the human voice); (c) (the music of the spheres). These three together are to form a "gym-phony" which involves the entire cosmos across all the levels of its being and discovers that song which lies at the foundation of all Being, the song that is trinitarian love eternally exchanged and now that same love offered to the entire created order. It is a "gym-phony" which in fact penetrates the very heart of Providence's ordering of things, and this same symphony must be discovered and made to sound in Christian liturgical assemblies. As a commentator on Boethius puts it: "It is not a matter of cheerful entertainment or superficial consolation for sad moods, but a central clue to the interpretation of the hidden harmony of God and nature in which the only discordant element is evil in the heart of man."[4]

Music and language together

In Christian liturgy there is an especially close relationship between music and the language of the liturgy, be that the ancient Latin or a contemporary vernacular. Music must always be at the service of the word. This has been said often enough, but there are theological reasons for this which, when articulated, both can insure that composers do more than pay lip service to a dictum and, alternatively, can prevent music from being banal, excusing its low level by explaining that it is at the service of the word. One possible way of articulating this theology is to search to develop an understanding of the roots of words in the human body itself, in its pre-rational instincts and rhythms. Before there are words, there is the whole language of the body with its tremendous capacity to express the most beautiful, tender and nuanced intuitions of the interior life. Before there are words, there are shouts, exclamations, groans of pleasure, love, or pain. Words are a highly refined and precise version of such bodily expressions. If their refinement and precision sometimes allow us to forget their bodily roots, this much always remains to remind us: that no word is uttered without a mouth and a throat and without air breathed in and out, and no word is heard without bodies in proximity. Their content reaches mind and heart by sounds entering an ear.

Theology sheds further light on what is up to this point a philosophical or anthropological discussion. Christian faith indicates something about the significance of a creature so finely and divinely crafted as to be capable of expression on so profound a level. It is in this capacity for refined expression that the human person exhibits evidence of being made "in the image and likeness of God" (Gen 1:26). Thus, the roots of words ultimately lie deeper than in the human body; they lie in the very nature of God himself. Revelation carries this content: that God eternally utters a Word that is wholly one with himself, that it is the very nature of God to be one by being more than one, that expression of himself is in the very nature of God. It is this expression of God, his Word, which has become flesh and thereby bequeathed to human words, whose roots are in the flesh, the capacity to be swept up into this divine utterance, and this in a twofold direction, making out of human words God's eternal and wholly adequate expression of himself and making likewise human words directed to God capable of sharing in the eternal Word's direction of perfect return to his Origin. But if this is to be our language, it can come about only with some measure of theological competence and control that assures it. There are other ways of speaking, and language, like all other human capacities, suffers the effects of the fall.

Language suitable to the liturgy and the music that is at its service has as its task allowing human words to resound ("re- sound") in this the fullest dimension of the divine Mystery into which they have been caught up. Music surrounds the "emitted sound" which a word is with the resonances of its bodily rhythms, rhythms whose connection with the very inner life of God in whose image they are formed must be discovered and likewise allowed to sound.

Many liturgists are justifiably fond of drawing attention to the important dictum attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine, " . . . " (the law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays). The phrase shows the dynamic relationship between liturgy and theology and sets in relief the more foundational role of liturgy. As is well known, liturgy exists in the Church before the answers given to pressing questions that come to be embodied in Creeds, Councils, or theological . Indeed, it is the shape of liturgy and what is believed to happen there which guides the process of the formulation of doctrine throughout, and it is the same which is used to measure the adequacy of such expressions.

Nonetheless, theology itself must understand this very dynamic, not only to protect the foundational role of liturgy within the theological enterprise but also to guard against the dictum's misuse. One example of misuse of the dictum on the practical level is a sort of implicit disregard of the , as if it were somehow optional since it is not "as foundational" as the liturgy itself. A possible description of a "liturgist" formed by such an attitude would be of someone who knows all about the way Christians have prayed or might pray today, but cares very little or knows very little about the relation of this to what the Church believes and articulates in theological discourse. But caring about how the Church articulates what is normative for belief cannot be optional for anyone who would be professionally identified as a Catholic liturgist. A little history shows that the relation between a and a quickly becomes reciprocal. There is something in the very nature of liturgy that gives rise to the need to articulate on a different level of discourse what happens in the liturgy, how it happens, and the significance of what happens. Indeed, without such articulation the shape of liturgy itself, which according to the dictum is also a , could be manipulated at will. And furthermore, without such articulation the believing community could not engage in dialogue, either among its members or with those outside the community, concerning "the reason for the hope" (1 Pet 3:15) which is grounded in what happens in the liturgy and which, at the apostle's urging, a Christian should always be ready to give.

It seems to me that can function as a sort of grid which, once laid over the contemporary liturgical scene, causes some things to fall into clearer relief. For example, generally no one would be so bold as to identify and justify explicitly such a procedure, but it sometimes appears that ways of worship are manipulated with a view toward causing a shift in some dimension of normative belief. This does not happen on any official level, so the dynamic is difficult to trace but nonetheless present for all that. It can come about when someone or some community for whatever reason feels justified in altering some liturgical practice of the tradition and has, as suggested, little care or knowledge of the effects of such an alteration for the theological heritage of the Church. Or it can come about more intentionally, in which case the original dynamic is actually reversed but not admitted to for strategic purposes. A new way of believing is controlling a new way of worship. I have in mind here theological positions at odds with the community's normative articulation being embodied and expressed in some liturgical practice. It is well known, even if a certain cynicism is necessary to know it, that if a liturgical practice which embodies a theological position at odds with normative teaching can be established, eventually that theological position can be established at least in the psyches of the theologically untrained (and unsuspecting) masses. It is not for me to impute motives, but it is useful to observe that theological agendas are operating, either consciously or not, either known or unknown, in anyone who discusses and makes decisions in any way about how liturgy should be celebrated. The current liturgical scene in North America could profit much from rendering these agendas more explicit, first for the sake of intellectual honesty and then for the sake of genuine and skilled theological debate on questions of huge concern to all involved.

Christian faith's unique understanding of history and the celebration of the paschal mystery

One practical approach to deepening the theological dimensions of liturgical questions can be to begin by attempting a description of some problematic situation and then to follow that with a theological analysis of the same. One possible description of a problem would be that in liturgical circles there is considerable talk about how some ritual or language should be employed or proclaimed but far less talk that attempts to understand what is believed to be happening in the liturgy. But can the liturgical renewal that was launched by the Council really advance without continuing efforts to understand as deeply as is possible for the inquiring mind the Mystery that is celebrated in the liturgy? Understanding what is happening will greatly help us to speak appropriately about how ritual and language should be employed. It is dangerous to confront these practical concerns without sufficient theological understanding.

An anthropological understanding of some dimension of the liturgy is not sufficient, even if it is necessary, to grasp what is happening. For example, anthropological studies of the nature of ritual and myth offer valuable insights into what is happening in Christian ritual and into the narrative structure which shapes it in so thoroughgoing a way, but only theology can fix the distinctive dimensions of Christian ritual and "myth." Without theology's contribution, ritual and myth, insofar as these describe some of what is happening in Christian liturgy, fade into a blend conceived as nothing other than another tribe's version of its approach to the spirit world.

To render my concern more concrete, we may look at the words of a song often sung during eucharistic celebrations today which can serve as a representative example of the problem. The refrain is "We come to share our story." From an artistic point of view, the criticism could be advanced that this comes off as being a bit didactic; but the problems with such a text from a theological point of view are more serious, even if perhaps elusive. Yet theology, among other things, ought to be prepared even to track down the source of elusive problems. We may begin with the observation that in some sense the statement, "We come to share our story," is true as a description of what is happening in the Eucharist, or at any rate is at least aiming at an insight that we would not want to do without in an understanding of what is happening. The insight is that there is a narrative structure that pervades the eucharistic liturgy, and whatever is narrated there is somehow intimately related to the story of the lives that those in the believing assembly are living. Yet, expressing such an insight with no more precision or finesse than the blunt declaration, "We come to tell our story," can in fact be very misleading. First of all, there are no words in this song that ever tell a story, leaving thus unanswered the justifiable question of what precisely is this story. The effect of this can be that there is no precise story. The singing community and even the individual is allowed to fill in the blanks as may seem best. Music is formation on a very deep level, but what guarantee can there be with lyrics like these that the minds and hearts of the worshippers are formed according to a ?

But we may also ask if there is not something misleading in referring to what is happening as "our story." In fact, the story that is proclaimed in liturgy is not immediately and directly the story of the gathered assembly. What is immediately and directly proclaimed is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and this in the context of the whole history of Israel and in the context of the apostolic Church. This must be the "our story" which any worshipping assembly gathers to proclaim, and as such it exercises control over and makes demands of any particular assembly that would call it its own. What that control is, what these demands are, theology can make explicit. In that sense the story is not ours until we make it ours by assent. And assent is a public act, publicly verifiable. If we were merely gathering to tell the story of a particular gathered community, not a community which identifies itself in communion with the Church across the world and across time, then the story would be entirely ours and ours to manipulate as we will.

We might further ask whether "story" is the best word for describing all this. Is it precise enough? Once we get it straight that what is narrated in liturgy is ultimately the death and resurrection of Christ, does calling all that a "story" not risk letting what is narrated there be regarded as no more than an edifying tale? At any rate, nothing in the word (or the song) implies the specific and unique Christian understanding of what in fact happens when the death and resurrection of Christ are remembered in a believing assembly. Scripture and tradition have a word for this; namely, memorial or . Do we not need these words to express adequately what in fact is happening? What has been believed and understood by the Church about the "storytelling" that goes on in the eucharistic assembly evokes a host of mysteries and questions that are wonderful to contemplate and to seek to understand. A past is narrated and believed to be entirely present. A future is revealed and likewise constitutive of the present. Is this believed with good reason? What makes it possible? On what grounds does the Church make such a claim? Who cares or should care about such a past being present, about such a future? What conditions are necessary for participating in such an event, for claiming it as "our story"?

Liturgical renewal as envisioned by the Council cannot advance at any depth without probing such questions as these. Not every believing Christian asks or answers these questions in the way that professional theologians do, but the Church knows that in some way or other these are every believer's questions before the mystery of the liturgy, and what is answered well and carefully by her best minds at work finds its way of sifting down to every level of conceiving and answering questions. Relatively few people, whether they be intellectually simple or sophisticated, are spiritually fed in the long run by approaches to the liturgy that would burke this level of questioning. For a time the novelty of some new practice or approach can claim some interest and seem to offer some promise; but if the liturgy is to feed people for a lifetime, in times as difficult as our own, then a theological effort at understanding it as deeply and precisely as possible is surely called for.

It is a fact that many worshippers are exceedingly bored in the presence of the reformed liturgy, a fact either denied or admitted with reluctance or with perplexity by those who are engineering liturgies precisely so that such could never happen. The problem probably does not lie, as is often explained, in the fact that those who are bored are simply unreformed curmudgeons who will never go along with what was, after all, a reform decreed by an ecumenical Council. By this time more than the curmudgeons are bored. Virtually everyone is or risks being so by much of what is served up for our spiritual nourishment. The explanation may be that the whole community is lacking in theological depth, the kind of depth that is advanced by well trained professional theologians-not to mention the holiness and contemplation of believers[5]-but which always sifts down to the most simple of believers. Without the precision which theology can offer, the community risks celebrating simply itself, its story and not the story of Jesus. This is boring.

There seems to me to be little or no contest on the level of spiritual worth between the kind of liturgy represented by the "we come to tell our story" mood and the liturgy which understands itself, as the Scripture itself puts it, as "remembering the wonderful deeds of God." This latter is a catch phrase of the tradition around which a wealth of profound insight into what is happening at liturgy groups itself, not least of which is what Jesus intended by his command at the Last Supper, "Do this in memory of me." He commanded that we repeat his action of taking up bread and wine and that we repeat the words he said over them. This is distinguishable in meaning from the sacred meals of other tribes. His words and actions at the Last Supper refer concretely and precisely to his death on the cross, which he was to undergo on the morrow. This action and the command to remember it henceforth refer all memorial, all storytelling, to this central event of salvation history. But the crucifixion which is remembered is the crucifixion of one who is risen, and thus it is that, present to his Church as risen Lord, Jesus can associate with his sacrifice a community at a point far distant in time from the particular time in which he was crucified. This is what it means to be risen: that he is able to reveal and bestow what he accomplished in one particular time on every time and every place. The liturgy is and proclaims a magnificent and completely unexpected mystery: that the center and fulfillment of all time stands in the very midst of time. The past is completely recapitulated in the personal existence of the risen Lord, and so also the future of the human race, manifested progressively in the Church, is already present in him and revealed in the extension of the reality of his risen body to the Church.[6]


What might these concrete examples suggest for the title and project of this study, deepening the theological dimensions of liturgical studies? Without pretending to be exhaustive concerning a theological agenda for the future, I would like to group suggestions into three categories.

The first category has to do with collaboration among theological specialists. I think a much more thoroughgoing collaboration between theologians trained in fundamental and systematic theology needs to occur with those trained in history of the liturgy and its anthropology. What liturgists think about and say and suggest could be greatly deepened by such collaboration.[7]

A second category of suggestions might be described as developing a willingness and the will to engage issues at the deepest possible level. Too often in recent decades the word "pastoral" has been the excuse for shirking the full range of discipline that the whole community of believers and thinkers must undertake, each member in a particular way, if the faith is to survive in the richness in which it has been handed on to us and if it is really to nourish our contemporaries. Gnosticism in the patristic period, New Age theories in our own, and Pop Liturgy within the Church all have something in common. First of all, they have a real capacity to attract because they very often successfully articulate what people's most genuine and indeed valid religious concerns are. But they likewise have in common that they cannot deliver the goods they promise, for to spotlight a need, an interest, a desire is only half the pastoral task. The other half is to receive the gospel as the only possible fulfillment of these desires, to receive it with the complete , the completely new way of thinking, that it requires. Theology is systematic, comprehensive, and methodical exposure and subjection to this new way of thinking in all its consequences, attempting, as the writer of a summa might do, to face every conceivable question and to leave no question without an attempted answer.

In a third category of suggestions we might try to identify some specific theological questions that, if well developed, could be of great service in deepening the theological dimensions of our approach to liturgical questions. One such topic would be an ecclesiology more thoroughly derived from the shape of the eucharistic celebration itself. This is a call for a more vigorous application of the principle to our understanding of the Church. It could counteract ecclesiologies, implicit or explicit, which are more sociologically or politically or "politically-correctly" derived. Included in a eucharistically derived ecclesiology would be a theology of Holy Orders which is "able to give a reason" (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) for the hierarchical structure of the Church and its liturgical manifestation, able to give a reason for different roles in the liturgy and the capacity of these distinctions to create unity.

Another topic deserving of greater theological attention is trinitarian theology. Whether concerning trinitarian theology as a topic of specialization or its general bearing on the liturgy, it is important to renew from the perspective both of history and of systematic thought how the Church's trinitarian faith derives from the Church's experience of the action of the Holy Trinity in the liturgy, again, above all in the Eucharist. Yet, that its roots lie in the liturgy does not restrict the advancement of insight into its mystery to liturgical categories. Such insight can and must be advanced also in the theoretical realm, not meaning by this shapeless speculation and production of some new doctrine but rather understanding something in the way that only disciplined and systematic thought allow. Such theoretical advance must find its way back to the liturgy, for there its coherence and adequacy are ultimately measured, but there also it makes its ultimate contribution; namely, a celebration of the mystery with the ever greater kind of understanding suitable to a mystery.

Finally, it seems to me that theology in general and liturgy in particular must both concern themselves more and more to dialogue in critical and challenging fashion with all that characterizes the contemporary The uniquely Christian understanding of history, which is manifested most fully in the eucharistic celebration, promises to solve what is one of the most anguishing dimensions of contemporary experience; namely, the meaning of time and history. To articulate correctly and well this uniquely Christian understanding of history, theology is needed. To understand at depth how it is manifested in the Eucharist, and indeed by extension in all liturgy, liturgists will need this theology.

In a different direction, still dealing with our contemporaries, the Christian understanding of truth is something urgently needed in our times because for us truth is not an abstract set of correct principles, a gnosis however derived. For us truth is a person, a divine Person, Jesus Christ; and, to connect this fact to the anguished experience of time, this Jesus Christ is met in history. This truth is life for us, and it is life delivered and received, full of transforming power, precisely in the community that is constituted by the eucharistic celebration. The best theology is needed to articulate this truth, and liturgists must understand the Eucharist as offering no less than this.

Finally, Christian faith conceives itself as offering the only adequate understanding of that for which every human heart is made and the only possibility of attaining it; namely, the notion of what a human person is. A human person is that being so deeply loved as to be unique and irreplaceable.[8] At the ground of all being, both human being and divine being, is not an individual with his rights but a person, that is, one whose entire definition is derived from relation to another. The Eucharist reveals this relation; the Eucharist this relation. It is the relation of Father, Son, and Spirit to one another and ourselves as summoned to communion within this communion.*


1 B. Lonergan, (New York: Herder & Herder, 1972), esp. 125-45. Lonergan's discussion of method does not render explicit a normative conception of theology, nor is agreement on such necessary for specialists to be guided by his insights. Articulating a normative conception of theology is part of the task of fundamental theology. I have discussed this elsewhere in re ration to liturgy. See J. Driscoll, "Liturgy and Fundamental Theology: Frameworks for a Dialogue," in XI (1994): 69-99.

2 Lonergan, , 137.

3 This is an application of Lonergan's warning that theology requires a dynamic coordination among specialists in many fields to "curb one-sided totalitarian ambitions" to which specialists in a single field may be prone. See , 137.

4 H. Chadwick, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981),101.

5 Cf. , no. 8, on how tradition makes progress in the Church.

6 I have greatly condensed here thoughts that I developed under the influence of H.U.v. Balthasar, G. Lafont, and others in my article, "Liturgy and Fundamental Theology."

7 It is not the focus of my present remarks, but here it is at least worth noting that dogmatic theology for its part suffers from insufficient contact with liturgists or, perhaps better put, from insufficient attention to the liturgy itself. See my "Liturgy and Fundamental Theology," 72-75, on the theological project of S. Marsili.

8 This formulation is by J. Zizioulas, whose theological project can in part be characterized by concern to develop understanding of the human person in light of the trinitarian mystery as revealed in the eucharistic assembly. See J. Zizioulas, (Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1993). For a study of the same and for this particular formulation of a human person, see P. McPartlan, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd., 1993), 174.

* This paper was first presented, in slightly different form, in the foundation meeting of the Society for Catholic Liturgy in Salt Lake City, 21-24 September 1995.

This article was taken from the Fall 1996 issue of "Communio: International Catholic Review". To subscribe write Communio, P.O. Box 4557, Washington, D.C. 20017-0557. Published quarterly, subscription cost is $23.00 per year.