Even before Vatican Council II, individuals like Virgil Michel and Catholic social movements like the National Catholic Rural Life Conference attempted to promote greater social justice by reconnecting rural life in the United States with the liturgical life of the church. Efforts to remedy this dislocation between agrarian life and church liturgy meshed the liturgical year with the rural agricultural cycle. The introduction of devotions, sacramentals, ritual, music, dance, poetry, and dramatic performances helped farmers rediscover the sacramental character of the soil and all the elements of agrarian life that emerge from it. Those interested in issues of social justice, sacramental engagement, and even the development of the vernacular in the liturgy will explore these and other topics in this unique archival investigation.
Michael Woods, SJ, STD, is assistant professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University, teaching liturgical and sacramental theology. His interests focus on the relationship between liturgy and life, especially as they pertain to ecological sustainability. He is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Michael Woods, SJ's book is a timely story of the holistic vision of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and liturgical renewal before Vatican II. The agricultural vision was one of sustainability before that word became popular; the liturgical vision was unifying and inclusive, linking sustainability with sacramentality. Here a deepening spirituality is seen in its historical context. Wood's telling of the story of these two linked movements is vital to the contemporary church's self understanding. I heartily recommend it.
Brother David Andrews, CSC, Senior Representative: Food & Water Watch
This book represents a well-researched study of how two important movements in the life of the Church in this country not only intersected but supported one another.
Woods provides some helpful example of liturgies that were born out of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference as well as some helpful profiles of individuals who were a part of the movement. Their witness is one we should all hear as we seek once again to rescue the sacred form both apathy and destruction. Michael Woods's book is and excellent call to this new work.
Englewood Review of Books
Michael Woods' exploration of the theological, liturgical and practical relationships between the American liturgical movement and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference is an historical study of these movements and their leadership - and so much more. Cultivating Soil and Soul addresses the sacramental quality of agrarian life, of the soil and the turning of the seasons. In an age when environmental consciousness is strong and when consumers are making deliberate choices about buying food which is locally produced, Woods provides the sacramental underpinnings of those choices and promotes the reestablishment of the liturgy-life-justice connection so obvious to the early reformers.
Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ
It is a good read for anyone, not just those involved somehow in rural pastoral/liturgical ministry. This, because it constantly reminds us how liturgy is to be lived and how the rhythm of the liturgical year parallels the natural rhythms of the seasons of the year. Beyond a historical commentary on liturgy, this book is also valuable for promoting a broader take on sacramentality.
Cultivating Soil and Soul is an intriguing book in which Father Michael Woods explores the connection between two vibrant movements in early 20th century American Catholicism: The rural life movement and liturgical renewal. By demonstrating the interaction between our order of worship and the natural order, Father Woods offers both a historical perspective as well as a theological insight into some of the precursors to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. For anyone who is interested in seeing how life and liturgy come together, Cultivating Soil and Soul is well worth the read.
Most Rev. Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York