General and Introductory Materials
Part 4 Liturgical Issues

Chapter d41 Liturgy and Psychology

Preliminary Questions


Dynamics of Change

Tip of the Pistol Changes

Oscillation Theory

The Iceberg Metaphor

Mind, Body, Spirit

Mythos, Myth, and Ritual

EJWU #1 Introduction

Gaillardetz:  Philosophical Underpinnings

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

Symbol is the language of liturgy. To speak liturgy you must know the vocabulary of symbol.

Do you think writers should a) "say what they mean and mean what they say" or b) express things more by use of analogy?

Which of the following three positions (1, 2, or 3) most closely resembles your own position in reference to the statement: "God is only a symbol of our ideals." 1) Disagree, although our experiences may be symbolized in our image of God, the reality of God always transcends our symbols for that reality. 2) Agree, since religious persons tend to ascribe to God their own highest ideals. 3) Disagree, since there is clear evidence for a real God who is much more than just the result of our rational powers.

How do you respond to liturgical symbols? What is a symbol? What is the relation between symbol and metaphor? How do you use symbols in your prayer? What are the principle liturgical symbols? Why do we need symbols at all? Could we pray without symbols? If you were to draw three symbols that would represent your life, what would they be? What is happening in the cover picture of Jean Lebon's book How to Understand the Liturgy? Does a good symbol need to be explained? What role does your body play in your spiritual life?

Are you comfortable with symbols? Are you a Myers-Briggs sensate or intuitive? Are you literal, anti-literal, metaphorical? What have you studied or read about symbols? Do you think your personality type has a relation to the way you view symbols? What books have shaped your understanding of symbol?

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George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980. ISBN 0-226-46800-3. $6.50 paper.

Edward K. Braxton. "Symbol: The Language of Liturgy" FDLC Newsletter January-April 1983, Vol 10 numbers 1 and 2, pp 9-16.

Godefry Diekmann. "Celebrating the Word." in James Schmeiser (editor), Celebrating the Word, Toronto: Anglican Book Center, 1977, pp 1-22.

Avery Dulles. "The Symbolic Structure of Revelation," Theological Studies. pp 51-73.

Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. Symbol: The Language of Liturgy. Publication number 451. [Study text for the 1982 national meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.]

Aidan Kavanagh.  On Liturgical Theology.  1984. $8.95. New York: Pueblo Publishing Co. 1860 Broadway, New York, NY 10023. ISBN 0-916134-67-9.

Jean Lebon. How to Understand the Liturgy. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1988. ISBN 0-8245-0867-X. $11.95 paper.

Leon-Dufour. Sharing the Eucharistic Bread. pp 117-156.

Leonel L. Mitchell. The Meaning of Ritual, New York: Paulist Press, 1977, pp 7-22.

David N. Power, O.M.I. Unsearchable Riches: The Symbolic Nature of Liturgy.  1984. $9.95. New York: Pueblo Publishing Co. 1860 Broadway, New York, NY 10023. ISBN 0-916134-62-8.

John Westerhoff. "On Knowing: The Bi-cameral Mind" Concilium 174, August 1984, pp. 63-68.

Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism, pp i-xv, and pp 1-11.

Gaillardetz, Richard R.  Transforming Our Days:  Spirituality, Community and Liturgy in a Technological Culture.  Crossroad Publishing Company, New York.  2000.  ISBN 0-8245-1844-6  Paper.  $15.95.

Roy M. Oswald, Ending Well, Starting Strong, a series of cassette tapes designed to help pastors make a good transition from one parish to another.  Available from The Alban Institute / Suite 933 North / 4550 Montgomery Ave. / Bethesda MD 20814-3341.

Buzan, Tony.  Use Both Sides of Your Brain.  Publisher: Plume Books, 1991 ISBN: 0452266033.  Paper $14.00.

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Dynamics of Change

In the dynamics of change, the easiest and quickest thing to "change" or to learn is a new fact.  It takes more effort and more time to change attitudes.  It is harder yet and takes longer to change behavior.  And to change group behavior takes even more time and more effort.    




Group Behavior

2.  For example,  for many people of my generation, it was the normal, expected thing to smoke cigarettes. 

2a Facts  Little by little we began to learn that smoking was bad for you.  But just knowing the facts did not change my attitude toward smoking.  "Smoking is harmful" or "smoking is bad for you" or even "smoking is bad for me" is not yet "I wish I didn't smoke."  

2b Attitudes  Eventually I arrived at "I wish I didn't smoke." And even after you are convinced that you would rather be a non-smoker, it often took many tries and many weeks and months to change behavior (and to assimilate the new "non-smoker" identity).  

2c  Behavior  Finally one becomes a "non-smoker."

2d  Group Behavior   While changing behavior might take weeks or even months, it has taken 30 or 40 years to change our "group behavior" toward smoking to where (in general) it is more "socially acceptable" not to smoke than to smoke.  Restaurants have "non-smoking" sections.   Even jails and prisons are often now (2004)  completely "non-smoking" where formerly (e.g. 1964) they were often totally "smoking." 

It is a helpful exercise to walk some of the recent liturgical changes through these four stages:  e.g. Communion in the hand;  Anointing during Sunday Eucharist;  Proper age for Confirmation, etc.

Note:  This is why language (a behavior) is slower to change than ideas (facts) -- although language also shapes our thought patterns, we often have new ideas before we have adequate language to express them.  [Do Episcopalians call a female priest "father"?) 

3.  One of the issues that any educated person has to face (not only in getting a Master's Degree in theology, but in any academic / scientific / artistic field) is that sometimes at the end of the course one finds that  the facts 2a one learned from the course do not coincide with current sacramental practice 2d (group behavior) of the Church or even with the attitudes 2b and behavior 2c of Church leaders.

4.  Authors identify five stages in learning a new skill.

1.  Unaware & Resistant
2.  Guilty
3.  Phony
4.  Skillful
5.  Integrated

5.  What happens when a minister finds herself or himself in section 10 of the grid and the people being ministered to are in section 8 of the grid depends on how the minister views a) her/himself, b) ministry, c) change and d) leadership. 

a)  self knowledge   In the contemporary Church, self-knowledge is essential for effective ministry.  Every minister should have a spiritual director.  Most ministers should have psychological counseling (or at a minimum, psychological training).

b)  ministry  What is a minister?  What is the relation between Baptism and ministry?  What is the relation between ministry and power? 

c)  change   Cardinal John Henry Newman:  "Here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." 

d)  leadership  The minister must know about the different leadership styles and be aware of his/her own attitudes and style of exercising leadership.

There is a characteristic process that is recognizable in the history of dogma.  When a new age breaks in with its particular forms of thought and language, it affects the traditional doctrine of faith that had been handed down from another age clothed in another structure of thought and language.  At first, this takes place in an unreflective way.  Later on, formal theological reflection on the consequences of the new form of though leads to a crisis.  how can the new theology be reconciled with the old so that the gospel message is authentically expressed. (Kilmartin, Page 97)

With regard to thinking and feeling:

Even though thinking (the facts) is modified more easily than our feelings (attitudes), it is necessary that we bring our feelings in line with our thinking.  For example imagine speaking with a Catholic in Mississippi who might say to you: "I guess that African Americans really are people just like us white folk, but I still feel a lot better when they sit in the back of the bus rather than sit up front with us."  While I can understand that the person might "feel" that way, it is a "feeling" the person must consciously work to change so that it is congruent with the facts.


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Tip of the Pistol


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Oscillation Theory

The following notes are taken, for the most part, from Roy M. Oswald, Ending Well, Starting Strong, a series of cassette tapes available from The Alban Institute / Suite 933 North / 4550 Montgomery Ave. / Bethesda MD 20814-3341. The Oscillation theory was developed by Bruce Reed at the Grubb Institute of England. Reed took the research of Victor Turner from the University of Chicago [who looked for the common thread among all the religions] and combined it with the research of Wilfred Biont [who studied unconscious group behavior].

Premise:  There are two modes of life: doing and being. We are usually evaluated on our doing, because the being is so hard to measure. But unless you take care of the being side, you won't be very effective in your doing.

In order to take care of "being" one must balance work and play. Clergy do not have many opportunities to play, especially in rural settings opportunities to play are scarce. Everyone knows you are the pastor. And if you are under judgment you will not let out your playful child. You cannot play when you are being evaluated in your role.

In this context Reed speaks of intra-dependence and extra-dependence. By "intra-dependence" he means a source of strength within myself. By "extra-dependence" he means drawing on resources outside of me. Because this resource outside of me is strong and caring, I can relax and be cared for. I can play and experience my essence because I am taken care of.  We cannot move to extra-dependence unless there is a dependable figure who will take care of us.

Reed's oscillation theory states that we all need to oscillate back and forth between these two states of intra-dependence and extra-dependence.

For example a child can be clinging to its mother in a park or play ground and then it breaks loose and runs to play with the other children. Then it gets hurt and runs back to mother and mother kisses the hurt and embraces the child and it sits in mother's lap for a while. Then it breaks free again and goes back to playing with the other children. There was a store of courage inside the child that was used up and needed to be renewed in its mother's lap (Oscillation: intra-dependence to extra-dependence to intra-dependence.) At the center of this oscillation is the parental figure. We do not oscillate into extra-dependence unless we have a trustworthy parental figure to whom we can go.

Reed says that the function of religion in society is to manage people's regression to extra-dependence. "Regression" here is not a negative term. We regress for the sake of healing. Our job as pastors in the Church is to give people extra-dependence. And we do this most profoundly and most efficiently at worship. This is where stability is so important. You as pastor become the reliable figure upon whom people can lean for extra-dependence. People project onto you as the strong figure that they can depend on. Your relationship in building that trust is very important as a pastor. Unless they trust you they will not worship, i.e. they will not move into extra-dependence. They will not "let themselves go" in the worship service so that they move from intra- to extra-dependence.

Note the gestures at liturgy: The folding of the hands, kneeling, the bowing of the head, the making of confession, receiving absolution, rising to sing praises of God, receiving exhortation in the sermon, coming forward to kneel and receive the sacrament -- these are gestures are all those of a person in a state of extra-dependence.

The communion comes at the end of the service. You come and take God and ingest God and then walk out into the world. The lay people then draw on the God they have experienced in Church. They take what they received at the liturgy (extra-dependence) and then go out do ministry (intra-dependence), where they are the leaven in the world. They are God's agents of healing in a broken world. But out in the world they get misunderstood, they get abused and hurt, and they come cycling back to worship to get their batteries recharged: oscillation. They come back for liturgy, spiritual direction, counseling, etc. "I know it is hard out there, let's sing a hymn" -- and we realize that God is in charge, God strengthens us, etc. and then we send them back out into the world.

The "sending out into the world" is very important because dysfunctional religion is a religion of people stuck in a state of extra-dependence. Dave Cornish and the Jim Jones incidents were both examples of people stuck (and kept) in extra-dependence. They never wanted their disciples to break free and enter a state of inter-dependence.

There is a temptation of in all of us to want to stay in a state of extra-dependence. E.g. Peter on the mount of Transfiguration: "Lord let us build three tents and stay here..."  But Jesus would have none of it. Down the mountain; that's where ministry happens. When people want to be dependent and want somebody else to be in charge, then we have dysfunctional religion, the "opium of the people." "The Mass is over. Now get out of here."  You kick them out, so that ministry can happen. Then they cycle back.

This is a descriptive theory, it describes why most people come to church. They want to be taken care of. But where does the pastor go for extra-dependence? Where do you go to be taken care of? Often pastors have no place to go for extra-dependence. During worship, in hospital visits, in counseling, etc. you are managing the experience for others. As leader you are in intra-dependence.

The pastor has two basic roles. First: you are the resident religious authority, giving extra-dependence and support to others at worship, counseling, pastoral care, etc. being there during a period of crisis. About 80% of what you do is giving extra-dependence, being strong when others are in need. This is your role as pastor.

Second: You also are the chief executive officer of a rather large corporation. This is your role as leader. (Some of you are good as pastors and not so good at leading; some are better leaders than pastors.) As leader you need to get out front and lead to a more dynamic, more caring, more mission orientated religious community. What if at a meeting, you know that you must expend the parking lot if the parish is to grow and there is one lay member who is opposed to the expansion. You have to take him on and for this time he is your opponent. You have to put on your CEO hat. But what if next day that person whom you were opposing has a heart attack? Then you take off the CEO hat and put on the pastor hat. This is the flexibility required of a pastor. In both positions, pastor and leader, you are in intra-dependence. They are both stressful. That is why you need some place to go to get support!

Group psychologists tell us that we have times of interdependence (normal times) and times of extra-dependence, times when we depend on someone "other" or "extra" for support because or own independence is suffering. These are the times we seek support from a friend, lover, parent, counselor, etc.

For example, one day I was invited to a picnic with several families from the parish. We adults were talking while the children played tag in the yard (interdependence). One of the children got stung by a bee and immediately ran to his mother who gave him a kiss and a hug and dressed the bee sting (extra-dependence). He sat on her lap for a little while and then returned to play with the other children (interdependence).

One of the functions religion plays in society is that it gives people a space for extra-dependence. They can come for their daily tasks (interdependence) and lay down their burdens at the church door and enter into a period of worship where the minister (and God) provide them with love and support (extra-dependence). And at the end of the service, the minister sends them back into the world (interdependence) to live the gospel, refreshed by their time of worship (extra-dependence). "Go, the Mass is ended."

One conclusion to be drawn is that it is a very different thing for a priest to participate in the Eucharist "from the pew" and to preside at the Eucharist. The first is a time of refreshment and "receiving" the other is a time of "giving." Most of the things a priest does (presiding at the liturgy, counseling, teaching, etc.) are "giving" times and he must find times for his own "receiving" (extra-dependence).

But more to the point here, the one presiding must not only send them forth, he must want to send them forth and not to keep them in a state of extra-dependence -- and dependent on him. This was the problem with the mass suicides with the Jim Jones group e.g. The leader wanted to keep them in a state of dependence.

One must ask if having the people kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer is a question of reverence and devotion to the eucharist, or a question of keeping them in a position of submission and dependence on the priest (bishop) who does not kneel.

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The Iceberg Metaphor

"Who we are is how and where we have traveled."  (Murray Bodo, The Place We Call Home:  Spiritual Pilgrimage as a Path to God, Paraclete Press, p. 70) 

The vast majority of people make choices more out of the myths they live than out of the abstract principles they have learned. That is why it is so essential to become aware of the stories we live, the larger stories which we daily tap into and which give us the real backdrop for our most personal choices, good or bad." (Tad Guzie, The Book of Sacramental Basics, New York: Paulist Press, 1981, p 13.)

"In many adult learning situations, we wish to do more than simply 'hand out information.'  We want to shape attitudes, to challenge prejudices and faulty presuppositions. Often, however, these attitudes and prejudices lie in the unconscious. Often they are unexamined; yet carried as so much 'baggage' which influences the student's judgments and conclusions.  Story telling plays an important role in enabling the course to contact and shape the unconscious."

"Freud often compared the mind to an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg corresponds to consciousness. The much larger portion, the part you can see through the water) is the preconscious. The vast majority of it, however -- the part you can't see -- is the unconscious. Although the conscious and preconscious have an impact on people's behavior, Freud saw them as less important than the unconscious. The unconscious is where Freud thought the truly important operations of personality take place." (See Charles S. Carver and Michael F. Scheier's Perspectives On Personality Boston: Allen And Bacon, 1995, p 201).

"The unconscious may be regarded as the bulk of the individual's psychic self. The aspect of the self that is most readily available, the conscious, is topographically the "smallest" portion of one's mental existence ("the tip of the iceberg," the thin, uppermost layer of one's psyche). Adjacent to that "region" is the preconscious, which is not immediately available to our conscious awareness, but could become so when one is in a state of relaxation of controls. These concepts -- the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious -- comprise Freud's topographic model of the mind (Brenner, 1973). (See David Barone, Michel Hershen, and Vincent B. Van Hasselt's Advanced Personality, New York: Plenum Press, 1998, p 20).

Most teaching addresses the "exposed" part of the iceberg: Facts, the things we see and touch and hear; formulas, regulations, guidelines, etc. However, story, symbol and ritual enable us to reach through the preconscious to shape the assumptions and myths out of which the person operates. Storytelling is one of the doors to the unconscious. Consequently it is an important teaching/learning practice.

The "under the iceberg" influences how we respond to or perceive the information and facts present to the top of the iceberg.  Some people focus on the present data provided the five senses (senate); some people focus on the future possibilities contained in the data (intuitive).  This has a vital role in how people learn and how they experience the liturgy and sacraments. 

The iceberg metaphor also helps to explain in modern terms an aspect of the ancient philosophical axiom, "quidquid recepitur, ad modum recepientis recepitur"  (Whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver).  For example, if you pour water into a square box and freeze it, you get a square block of ice.  If you poor water into a round pot and freeze it, you get a cylindrical block of ice.  The shape of the ice depends not on the water, what is being received, but on the shape of the receiver.  Psychologists tell us that "people receive new ideas only in terms of the ideas they already have." (Lamin Sanneh, Who's Religion is Christianity, p 42.)  For example, during a theology course the new ideas presented in the course are received by the students according to their "under the iceberg" previous theological understandings -- not, as it would seem, according to the intention of the source of the idea (e.g. the professor / text book). 

Vacation on the Dude Ranch  An example of what words "look like" (above the water line) and what they "connote" or mean (under the iceberg) depending on the hearer is exemplified in the old joke about the British woman who decided she would take a "rustic" vacation in the United States and visit a Dude Ranch and live with cowboys for a week.  As the date for her departure approached, she began to have second thoughts and began to wonder just how "primitive" the accommodations were going to be.  For example, would there be "indoor plumbing".  Consequently, she wrote the proprietor and asked if the lodge had a WC.  While it was perfectly clear to her that a WC was a water closet (American: toilet) the American proprietor had never heard this expression and tried to figure out what she could possibly be asking.  Finally he concluded that she was inquiring about a "Wayside Chapel".  His letter of reply finds its humor in the two "understandings" of WC.  It goes on for several pages, containing such explanations as:    "While the ranch itself does not have a WC. you can easily find one a few miles down the road. The building itself is very ancient.  While it only seats 30 or so, on summer mornings there is often a visiting choir.  Friends often gather there on Sundays for coffee and doughnuts.  ..."  

Theological Example    I found the iceberg metaphor helpful in understanding a situation which arose the other day in the parish.  A parishioner -- we'll call him George -- was upset because he had read in a Catholic newspaper that "without the Eucharist, there is no Church."  I myself had read the same article and the sentence simply went by me without any particular emotion -- I simply read the sentence as a basic statement of Catholic belief.   I found it in no way upsetting. 

How could one statement affect two Catholics in such different ways.  As George and I began to discuss the issue, I realized that under my "Eucharist Iceberg" I think of the Eucharist as the presence of Christ in today's world.  Under my Iceberg, Eucharist evokes "the Body of Christ" and the statement "without Christ there is no Church" seems "true" me.  If Jesus Christ did not exist, there would be no Catholic Church."  

However, as I listened to George discuss why he was upset about the article, it became clear to me that under his "Iceberg" "Eucharist" meant "going to Communion at Sunday Mass."   And he heard the statement to mean "If I skip going to Communion on any one particular Sunday, the Catholic Church will cease to exist" -- and I understood why George found the statement upsetting.  On top of the iceberg there was one sentence for both of us; but under the iceberg there were two very different sentences.

Ideologies reside under the water line, unseen.  "Ideologies are mental canopies that set the horizons of what is acceptable in the world of ideas and values, and that do not allow circumstances to question their own value."(Lamin Sanneh Whose Religion is Christianity, pp 65-66)  We often talk about "expanding our horizons", or "thinking outside the box".  If we examine these metaphors carefully, we see that the "horizons" and the "boxes" are under the water line

Overcoming Discord in the Church  I have found the iceberg metaphor particularly helpful in dealing with the current situation of discord and polarization in the Catholic Church.  As Christopher Ruddy has said, "Polarization is a luxury which the church can no longer indulge or even tolerate. ... Polarization has strangled the church's ability to be genuinely evangelical or missionary." 

James Davidson in The Search for Common Ground names three groups:   1) The Pre-Vatican II Catholics born in 1940 or earlier; 2)  The Vatican II Catholics born 1941-1960; and 3) The Post-Vatican II Catholics born in 1961 or later.

Timothy Radcliffe (in a lecture delivered April 2006 at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress) describes two different "under the iceberg" configurations which he names "Kingdom Catholics" and "Communion Catholics."  

By Kingdom Catholics I mean those of us who have a deep sense of the church as the pilgrim people of God, on the way to the kingdom.  The theologians who have been central for this tradition have been people like the Jesuit Karl Rahner, and the Dominicans Edward Schillebeeckx and Gustavo Gutierrez.  This tradition stresses openness to the world, finding the presence of the Holy Spirit working outside the Church, freedom and the pursuit of justice.  They became very much identified with a publication called Concilium

By Communion Catholics I mean those who came, after the council, to feel the urgent need to rebuild the inner life of the church.  They went with theologians like Hans von Balthasar and the then Joseph Ratzinger.  Their theology often stressed Catholic identity, was wary of too hearty an embrace of modernity, and they stressed the cross.  They had their publication; it was called Communio

The important thing is to go beyond naming the differences and to build bridges to common ground so that we can get on with the mission of the Church!

Transference:  Your under the iceberg is showing   Some understanding of what is going on under your own iceberg is especially important for those who are actively engaged in ministry, especially the ministries of preaching and/or catechesis.  You cannot help but reveal something of your "hidden religiosity/piety/theology" when you minister.  As with counseling, the minister must be aware of this dynamic or issues will arise with transference and counter transference.

"Transference is a phenomenon in psychology characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings of one person to another. For instance, one could mistrust somebody who resembles an ex-spouse in manners, voice or external appearance; or be overly compliant to someone who resembles a childhood friend. -- In a therapy context, transference refers to redirection of a client's feelings from a significant person to a therapist. Counter-transference is defined as redirection of a therapist's feelings toward a client, or more generally as a therapist's emotional entanglement with a client." Transference (2006, June 2) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:17, June 15, 2006, from 

Perhaps one can teach mathematics or science "objectively" but I do not think it is possible to "teach religion" without exposing your own presuppositions.  That is one reason why I think that the iceberg metaphor is so important for all who want to enter ministry. 

I find it interesting that my mother named me "Thomas."  Thomas in the Gospel is the one who always takes the other side of the argument, the one who offers the opposite opinion, the one who shows the other side of the question (Thomas / Twin).  I find Thomas' role in the Gospels similar to the Coyote in Native American Religions.  In Navajo culture "Coyote plays an important part in the very creation of the world.  Coyote is sometimes a minor nuisance, sometimes a joker, often a major danger.  But this same Coyote introduces the people to the importance of death as making place for life, the importance of difference of opinion as making place for thinking."   (Gordon W. Lathrop, "Ordo and Coyote:  Further Reflections on Order, Disorder and Meaning in Christian Worship," Worship, May 2006 80:3,  pp 204-205.) 

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Mind, Body, Spirit

The Human Person

Often we speak of the human person in terms of "body" and "soul".  This is interpreted in various ways.  Sometimes this refers to a rather crass dualism: the body is the material part of us, and the soul is the eternal part.  When we are alive the two are together; when we die, they separate.

The sacraments today often employ a three fold description of the human person.

The ancient Greek philosophers, in trying to discover what it means to be a "human person" realized that
1) their body put them in contact with the here and now, this time and this place.  However,
2) they also had memories of past experiences and could envision future experiences in their mind. They also realized that
3) there was something beyond these experiences -- a transcendent, "higher", world of the spirit

They, therefore, envisioned the human person to be composed of these three elements:  body, soul [or mind], and spirit.   We are one person with these three "dimensions".  All three are inseparable in the human person.

For example the former rite for Extreme Unction was to heal the soul when it was about to be, or in danger of being separated from the body.  The body had to be gravely ill; the sacrament healed the soul by taking away sin and/or the punishment due to sin.   Illnesses of the soul were healed by the Sacrament of Penance.

The current ritual for the Anointing of the Sick prays (Lex Orandi) for healing in body, mind, and spirit:

Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it;
heal them in body, in soul, and in spirit,
and deliver them from every affliction.

This radically changes our understanding of "the subject" of the sacrament, i.e. who can be anointed with the sacrament.

Note the way that Paul ends his First Letter to the Thessalonians 5:23-28 (NAB)   "May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.  Brothers, pray for us (too).  Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.  I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brothers.   The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

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Mythos, Myth, and Ritual

MythosGod's PeopleGrateful
MythGenesisPilgrim Stories

Why do people find it so hard to accept changes in the liturgy (e.g. to offer or receive the sign of peace) or changes in the arrangement of their parish church building (e.g. moving the tabernacle)? This is a very complex issue. One avenue by which we can approach the question is by understanding the relation between mythos, myth and ritual.

Definitions:  Mythos refers to our deepest levels of self-understanding. Myth refers to our origin stories. Ritual refers to structured, repeatable behavior.  Rituals are repetitive, symbolic actions expressive of a community's myth or sacred story. Anthropologists further divide rituals into two classes: intensification or communal and transition or passage rites. (Bernard Lee, Alternative Futures, Vol 3, p 36.) "Myths are representations of values and attitudes in story form.  Rituals are expressions of values and attitudes in the form of symbolic action." (see Martos, p 15)

There is a relation between MYTHOS (our deepest understanding of ourselves), MYTH, and RITUAL.

Example #1  As Americans we consider ourselves to be a grateful and generous people (Mythos). We tell the stories of how our pilgrim ancestors invited the Indians to a great feast after the first harvest (Myth). Each year we celebrate Thanksgiving with Turkey and pumpkin pie (Ritual).  Americans understand themselves to be a generous, grateful people (Mythos); this is embodied  in the stories of the pilgrims joining with the Native Americans and celebrating their first harvest (Myth); and is acted out in the annual celebration of Thanksgiving Dinner (Ritual). 

Example #2  The Jews understand themselves to be God's Chosen People (Mythos). They tell the story of how God Created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a (Myth). And this self understanding is acted out each week as they observe the Sabbath Rest (Ritual). 

Example #3  There are actions and then there are ritual actions. For example to ask a young man on a bus to stand up and give his seat to someone who is ill, is simply changing position, a simple action. However, during the times of racial segregation in the deep South, a white person getting up and sitting in the back of the bus, or an African American getting up and sitting in the font of the bus could get shot and killed or start a riot! This is not a simple action, this is a ritual action. A change in ritual action implies a change in position but a change in the mythos.

While we know that some of us are created free and equal and have equal opportunity before the law (mythos: our deepest self-understanding) and these freedoms are set down in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Customary Interpretations of these documents (myth: our origin stories) the way we understand ourselves and our stories is acted out in our rituals -- separate places on the bus, separate drinking fountains, separate schools, etc. (ritual: structured, repeatable behavior). To change the ritual, implies a change in the mythos. For the "wrong" people to sit in the front (or back) of the bus implied that they had a "wrong" understanding of who they were. And if "we" were all really free and equal, perhaps "they" might get my job, or my share of the economic pie. We resist the change in ritual because we do we resist the change in mythos.

Changing the ritual often involves changing the myth and destroying the mythos.  E.g.  1950:  White Americans understanding themselves Superior to Black Americans (Mythos); this attitude is embodied in stories of racial superiority/inferiority (myth); and acted out in the laws regarding sitting in the back of the bus, or separate drinking fountains for white and colored (Ritual).   When Miss Jane Pitman drinks out of the "wrong" fountain, more is at stake than her thirst.  When the rituals change, even people who have no understanding of mythos know something "deeper" is taking place. (I still get goose bumps when Miss Jan Pitman drinks out of the "white" fountain.)

Example #4  The subway trains in Paris France and Cairo Egypt were built by the same company. Each train has five cars. The middle car is special. In Paris the cars are all second class and the middle car is first class -- you need a first class (more expensive) ticket to sit in first class. If a man enters the first class car with only a second class ticket he commits a misdemeanor and it will cost him a few francs if he gets caught, but it is "no big deal" and no one gets upset (except at rush hour).  In Cairo the middle car (as required my Islamic law) is for women only. If a man enter the middle car in Cairo it is a "big deal" because it is not merely an illegal action, it is an illegal ritual action, and people will get very upset. Changing ritual changes mythos and mythos is often sacred.

Example #5  At the time of the Second Vatican Council the Church in the Constitution on the Church and the Constitution on the Liturgy and other documents (myth) changed its self understanding from "institution" to "People of God" (mythos). This change in self-understanding demands a corresponding change in Church ritual.

Example #6  Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue, standing for Communion rather than kneeling, kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer rather than standing, holding hands, or extending hands in the orans position rather than folded hands during the Lord's Prayer, moving the tabernacle from the center of the high altar -- these are not just changes, these are ritual changes. Kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, Kneeling for Communion, etc. one must know what the implications are when making ritual changes in these areas.  When we discuss issues such as "hands during the Lord's Prayer" (folded, holding hands, orans, etc.) we must realize we are not simply discussing an action, we are discussing a ritual action.

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Toward the Mystery

Eucharist Jesus With Us #1, March 2005, Q0305

The following is a draft of a published article ©2005 by St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 w. Liberty St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.  1-800-488-0488.  The article may not be reproduced or sold without written permission from the publisher.

Toward the Mystery  A lot of things have changed during the nearly seventy years that I have been going to Mass.  The priest no longer says Mass with his back to the people.  The Mass is in a language that I can understand.  At Mass we read from the Bible (once considered by some Catholics to be a "Protestant book").  When I was a child only a few people received Holy Communion at Mass; today only a few people do not receive!   

Years ago I saw a play about "Noah and the Ark" and I can still picture one humorous scene.  After forty days and nights of rain and flood and thunder and lighting, the rains stop, the water recedes, and the ark sits on dry land.  Mrs. Noah looks out the window of the ark and cries:  "Where's the rain?  Where's the lighting?  Where's the flood?  Why all these changes!" 

I often hear Catholics today asking "Why all these changes?"  In this series of twelve articles Eucharist: Jesus with Us I will try to give an explanation of "why all these changes!"  We will examine the function of the prayers and actions of the Mass so that we can take a more active role in the celebration.   In this newsletter I will try to present a basic, accurate, and practical description of the Eucharist.

Taking a fresh look  On the Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ 2004 Pope John Paul II announced a Year of the Eucharist and asked that Catholics all over the world take a fresh look at this central mystery of our Faith.  That is what we are going to do this newsletter:  take a fresh look at the Eucharist.  I am convinced that, as the Holy Father said at the beginning of the new millennium, a correct understanding of the Eucharist is essential if we are to imitate the zeal of the apostles at Pentecost and engage in a new evangelization (See:  Beginning of the New Millennium, 40). 

But in order for this "new evangelization" to be effective, I believe that we must try to understand and heal some of the divisions that exist today in the way Catholics understand and talk about the Eucharist.  I can read one article that says that Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence; I read another article that says that belief in the Real Presence is the cornerstone of Catholic identity.  One priest says that we must teach our children about transubstantiation and another priest says that he finds this term is no longer useful.  I hear one report of Catholics who are very pleased with the changes in the Mass that have taken place since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and another report of Catholics calling these changes liturgical abuses. 

Arguments and divisions  During my lifetime I have experienced a lot of changes in the way Catholics celebrate and understand the Eucharist.  Some of these changes were small and insignificant and some were very important.  But for me personally, the biggest and most disturbing change is in the way Catholics today argue among themselves about the Mass and the Eucharist.   

Perhaps my memory fails me -- and it does at times -- but, thinking back to my childhood, I do not remember a Church where Catholics were so polarized on so many issues regarding the Eucharist as they are today!   I can't even imagine my parents writing to the bishop to complain about the way the pastor said Mass, or denouncing the organist because they didn't approve of the music Sister played.  

Today, however, things are different.  Catholics seem all to ready to divide into camps and call one another names and engage in disputes in the press and on radio and television -- disputes that can become so emotional that some might call them "unchristian." 

Bridges and icebergs  I think it is important to explore ways in which we can build bridges between Catholics so that we can come to understand why we believe what we believe and why we feel what we feel.  That's what we will try to do in this newsletter.  And to help me in this extremely large task, I want to employ an equally large image:  an iceberg. 

I have never actually seen an iceberg but I know they are big.  And I am told that the part that floats on top of the water, the part that we can see, as big as this part is, is but a small part of the total mass.  Those that know about icebergs say that 7/8 of the iceberg's mass lies unseen below water and that they are 20% to 30% wider under the water than they appear at the waterline.   This means that if you are an ocean liner, you are in danger of running into the unseen, submerged part of the iceberg long before you get close to the part you see floating above the water.  (Think of what happened to the Titanic.) 

I have found that this image of an iceberg can help Catholics understand something of our contemporary "discussions" about the Eucharist.  Our understanding of the Eucharist is like an iceberg in that the largest part lies unseen, beneath the water.   We can know a lot of things about the Eucharist.  We can memorize definitions from the Catechism; we can study the history of the Eucharist; we can read the letters of the Popes and Ecumenical Councils.  This is the part of the iceberg that floats above the water.

Seen and unseen  Below the surface (often unseen and unrealized) lies the really big part of the iceberg.  With regard to the Eucharist, this "below the surface part" is made up of our experiences of the Eucharist, our experiences of God and the Sacred.   It involves the meaning of the words we use to think and talk about the Eucharist.  It engages our emotions and feelings about God, Christ, and the Church.  Our childhood memories are stored there along with the categories and images that were used to explain the Eucharist.  We carry all of this memory, information, and emotion with us whenever we talk about the Eucharist -- whether we are aware of it or not. 

For example, the way many Catholics think of the Last Supper is influenced more by the paintings of the Renaissance masters than by the words of Sacred Scriptures -- or by what historians tell us of meal customs in first century Palestine.  Try it yourself.  Close your eyes and visualize the Last Supper.   Do you see some European looking men sitting on chairs on one side of a long table or a group of people with Semitic features reclining on couches?  ("And as they reclined at table and were eating ..." Mark 14:18 NAB)

Underwater collisions  When two icebergs floating in the ocean approach each other, long before the visible parts of the icebergs can come into contact, there will be unseen, underwater collisions, scraps, hits, and crashes!   In the same way, two Catholics might be trying to discuss the Eucharist, but even before they can get close enough to engage in a meaningful, intelligent discussion of the issues, the unseen and unarticulated parts of their experiences of the Eucharist can be bumping into each other and prevent the dialogue from taking place. 

Picture two good Catholics, Jason and Beth, discussing whether we should stand or kneel when receiving Holy Communion.  Jason has just read a book on Church history and insists that Catholics should stand because standing is the more traditional posture at prayer. Standing is a sign of reverence and an attitude of readiness to carry out God's will.  Beth however knows the reason that Catholics kneel for Holy Communion is because Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not to kneel is to deny the central mystery of our Faith.

Jason and Beth will not be able to have a fruitful discussion of the issue until they are aware of the presuppositions and understandings they each bring to the discussion.    They must step back and look at that part of the iceberg that lies beneath the water.  What are we arguing about?  About posture?  About history?  Or is the real issue the Real Presence of Christ at the Eucharist?   And I can certainly become more emotional about Real Presence than I can about posture.

Cold but helpful metaphor  I have found that the iceberg metaphor has helped me become aware of the amount of unarticulated presuppositions that I bring to any discussion of the Eucharist.  It has helped me realize that others do not have exactly the same experience or the same memories that I do.  They do not always think in the same categories or use words in the same way.  We may both believe in the Real Presence but how do we understand "real"?  Does "real" mean "physical"?  Is sacramental presence real?  Is the Eucharist the only "real" presence? And if not, how are these other "real presences" different from the Eucharist?  The iceberg metaphor helps me realize that I have to step back and examine these "under the water" issues before I can engage in meaningful discussion with the other person. 

I have heard some Catholics say that they find the Mass in English lacks reverence.  I do not know whether this has been your experience or not, but I do know that reverence is certainly something that we want to experience at the Eucharist.  And I know that opposite of reverence is not so much "irreverence" as it is "arrogance." 

Arrogance is the feeling that we are so certain that we are right that we dismiss the opinions and feelings of others.  The other day while vesting for Mass I noticed a new clock in the sacristy.  "I see we have a new clock" I said to the sacristan.  "Yes," she replied.  "It's an atomic clock.  It is always right!"  And I realized that I can often be like that clock -- always right.  Being "always right" may be fine for a clock, but for humans it results in arrogance.   

When friends invite us to their home for a meal, they expect us to arrive hungry -- not just physically hungry, but "hungry" for friendship, conversation, new experiences and flavors and tastes.  They want us to be "open to be amazed."  This is the very opposite of arrogance.  When we come to the Lord's Table, we must come with that same "hunger" if we are to experience a sense of reverence, transcendence, beauty, and mystery.   

The iceberg metaphor helps me guard against arrogance.  It helps me remember that there is more to an argument than what appears on the surface, and it helps to keep me from being like that atomic clock -- always right!

What to expect  In the months which follow, this newsletter will explore the history and the theology of the Eucharist. We will try to examine the basic categories and vocabulary which we use to understand the Eucharist and the ways in which we express our devotion and appreciation for this sacrament.  Hopefully these articles will not only help us to celebrate the Eucharist more intelligently and reverently, but will also enable us to have a greater tolerance for those Catholics who see things differently then we do, so that the Eucharist will be in actual fact the source unity, a sign of charity, and the summit of our Christian life.  [Next:  The First and Greatest Sacrament]

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Gaillardetz:  Philosophical Underpinnings

(The following are excerpts from Gaillardetz, Richard R.  Transforming Our Days:  Spirituality, Community and Liturgy in a Technological Culture.  Crossroad Publishing Company, New York.  2000.  ISBN 0-8245-1844-6  Paper.  $15.95.)

"We all know the frustration of attempting serious conversation with another Christian only to discover we are on totally different wavelengths. Why does this happen when we supposedly hold a common faith? ...

In trying to make sense out of this new situation, I continue to find a great deal of help in Bernard Lonegran's fundamental distinction between classical and contemporary mind-sets. When two Catholics are arguing, for example, about the desirability of having grade-school children memorize the Ten Commandments, something deeper than educational technique is probably involved. If these two Catholics tried to clarify the basic presuppositions behind their positions in the Ten Commandments, two very different outlooks, or mind-sets, would be evident.

Due to events in the modern world such as industrialization, urbanization, secularization and the rise of science, there has been a revolution in fundamental outlook which some scholars call a "paradigm shift." This movement from a classical to a contemporary viewpoint involves various shifts: from the quest for certainty to a recognition of the value of approximation and probability; from understanding truth as timeless to seeing it as historically, culturally and personally conditioned; from a hierarchically structured view of reality to an evolutionary outlook. ...

Teilhard de Chardin gave us a helpful image for appreciating this shift in mind-sets. Contemporary people, he said, are like those passengers below deck on a ship who are drawn up onto the top deck to discover, for the first time, that the whole ship is moving. The world, as well as the Christian message, looks much different from the evolutionary perspective provided by the top deck. Dialogue with those still below deck is difficult and demands both charity and attention to the great human issues which have a way of undercutting differences in viewpoint.

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To Think About

Did you learn anything new about metaphors and symbols from what you have read and heard? How has this chapter altered your attitude toward religious symbols? What ministerial skills would you like to possess in order to help your parishioners celebrate the symbols of the faith? How would you now formulate a definition of symbol? Go back to the answers you gave at the beginning of this chapter to the Movement One questions and see if they have changed as a result of this discussion. What do you think will be the future of symbolic worship in these "scientific" United States? What difference has your study of symbol made in your use of symbols at prayer? Did your study have any effect on your spiritual life?

What can you do now and in your future ministry to bring the rich tradition of liturgical symbols to your ministry? What more do you need to know about the symbols? What further liturgical experiences do you need?

Symbols speak to the whole person. They are more than any one given intellectual explanation of them. What connotations or families of meaning are evoked from Scripture, Tradition, Culture and Ritual Experience for the following: Birth, Initiation, Water, Oil, Imposition of hands, light and darkness, down and up, East and West, signing and marking (with oil, a cross, etc), nakedness. Explain how the symbol functions in a contemporary understanding of the rites of initiation.

Define and describe: metaphor, symbol.

Discuss: a metaphor reveals, reveals partially, and conceals.

Can a symbol mean anything you want it to mean? Why or why not?

Discuss: Liturgy is right lobe activity.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15 .  Your comments are welcome at