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Tuesday, 18 September 2012 13:19

Liturgical experience of justice

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Dr Charles Rue ssc deeply understands the zeal for the sacred and the activism of the secular. After his education under the Josephite Sisters and later with the Marist Brothers at St Joseph's College Hunters Hill, he became a farmer for four years and served as President of the local Young Farmers before joining the Columbans.

The past 44 years as a Columban missionary led him to further studies in liturgy and environmental planning. His many years of service as parish priest in South Korea and Jamaica have fuelled his commitment to the work of justice and peace. He is a relentless justice advocate and writes on the areas of climate change, genetically modified food, the church and theology.

The following paragraphs contain his reflections on liturgy and justice, and why they must go hand in hand, in helping transform the lives of people in marginalised communities:

Liturgical reform and work for Social Justice took off in the 1960s stimulated by Vatican II. Many laity and church leaders alike took to the works of liturgy and social justice with enthusiasm.

However, combining good liturgy and working for social justice in the one believing community did not always go smoothly. Some mistakenly turned the liturgy into an education platform ‘about’ social justice. For others the two ran on separate tracks. To grow a spirituality of justice that was rooted in both social justice and liturgy needed reflection and creativity. Celebrating liturgy as an experience of justice was key.

Fundamental to growing a spirituality for social justice are insights coming from new Scriptural scholarship.  Salvation history as a story of liberation is central. It tells of how God was immersed in the history of the people of Israel; how Jesus prophetically challenged the religious culture of Jewish society and its leaders; how the early church were immersed in the historical events of Roman Empire. Liberation was the great gift of God given to all in diverse contexts. 

Social aspects were writ large in all the documents of Vatican II. Liturgy was the first published. It was clear that liturgy belonged to the whole People of God and was the source and summit of life in believing communities. The entire liturgy was to be reformed in a way that was sensitive the Risen Jesus present in local church communities set within their local socio-cultural contexts.  

Within a few years new liturgical books were drafted and the work for social justice was declared as integral to the living of the Gospel. Liturgy represented the internal mission of the Church to be communities celebrating and proclaiming in prayer the works of God accomplished in Christ. Social Justice named the mission of the Church to be active in the world in union with the Spirit of Jesus, dedicated to the common good as a sign in history that Kingdom-liberation had begun.

Roger Kiesling wrote on ‘Liturgy and Justice’ in Worship in 1977.  He said that both are social by their very nature so the two have to be tied together to live authentic Christianity. He wrote:

•The Reign of God can only be celebrated in a gripping way if the texts and action of the liturgy articulate good theological interpretations of how God is working in the world.

•The content of the celebrations must relate to real life situations where justice is variously being denied or achieved and being achieved.

•The celebration itself must be an experience of justice for those participating so that any elements that degrade people must be eliminated.

•There must be a conscious attitude and explicit commitment in fact to communal sharing and not pander to individualism or elitism.

•The celebration must be a communal ethical response to social injustice, giving fire not insulation.

In his final plea for communities to celebrate their liturgy better he says authorities need to prepare texts and rites which better connect prayer and social justice inside and outside the church. Liturgy is to liberate, not oppress.

Working as a missionary priest in the South Korean church I found that the task of combining liturgy and social justice inspired me spiritually. The Korean Church was strongly evangelical and adult, but deeply involved socially in confronting a military dictatorship and the dangers of industralisation. Celebrating personal liberation for converts and engagement in the history of an emerging nation gave motive and meaning to the other - communities ‘ever under reform’.

Later working in Jamaica for five years I came to realise that I had basically given the same sermon for five years – you have worth, God does not make rubbish. The community lived out this message with shared social and parish ministries that recognised leadership roles for all. The community liturgy drew on its social justice face: gave a ‘freedom from slavery’ slant to the 1992 celebrations of Christopher Columbus; helped create marine parks that provided jobs as well as protect fish stocks; and wore the ridicule of being called the ‘gay church’ when it gave a meeting place for HIV sufferers. These became liturgical experiences of social justice and fed a communal spirituality of justice. ‘Get up! Stand up!’ sang Bob Marley. 

Read more from Dr Charles Rue ssc at Columban Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPICOz)