In 2005, William T. Cavanaugh invited readers of Liturgy to reflect upon the ways in which public State liturgies often come to fill the mental and emotional space previously occupied by our increasingly privatized Christian liturgies.
There is a longing in nationalist ritual that bespeaks a desire for communion that is at the heart of Christian liturgy. Patriotic liturgies have succeeded in imagining communities because Christian liturgies have failed to do so in a fully public way. As the church expanded after Constantine, Christian worship was not centered on the parish but on the whole city. No Roman or Greek assumed a city could exist without a public cult. The church sought to replace the pagan cult of the city with the Christian liturgy. Christian worship on the Lord’s day and other feasts therefore generally took the form of a series of services in churches and public spaces, linked by public processions, totaling six to eight hours. Here was the church taking itself seriously as nothing less than “the embodiment in the world of the World to come.” Much of this way of imagining the world has been lost as the liturgy has shrunken to a short, semiprivate gathering. If the Christian liturgy is to reclaim its centrality to the imagination of a redeemed world, we must look with a critical eye on liturgies that compete for our allegiance.If we take Dr. Cavanaugh’s insights to heart, what would that look like? As a modest proposal, ought Christian clergy refuse to offer the prayers which (since 1937) have been included in Presidential inauguration ceremonies?
The Liturgies of Church and State, Liturgy, 20:1, 29-30.
William T. Cavanaugh is Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. He has authored a number of articles and books, most recently Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church.