Understanding the ethics of liturgy

18 September 2021
A file image of Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, consecrating the Holy Eucharist during Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


Ritual and ethics are often seen as different sides of religion: one formal and specific, the other instructive and responsive to everyday life.

But an upcoming lecture at Australian Catholic University will show how liturgy can be viewed as an ethical activity, helping participants engage in ideas of sacrifice and holiness.

Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee will deliver an online public lecture entitled Ritual Bodies as ‘Reasonable Worship’: Putting Liturgy in Proper Ethical Perspective.

Professor Bruce T. Morrill SJ from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Image: ACU/Supplied

“Liturgy as ritual worship is meant to empower Christians to be ‘living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God’,” said Professor Morrill. “Liturgy and ethics are integrally related in a sound interpretation of Christian tradition.”

Professor Morrill acknowledges the theological rhetoric of sacrifice, holiness, royal priesthood, and similar terms can be puzzling, if not provocative, for 21st century Catholics when they try to make sense of their bodily ritual worship in liturgy and sacraments.

“This lecture will propose that accepting the disruptive challenge such rhetoric poses to the contemporary church promises to illuminate rather than obscure the essential connection between liturgy and ethical living,” he said.

The lecture is part of a series of public activities offered by ACU’s Centre for Liturgy, which provides specialist expertise, teaching, research and formation in liturgical studies, sacramental theology, and the sacred arts.

The Director of the Centre for Liturgy Professor Clare Johnson said the centre hoped the public lectures would help lay people as well as clergy think about liturgy differently.

“With so many people having to attend church online due to lockdowns, it’s a really valuable time to think about what liturgy does for us and how we integrate it into our lives.

“Hopefully when we are able to gather together again, we will do so with a greater sense of meaning and appreciation for ritual,” she said.

Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., holds the Edward A. Malloy Chair in Roman Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt University, where he is Professor of Theology in the Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion. His latest book is Practical Sacramental Theology: At the Intersection of Liturgy and Ethics (Cascade, 2021), while previous titles include Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory (2000), Divine Worship & Human Healing (2009), Encountering Christ in the Eucharist (2012), and The Essential Writings of Bernard Cooke (2016). He has held visiting chairs, received fellowships, and lectured widely in North America, Australia, and Europe.

A response to the lecture will be provided by Australian liturgical scholar and sacramental theologian Professor Gerard Moore of BBI – The Australian Institute of Theological Education.

Professor Bruce T. Morrill, S.J will deliver an online public lecture for Australian Catholic University (ACU) entitled Ritual Bodies as ‘Reasonable Worship’: Putting Liturgy in Proper Ethical Perspective on Monday 18 October 2021 from 10am to 11.30am AEDT (via Zoom). Register online at https://www.acu.edu.au/publiclecturecfl

Download a copy of the ACU public lecture flyer here.

With thanks to ACU.


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