Monday, April 16, 2012

An Autumnal Easter

Springtime in Northern Illinois seems to be elusive this year. Instead of a period of gradual warming, we seem to be having periods of Summer heat, followed by sudden resurgences of Winter weather. It’s playing hob with the traditional patterns of gardening (plant the peas on St. Patrick’s Day; plant the potatoes on Good Friday) and turning my mind back to the issues of ecology and liturgy that are discussed in the current issue of Liturgy.

From the day of Pentecost until quite recently, the “center of gravity” of the christian faith has been firmly placed in the northern hemisphere. Consequently, Easter imagery has been full of references to the Spring season. The fact that the natural world was engaged in its own version of resurrection and rebirth at the same time that the church was proclaiming the resurrection of Christ only served to cement the identification of natural season with liturgical season. 
Recent demographic trends, however, indicate a polar shift southwards, away from Europe and North America and toward Africa and South America, where Easter is an autumnal festival, proclaiming a gospel which is ineluctably at odds with the movement of the natural world.
In her essay “Embracing Local Ecology in Liturgical Expression,” Clare V. Johnson reflected upon her congregation’s experience of Christmas in the southern hemisphere.
Take for example, the 7:00p.m. Christmas Eve Masses of my childhood. In the late-afternoon heat of the southeast Australian summer, the vigil Mass in my local parish was held outdoors to cater to the huge crowds of people in attendance (in numbers far greater than could be accommodated within the church building or than normally would attend on a regular Mass weekend). With fair weather (as often seemed to be the case) and because it was still light enough at the height of summer with the added bonus of daylight savings time, there was no need for artificial illumination. It was always a shame if it rained (which happened only rarely), as the liturgy would then have to be moved back into the church building, which took away something of the special nature of this particular Mass. Celebrated indoors, the Christmas Eve Mass seemed to be just the same as any other Mass, but when celebrated outdoors in the warmth, with the evening stars just starting to appear in the fading-blue skies, something of the uniqueness of the occasion of Christ’s birth was inculcated into the liturgy simply because of the change of setting
As the church’s center of gravity shifts, the imagery we use in worship will have to shift too. How can the institutional power centers which control the church’s liturgy strive to open themselves to new imagery for worship?

Clare V. Johnson (2012): Embracing Local Ecology in Liturgical ExpressionLiturgy, 27:2, 36.

Clare V. Johnson is senior lecturer in sacramental theology and liturgical studies at Australian Catholic University, Strathfield, NSW, Australia. She is the author of Ars Liturgicae: Worship, Aesthetics and Praxis.

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