Mar 15, 2012

"Liturgy and Asceticism" Draws Scholars’ Reflection

Online Edition:

March 2012

Vol. XVIII, No. 1

"Liturgy and Asceticism" Draws Scholars’ Reflection

by Daniel G. Van Slyke

“Liturgy and Asceticism” was the topic of the annual conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy (SCL), which met January 26-28 at the Cardinal Rigali Center in St. Louis.

Highlighting the weekend program was Saturday morning’s address by Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and former archbishop of St. Louis. Cardinal Burke reflected on the relationship of the ius divinum (divine law) to the sacred liturgy, and above all to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. He underlined the fundamental disposition of man in the act of worship: care to offer worship to God in the manner that God Himself has asked. Such a disposition, the cardinal said, purifies man of self-centered desires and disposes him to receive divine grace. In the liturgical act above all, he stressed, man must put into practice purity of heart and with humility and confidence offer to God due worship.

Cardinal Burke also offered solemn High Mass in the extraordinary form on Saturday, with the Schola Cantorum of St. Francis de Sales Oratory, conducted by Nicolas Botkins. The Mass, and other conference liturgies, took place in the beautiful chapel of the Rigali Center, originally the major seminary of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The Divine Office, Lauds, Vespers, and solemn Mass were sung on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Horst Buchholz, director of music of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, served as organist and cantor at the liturgical celebrations.

“Liturgical Asceticism” was the title of the opening address on Thursday evening, presented by David Fagerberg of the University of Notre Dame. Scholars presented papers throughout the day Friday, and on Saturday afternoon.

“The Celebration of Rogation and Ember Days in the Roman Rite” was the topic of Sister Esther Mary Nickel, RSM, professor of sacred liturgy and sacramental theology at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado. Sister Nickel traced the celebration of ember days from the early Christian period to the present, and raised questions about how they might be celebrated today, in light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium regarding both seasonal liturgical celebrations and penance.

Michael Foley, associate professor of patristics in the Great Texts Program at Baylor University, continued the discussion of the ember days and their meanings over time, as well as their relevance to the contemporary issues of ecology. Distorted modern attitudes toward nature, Foley suggested, can be addressed and even corrected through the mindset fostered by ember day celebrations.

Steven Surrency, of the University of South Florida, discussed “Friday Penance and Catholic Culture: Asceticism as Reinforcement of Identity”. Surrency considered, from a social-scientific perspective, the recent decision by the bishops of England and Wales to encourage the discipline of Friday abstinence. He argued that Friday abstinence is not just an abstract concept, but a personal integration of Catholic identity, which ritually symbolizes continuity in the life of the Church in a way that other practices do not.

Anthony Lilles, assistant professor of spiritual theology at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and secretary of the SCL board, gave a talk on “Vigilant for the Bridegroom in the Night of Faith: Beyond Conscious Participation in the Liturgy”. Reflecting on the contributions of several great spiritual theologians, Lilles expounded the connections between asceticism, mental prayer, and participation in the liturgy.

Two speakers addressed topics in sacred music: Jennifer Donelson, assistant professor of music at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, spoke on “Spirit and Splendor: Gregorian Chant as Foundation in L’Orgue mystique of Charles Tournemire”; and Claire Gilligan, associate director of the Office for Divine Worship in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, presented on “Ars celebrandi as Asceticism: Reverence in Celebration and Active Participation”.

Robert Fastiggi, professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, delivered an address on “Asceticism, Holiness and the Sacrament of Penance”. Drawing from key documents of the magisterium, he argued that penances are not an end in themselves, but a means of detaching us from obstacles that prevent us from enjoying the love of God.

Brother Innocent Smith, OP, spoke on the concept and practice of “Progressive Solemnity in the Medieval Dominican Liturgy”. Robert Norton, of the MONOS Centre for the Study of Monastic Culture and Spirituality in England, delivered a talk titled “New Lamps for Old: The Place of Liturgical Expression in the New Monastic Communities”. Father John Ubel of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis considered the seven penitential psalms from the perspective of the “History, Demise and Rebirth of an Ascetical Tradition”. Keith Lemna of Saint Meinrad Seminary addressed “Eucharistic Trinitarianism and Monastic Asceticism: at the Heart of Louis Bouyer’s Theology”. Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, spoke on “The Ascesis of Liturgical Praise: Augustine and the Exercise of the Psalms”.

Daniel G. Van Slyke of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Saint Louis narrated the tradition of “Sexual Abstinence and the Reception of Holy Communion” from the Old Testament to the sixteenth century. Sister Madeline M. Grace, CVI, of the University of Saint Thomas in Houston, outlined “Eucharistic Fasting: A Review of Its Practice, An Evaluation of Its Benefit”. Daria Spezzano of the University of Notre Dame delivered a paper titled “Conjoined to Christ’s Passion: The Deifying Asceticism of the Sacraments according to Thomas Aquinas”.

At a business meeting on Friday, led by acting president James McCrery, SCL members elected Jennifer Donelson to the board of directors. They also chose the Conference Center of Mundelein Seminary as the site of next year’s conference, which will be held on the first weekend of October 2013. The topic will be “Sacraments at the Service of Communion: Matrimony and Holy Orders”.


Daniel G. Van Slyke, associate professor of Church history at Kenrick-Glennon seminary in St. Louis, holds a PhD in historical theology from Saint Louis University (2001), and STL in systematic and sacramental theology from Mundelein Seminary (2003).

Editor’s Note: The Society for Catholic Liturgy was founded in 1995 as a scholarly organization. Among its principles (2005) is “respect for Catholic liturgy in all its approved rites from the apostolic period”, and a “desire to support the faithful celebration of the liturgy according to the Roman Rite and to promote a better understanding of its origin, development and current status” (web site:



Daniel G. Van Slyke