2021 Catholic Media Association Award honorable mention award in liturgy
Authenticity is a value difficult to define but impossible to ignore in contemporary life. The desire for authentic experience pervades art, music, food, dating, marketing, and politics. Worship is no exception: Vatican documents, megachurch websites, pastors, and liturgy planners all make competing claims to offer the genuine article. But what makes liturgy authentic? What distinguishes real celebration from artificial spectacle, heartfelt prayer from empty ritualism, a living tradition from both stagnation and gimmickry? Can today's Christians perform the liturgy so that it is not a mere performance but a sincere offering of their whole selves?
In this book, Nathaniel Marx argues that the defining characteristic of authentic liturgy is harmony. Authentic liturgy happens when the minds of participants are in tune with their voices. The call for worshipers to harmonize their inward and outward offerings of prayer is discernible in the Bible, in the history of Christian prayer, and in diverse efforts to invigorate communal worship today. Marx's argument unfolds the meaning of this call to authentic worship through a provocative and wide-ranging study incorporating scriptural exegesis, liturgical history, anthropology of ritual, and philosophy of action. He argues that authenticity is not a modern buzzword but an ancient virtue essential to worshiping in a spirit of communion.
Nathaniel Marx is associate professor of sacramental and liturgical theology at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. He holds a PhD in liturgical studies from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in social sciences from the University of Chicago.
“Nathaniel Marx’s Authentic Liturgy could be considered an extended gloss on article 11 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: ‘... in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain.’ At a time when debates about the quality of our liturgical life often degrade into instrumentalizing liturgical styles in order to score ‘traditionalist’ points or ‘progressive’ points, Marx offers us a better way. Through reflections on scripture, the history of the liturgy, the documents of the church, and his own pastoral conversations, he presents a profound exposition of what allows us to engage in worship that is truly ‘authentic.’”
Rev. Mark R. Francis, CSV, President, Catholic Theological Union
“Marx revisits the complex issues of liturgical reform by applying a brilliant new hermeneutical key: authenticity. Everyone wants an authentic liturgy; everyone wants to do liturgy authentically. But what could that possibly mean? Marx tells us in this discriminating book by providing historical and theoretical background and arriving at an irenic conciliation.”
David Fagerberg, University of Notre Dame
“There is little more delightful than discovering a book that prompts a new way of perceiving and exploring a realm of reality. Nathaniel Marx’s Authentic Liturgy is just such a book. As existentialist philosophers from Kierkegaard through Camus drew our attention to the importance of exploring the nature of existence as perceived by living, feeling, acting (and not merely thinking) human beings, so Marx calls us to move beyond evaluating liturgy in categories such as ‘valid’ and ‘licit’ to explore liturgical celebration in terms of its ‘authenticity.’ Acknowledging that the concept of authenticity has been derided as a ‘thin cover for narcissism and moral relativism,’ the author convincingly argues that ‘authentic liturgical participation requires worshippers to cultivate and enact a duplex virtue … magnanimity and humility.’ Cultivating this dynamic virtue over time and through practice is the foundation for authentic liturgical celebration. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for all those who preach and preside, sing and serve—for all who enact liturgical worship under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
Fr. Jan Michael Joncas, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota
“Nathaniel Marx is an important fresh voice in matters liturgical and theological today. The breadth of his erudition in the sources used, the way he contextualizes such a breadth of them, and the invitational style through which he makes his arguments makes Marx someone to read and savor now, as well as someone to watch and learn from, hopefully for decades to come.”
Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, The Catholic University of America
“With regard to authentic and inauthentic Christian worship many might invoke the cliché that we ‘know it when we see it,’ but are unable to provide any criteria for determining what or how that is. But from Scripture, the Christian liturgical tradition, the practice of prayer, contemporary liturgical reform and its aftermath, including even his work with Latin Mass communities, Nathaniel Marx demonstrates that what constitutes authentic worship, that is, ‘minds in tune with voices,’ his subtitle, is something given to us for us to realize in the very liturgical practice of our churches. Marx’s approach of the necessary liturgical union of mind and heart is Benedictine in its core and overall approach (RB 19) and his reflections are decidedly ecumenical. Communities will find his ‘examination of conscience for liturgists’ to be excellent criteria for assessing authentic worship today. In part historical and ritual study, what Marx gives us here is a liturgical theology of authentic Christian worship. I highly recommend this not just for students of liturgy, but for communities, parish groups, worship committees, and in short, for all of us concerned about authenticity and integrity in our worship. It is simply excellent!”
Maxwell E. Johnson, University of Notre Dame