The following is short opening address given at a symposium of working Catholic artists that recently took place at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. It is a message of great hope for the future of Catholic culture.
Father Thomas Kocik, contributor to the New Liturgical Movement web site and former editor of Antiphon, the journal of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, chaired the discussion. He is a priest in the diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts. In his talk he tackled the subject right at the heart of any discussion about the re-establishment of culture. As he pointed out, the word “culture” derives from the Latin cultus, meaning what we cherish or worship. Christian culture is thus centered on Christ, the incarnate beauty of God. The “source and summit of the Christian life,” (Lumen Gentium, #11) and therefore of Christian culture, is the Liturgy: Holy Mass, the sacraments, the different Hours of prayer that sanctify the entire day. In liturgical prayer, art and culture—indeed all human activity— finds true meaning; for at the center of the Liturgy is Christ, the source and summit of all human hope.
The full text of his talk follows here:
‘The Second Vatican Council described the Sacred Liturgy as “the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed” and “at the same time” as “the fount from which all her power flows” (SC 10).
All the power of the Church flows from the Sacred Liturgy: from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacraments, and the unceasing round of liturgical prayer offered each day by the Church. If one does not nourish himself from this power source at least at Sunday Mass and through regular confession, the life of grace given him at Baptism will wither. He will risk spiritual death.
The Sacred Liturgy is the summit towards which all Christian activity — everything! — is directed. All human activity: political life, family life, social life, labor, leisure, the arts, acts of charity and compassion, even our struggles and suffering, find true meaning and fulfillment when they are offered to God and united with the sacrifice of Christ, the sacrifice of the Mass.
This, then, is why we are obliged (for our own good) to gather for liturgical prayer: to offer all aspects of our lives to God and to receive from Him all that we need to persevere in joyful service of God and our neighbor.
Now while Sunday Mass is a minimum, I would suggest that a Christian life, that any culture, that is not permeated by prayer is deficient. Another word for worship is “cult” and it is no coincidence that the word gives rise to the word “culture.” In a sense, our culture is an expression of what we worship – think of any so-called “cult figure.” And so, Christian culture is a culture in which Christ is adored, praised, loved, and worshiped.
Although it may only be possible to participate in the Sacred Liturgy once a week, we can nevertheless keep our spirit of worship alive through prayer. Some do this by praying parts of the Liturgy of the
Hours, and there could be no better prayer for daily use. Others do so with prayers such as the Angelus, which raises the mind and heart to God at morning, noon, and night. There are many other ways of so doing. The point is that it is done: that, like the farmer in Millet’s famous painting L’Angelus, amidst the duties and distractions that our different states in life present, we stop and we pray. When we do that, we will have done one more thing that helps bring about a restoration of Christian culture, in ourselves and in our society.
It is very easy for us to lament the loss of Christian culture and to be weighed down by the secularism all around us, and from which at times even the Church is not immune. But we must not forget who we are: we are Christians; we have been given the gift of God the Holy Spirit through our Baptism and Confirmation. We are a people constituted by faith, hope, and charity. Yes, our times present their challenges, but what times have not presented challenges? Christian culture was slowly built up over centuries from the foundation of the faith and witness of mere handfuls of individuals who personally encountered the Risen Christ and who gave their all in proclaiming Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Perhaps we have lost much in recent decades; but our task is not to lament. It is to believe, to hope, to pray and to work with integrity for a renewal of all things in Christ. If the Apostles and early disciples could lay the foundations for Christian culture, so can we. For they, too, had to deal with an overwhelmingly hostile culture that did not know Christ. They too, in confessing a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, were met with skepticism and, at times, violent hostility. And yet, with God’s help, they changed the course of history and influenced the cultures of countless peoples.
Let us therefore prefer nothing to the opus Dei, the work of God, the Sacred Liturgy. And let us ever be confident in what good following this precept can yield.’