Holy Week: Is It Only a Show?

This post is a reminder that virtual worship services support a widespread conviction that religious worship is only a show. There are narratives with scant, if any, historical evidence. Miraculous events are described. Moral language is used which is not generally used. That is not at all unusal for shows. When the show is over, one returns to real life, viz., where your body is. In real life one ignores the narratives and does not use the moral categories used in the show. The sense of a show would be diminished by actually being present. For then it is not only a show because one is actually there participating. It is in the real world.

During Holy Week 2020 throughout the whole world severe restrictions are imposed on commercial and civil life to lessen spread of COVID-1 virus. Amongst other restrictions public worship is prohibited. Churches, temples and mosques are locked. The Catholic Triduum is not to be celebrated publicly. The fight against spread of the virus is the dominant social force. All the kingdoms of the earth bow down before it.

As substitutes for public worship, there are numerous on-line and TV presentations of the worship services. I personally, follow on-line liturgies from Bishop Robert Barron’s “Word on Fire” organization. In these substitute services, we hear the traditional biblical narratives and homilies about the suffering and death of Jesus. They tell a story whose events are alleged to have changed the human condition. We proclaim that by undergoing a horrible execution by crucifixion Jesus, who was God incarnate, suffered the immense punishment for some wrongdoing for which all of us and each of us is responsible. The harm He endured fulfilled a moral sentence that this immense punishment ought to occur. The wrongdoing was so grave that the harm that ought to be suffered could not be suffered by any ordinary human being.

If the presenters and we viewers are serious about our Catholicism we are supposed to think that what happened then accomplished something immensely more important for human beings than, say, finding a vaccine for COVID-19. Is this madness? Would not an explicit statement to this effect be taken by most of the world, and many Catholics, as asserting a pious myth which serious people should dismiss as irrelevant to current problems?

Beside the theological stance, the moral language embedded in the religious talk alone exacerbates the sense of irrelevance. The moral language presupposes a moral stance of an authoritarian morality. Only fragments of authoritarian morality remain in the moral stance in Europe and North America. The concept of suffering which ought to occur simply to make reparation for a past violation of a moral law is dismissed as primitive. Thinking that one person’s suffering could make reparation for the crime of another is regarded as immoral. The suggestion that God as a moral authority could demand suffering for violation of His laws is opposed as a blasphemous theological hypothesis.

To someone who struggles daily to understand and practice his commitment to Catholicism, this disconnect between the language of our Holy Week liturgies and and the language used in the fight against COVID-19 has become much more threatening.

I would love to be able to proclaim with conviction that what happened in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplished something immensely more important for human beings than, say, finding a vaccine for COVID-19.

With only virtual services, it all seems much more to be only a show for people with a taste for that kind of show. Bringing it into the real world would be a threat to public health. This sharpens a sense that the only good religions can do in the real world-where our bodies are- is works of charity.

I will not accept that Christianity’s only value to society is to provide a curious motivations for NGOs and to keep alive as museum pieces ancient narratives and practices.

My way of resisting is to try to bring forward the concepts of authoritarian morality. If the concepts of authoritarian morality, which are now latent in our cultures, are brought into more common use, then the moral categories of traditional Catholicism would start to become part of the language used in the real world.

Perhaps, then, being only able to view liturgies as shows on my computer or TV has accomplished some good by encouraging me to continue my struggle to bring the concepts of authoritarian morality into greater use.